Dinosaur National Monument &
Chief Red Moose's Legend
Sometimes you get yourself in a position where you are pushed to stretch your abilities and conquer daunting challenges. Creating this Immersive VR Nature Vacation was that for me. Every tiny step forward was met with a new hard challenge that would take quite the effort to overcome, so I am going to divide this post between first telling you about this fun VR Nature Vacation, and then I am going to document my journey, for it was quite the crazy ride. If you are just curious how to find this Nature Vacation to Dinosaur National Monument, just click on this link, and then it will pop up on your Quest headset.
Link Directly to this Dinosaur National Monument Nature Vacation
Link to my Oculus Portfolio will access to ALL the VR Nature Vacations
What is in this VR Nature Vacation?
Fantasy Canyon and Night Painting.
This VR Nature Vacation starts in Fantasy Canyon. Fantasy Canyon has a fantastic Legend that was told by Chief Red Moose. We were able to use some fun light painting, time lapses, green screening, and special effects to recreate this fun story.
|One of Todd's Night Painting shots that looks like a ghost to me. We managed to find 5 awesome creatures with his night painting. We only ended up using 3 in the story.
Dinosaur National Monument
Then we head to Dinosaur National Monument to see the Wall of Bones. This section has one of my favorite 3D stereoscopic shots of an Allosaurus skeleton that looks so amazing. The Wall of Bones at Dinosaur National Monument was a very impressive in the sheer number of bones all in one spot. It is mind boggling that they have pulled so many dinosaur skeletons out of this area for museums around the world, and they still have a massive number of bones in that wall to see.
Then we head to Echo Park (that is also in Dinosaur National Monument). This is a gorgeous location where the Green River and the Yampa River merge. Here you get to have some time with some Dinosaurs that might have lived at this beautiful place, and also a herd of Big Horn Sheep that live in this area.
Next we head to the Three Kings Petroglyphs that has some amazing Petroglyphs telling quite the story from peace to war created by the Native American Indians. The variety is quite the contrast to me, cause the first looks like a message of peace and honoring the “Great Spirit”, and then further down, it has blood in the painting, and pictures be-headings and wars.
Lastly we enjoy some time a Red Fleet Reservoir Paddle Boarding in an Alcove, and then to check out some Dinosaur Footprints.
This Adventure also includes the location of a hidden treasure of a wad of cash. Hoping this money stash will be a fun thing for you to chase and try and find. It is not far off the trail, and not in a location that is dangerous, so please don't go anywhere crazy to look for it.
My Oculus Launch Journey
So when I got accepted into the Oculus Launch program. they said we could do an app or a video, but they really pushed developing an app. I decided to try and brave app building (even though I have no programming skills) and use the magic of 360 to transport you to a world you can't go. To me the thought of pulling in some dinosaurs so you could experience some time with some friendly Dinosaurs, and a trip to Dinosaur National Monument sounded like it might fit the bill perfectly. I have created over 60 Nature Vacations and have it down pretty good, so imagine my surprise when I came home and my footage was all bad. I was shocked, and a little discouraged, but I took it as a sign that I needed to up my game to Pro 360 Gear.
So another trip to Dinosaur National Monument area was set up, and a Insta360 Pro2 Camera was rented from somewhere states away (for there are very few places to rent a 360 Pro camera). We also got pro audio gear, and decided to really up the game. This turned out to be rougher than I expected, for the rental camera had problems. It only had 1 battery, so we were limited to 10 minutes of shooting, and then the battery had to charge for about an hour. The camera would only record some of the time, there was a short in the charging cord, and the audio on the camera was messed up. We got to Red Fleet Reservoir, and the Lake was 30 feet lower than it was in the summer so I couldn’t get to the places where I wanted to get some of the shots I wanted, and the wind was so bad it make it impossible to get good footage on the lake. Let's just say, many deep breaths were needed.
When we got home, we were on the clock to get that camera sent back, but we had to get the data off the Camera before we could do that. The Insta360 Pro2 Camera has 7 memory cards, so you can't just pull out the cards and have have your photos. The Camera must connect to a computer in a certain way, and then compile all the 7 pieces into a folder so you can bring them into an app and compile and stitch them. We kept trying computer after computer and none of them would work. We finally got an older Surface Tablet and it finally did the connection to the Insta360 Pro2 Camera! We were thrilled, but then it took a whole day and most a night to compile all the shots!
When I finally got the shots all compiled and ready to work with them, I now had some footage that was 8K, some that was 6K, some that was 5.7K, some that were Stereoscopic, and some that was Monoscopic. It sounds like it wouldn't be a big deal, but trying to get all the shots in the same format, and the same size, that was the best size for Oculus took me weeks of rendering. I probably should of learned the proxy process, but I hadn't had luck in the past because of the rotation and stitching issues. It probably was good, for it allowed me to quickly render versions at the end of the project, but the initial startup was burtal with rendering and process times. To give you an example, taking 3 shots and stitching them and then shorting them so that I only have about 2 minutes of footage, and then converting it to 4K stereoscopic shot would take me 25+ hours. This was even more brutal, for I had to use one of my hubbies machines to do this, and he was in the middle of a big movie project that needed constant rendering himself. Squeezing that huge of chucks of time on his computers was so tricky. I was watching the time allotment for Oculus Launch slip through my fingers and there was so many days I could not do anything on it.
