In 2016, VR Data Network reported over 6.3 million virtual headsets, a remediation of the Vaudeville peep show, shipped to users worldwide exciting the Insta360 Pro Facebook user group (Durbin, 2017). Moving into the digital distribution domain, Vimeo streaming just released support for 360-degree videos on March 8th of 2017 spring-boarding Insta360 Pro content into mainstream media consumption (Vincent, 2017). Yet, domed visual spaces projecting 360-degree images embrace a long history dating back to Aristotle. Trying to establish some contextual grounding within this genre, VR filmmaker Chris Milk (2016), who produced breakthrough virtual immersion projects Sound and Vision and The Wilderness Downtown, reinforces the 360-degree chant prodding a look into his rearview mirror stating:
If we go back to the origins of mediums, by all best guesses, it starts around a fire, with a good story… But where are we now? What is the current state of the art? Well, we are here. We are the equivalent of year one of cinema… Similar to this early stage of this medium, in VR, we also have to move past the spectacle and into the storytelling. (Milk, 2016)
Readjusting Milk’s perspective, Thomas Elsaesser (2016) contests the “logically conceived” VR film histories (p. 27). Seeking to reinforce alternative film histories regarding virtual reality and taking a sharp turn away from Muybridge’s “persistence of vision” linear narrative, he suggests a more nuanced look at Messter’s Alabastra projections, the panorama, or the phantasmagorias. Elsaesser (2016) questions the “intellectual sleight of hand” used to censor the full range of anomalies existing in the virtual reality historical cinema magic bag sensing they are only to be “forgotten” (p. 32).
Drawing attention to the forgotten movement of 360 images through a more nuanced look, Blagovesta Momchedjikova reveals the variation between the panorama, a term established in 1792 by Robert Barker, and the panstereorama which gained traction in the early 1800’s. Although both forms desire to represent the real through exact duplication, the panorama used “perspective” while the panstereorama used “miniaturization” (Momchedjikova, 2017) Heavy painted panoramas established a sense of “being there” allowing viewers to stand in the center of a rotunda-like structure. It’s important to note this development happened before the image was captured through mechanical devices or before illustrated newspapers. (Wray, 2017) In fact, the first panoramic camera was not patented until 1843. From here, the golden-age of panoramic photography began to take hold as the United States Geological Survey (USGS) worked to establish topographical maps of the US territory. (Schneider, 2017) Lastly, rather than “seeing the real” from the first-person point-of-view through the panorama, panstereorama placed the user outside the miniaturization confirming what they “are observing in the replica, by identifying known places from the real world” creating a sense of authenticity (Momchedjikova, 2017). Both perspectives mirror the current development of trends happening within the Insta360 Pro community. For example, Insta360 technology allows users to swing the 360-degree video camera around the subject using a selfie-stick or a string tied to the camera, called the bullet-time shot, capturing not only the subject in 360, but the space in 360 as well, mirroring a technique captured in the Wachowski brothers film The Matrix (“How to Shot Bullet-Time Shots with the Insta360 One,” 2017). This effect emulates the intent and purpose of the panstereorama.
With so many mesmerizing calls to adopt shiny new technological tools, such as the Insta360 Pro, our current technologies continue to remediate the past. New media scholar Jay David Bolter (2001) explains remediation as the new and the old co-existing. However, new media is “borrowing and reorganizing the characteristics of writing in the older medium and reforming its cultural space” (p. 23). Digging into our past, pre-cinematic technology, such as the peep-show, panorama, and panstereoramas, provide inspiration for new “idiosyncratic invention and artistic production” (Hoberman and Alt, 46) Having a historical perspective helps understand restructuring of the 360-degree pixelated dome is not effortlessly placed in this optimistic linear narrative of technological progress. Throughout scientific discovery, seeing the unusual can be the anomaly needed to further knowledge. The unusual is the fact that 360-degree as a medium may go deeper than the panorama or panstereorama undermining an absolute concept of seeing.
Reflecting on the historical 360 panorama and panstereorama allows me to consider various approaches to content creation within the Unity game engine. As I approach spaces, should the user be on the outside looking in or the inside looking out.
Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahwah, N.J. : Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, c2001; 2nd ed.
Durbin, J. (2017). Super data report: 6.3 million virtual reality headsets shipped in 2016. Retrieved from https://uploadvr.com/report-6-3-million-virtual-reality-headsets-shipped-2016/
Elsaesser, T. “Early Film History and Multimedia: An Archaeology of Possible Futures?” New media, old media: A history and theory reader. edited by W. H. K. Chun, A. W. Fisher, and T. W. Kennan, New York: Routledge, 2016, pp. 23-36.
“How to Shoot Bullet-Time Shots with the Insta360 ONE.” (2017, August 28). Retrieved from http://blog.insta360.com/one-bullet-time-how-to/).Milk, C. (2016). The birth of virtual reality as an art form. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chris_milk_the_birth_of_virtual_reality_as_an_art_form
Momchedjikova, B. (2017). Panstereorama Mania: When One Model Simply Isn’t Enough, (Re)Thinking the Panorama: Proceedings of the International Panorama Council Journal, Volume 1, 2017 Conference (pp. 7-15). New York City: IPC.
Schneider, R. E. (2017). Hidden Treasure: Panoramas of the Alaska Territory by Topographers with the United States Geological Survey (1910-1932), (Re)Thinking the Panorama: Proceedings of the International Panorama Council Journal, Volume 1, 2017 Conference (pp. 27-33). New York City: IPC.
Vincent, J. (2017). Vimeo introduces support for 360-degree videos. Retrieved from http://www.theverge.com/2017/3/8/14852298/vimeo-360-degree-video-support.