360˚ Video Creator Voices: James Donald

From snowboarding down the white slopes of British Columbia, to chilling on the beautiful Australian coast; virtual reality filmmaker James Donald captures some of the world’s most unique scenes. We interviewed him about VR therapy, his favourite shooting locations, and much more.

How did you become involved in 360° video production?

It started as a hobby in 2014 after I got an Oculus Rift prototype. As a fan of documentary, music videos and film, I fell in love with the potential of 360˚ video as a new creative medium, and began learning how to shoot and produce content to share with friends and other producers. I started working commercially in production and licensing content in early 2016. 

Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?

An underwater piece on Giant Manta Rays, some tourism, surf and snow pieces. I’m also working with a university who provide social skills training for teens with Autism. We’re using 3D 360˚ video to create simulations of prosocial and antisocial behaviours and responses.

Is there a piece of content you’ve seen that you really like? If so, why did it have an impact?

Anything that pushes the boundaries of immersive media, but understands the power of the medium and respects VR audiences. I also like behind-the-scenes content (e.g. Seinfeld on SNL from Within), because you get a real sense of what it’s like to be a part of the production crew or the live audience.

If you had an endless budget for an immersive project, what would you do?

A 3D 360° series exploring shipwrecks and underwater marine life; underwater worlds are perfectly suited to viewing in VR but until very recently the camera technology hasn’t been able to capture it with the clarity and stereoscopic quality it deserves. I work with a highly experienced underwater cinematographer with a talent for rigging and stabilisation. We both have a passion for local marine conservation, narrative and education. With the right budget, we could help transform the way we engage with marine life in places like the Great Barrier Reef and other dive sites that are usually only accessible to industry divers and enthusiasts with enough time and money to explore them.

Is virtual reality a game-changer for the medical/therapeutic practices? If so, why?

Yes, we’re already seeing therapeutic options and positive outcomes in health and medical practices as an engaging form of distraction and diversion, stress relief and pain management. As the tech gets cheaper and more comfortable, more traditional domains will trial new VR/AR solutions that offer better outcomes with more efficiency and fun. Future VR/AR devices will also generate sophisticated analytics based on users’ behavioural, biological and emotional data. The ethical implications and privacy concerns need to be tackled now, but in areas like clinical psychology I think it could complement existing approaches to assessment, observation, diagnosis, and therapy. It could also help bridge the traditional gap in training between theoretical understanding and experiential learning.

Where has been your favourite place to shoot in 360° so far?

National Parks in Australia and the USA.

How do you think 360° videos differ from other types of media?

Well produced 360° video can offer a completely novel way of experiencing events and locations that you can’t get from traditional video. Whether it’s viewed in a VR headset or not, the potential for immersion and interactivity for the viewer is different. Whereas normal video functions as a window to other worlds or lives, 360 video˚ is the world itself. It demands more of our attention.

Do you have any advice for other videographers and cinematographers looking to create 360˚ videos?

Invest in a fast computer with a good graphics card! Getting creative and learning how to optimise video quality for a VR audience will set you apart from other creators.