During this time, I was also trying to figure out setting up "Packaging" in Unreal. Basically the setup forces you to get all the final elements you need with Android, and Quest, and Microsoft, and getting SO many ducks perfectly aligned so you can just start. It helps a ton at the tail end, for everything is already done and ready to sale and be up on Oculus as an app, but it can be brutal to get everything set up right, especially because there are bugs in Android code and each machine has unique issues it has to overcome. My personal computer was not built strong enough to deal with 360 stereoscopic video, so it forced me to use my hubbies computer even more, when it was seldom available. After weeks of trying to do and redo the packaging process, searching for solutions to deal with packaging errors, and having people try and help me debug, I finally found an article titled "the Packaging Process from Hell". Basically the setup on the computer I was using was so tricky that it required doing dozens of extra steps to get it to "Package" including rewriting some of the Android programming code. It was a mess, and took me 6 weeks of frustrating stress.
So my goal at this point was to use Unreal to compile the video/app using a Stereoscopic Plugin, and then have a few moments that were interactive. My Vertical Slice needed to be 4-6 minutes. Besides doing a fun video, I really wanted to allow users to do their own Paddle Boarding, and interact with Dinosaurs, dust off some sand from some bones, build a simple skeleton, relatively tell my story with effects, and walk along the Wall of Bones in 3D complied using Photgrammetry. After weeks of trying to follow so closely the video for the Unreal Plug in, I realized the Plugin did not really do what they said it would do. It would work for just 360 Photos, or 360 Videos, but if you tried and mix them, or try and add Stereoscopic Video, it wouldn't work. I tried to beg the programmer for help, and he just made me feel stupid, and then I took it to Unreal, and they just forced him to give me a refund without helping me with the task I needed. The other applicants that were attempting to do stereoscopic Video were having a beast of a time in just Unreal, and I was also not having any luck, so I decided to move back to Adobe where I didn't feel so out of my element. Too much time had been wasted with Unreal and my time would be up soon. I needed something to show. (Unreal currently really struggles with 360 video bigger than 2K. It glitches and doesn't run smoothly. It also needs H264 format, and Oculus Quest wanted H265 format for Stereoscopic Video. High Quality Stereoscopic Video was more important than low quality interactivity, so I ran that direction.)
Moving back to Adobe, I realized I now had some new tasks to figure out. I needed to figure out Adobe After Effects for my special effects! I needed to figure out how to green screen coyotes, our ghosts we got from night painting, dinosaurs, and snow particles. This was a challenge with stereoscopic footage, but it was a fun challenge. I actually enjoyed how tough this part was, for it was interesting to learn some new tools. It felt like I was getting where I wanted to go using Adobe, when in Unreal it felt like you would struggle for weeks to move forward the tiniest of steps, and most of the time was dealt with feeling like you were going backwards not forward.
The pro audio was difficult, for when we tried to get the audio off, it didn't work. Forums said everyone was having issues with this, and it looked like if the audio was not hooked up to a camera, then the audio was unaccessable. The Rodes need a special connector to connect the audio gear to the Insta 360 Pro, and of course we did not happen to have that on the film shoot. Not sure if it would have really helped, for the audio on the camera inself had real issuse going on. I used so many tools to try and fix the corrupted audio from the camera, and had it almost acceptable. About a week before my final review, Rode audio company came out with an update for their gear, and we managed to get the pro audio off the devices. That was a huge relief, but still so trick to sinc up because of the lag with high quality footage, and you really had to watch any changes from 29.97 or 30fps, for it would mess up your syncing. Audio you thought was perfectly synced up at the first of the shot could be off by the end of the shot if the audio at video were not both exactly 29.97, or 30.
When I got to my first review, my evaluators were all about developing an app. They did not understand or appreciate the challenges I had already overcome, so they encouraged me to move my app (that was just buttons to head to Oculus TV) back in the interactive elements I had first envisioned. I took on this challenge even though programming is WAY over my head, and I seriously fought each day to figuring out parts of this complicated process. I am not sure if I triggered issues with the AI in Oculus, or if I just have super bad luck, but I hit so many walls in this process. They sent me a Quest 1 and a Quest 2, and neither of them would sinc up to Oculus Launch Hub. The Quest 2 had weeks of being stuck in the set up menu, until I got a hold of Facebook to help me fix it. The Oculus Launch Hub was buggy for me, and none of the buttons would work. I was encouraged to run a command process called "adb self-update" and it ruined the packing process on my machine that was so miserable to get packaging. This pushed me to do programming on my laptop that wasn't even close to being powerful enough to run unreal. This meant loading Unreal took 5-10 minuntes, crashed often, and meant I could not use any 360 videos. That is not even touching the surface of how hard programming is. The progress is SO very slow when you are trying to programming to make even the tiniest of things happen. For some stupid reason, I was obsesssed with figuring out how to help people actually have a Paddleboarding experience. I had the attitude that if I couldn’t figure Paddle Boarding, an app wasn’t worth it. Paddle Boarding though is way more complicated than most experienced programmers try to tackle, for it is so much harder than you can imagine. Holding a paddle with 2 hands has huge issues, and paddling and water has lots of issues.
I tried so many approaches to make this work. Using 360 video or photos doesn't work because no matter what you try, you can't make it fill like you are actually on the water. It always feels like you are too high. The water features in Unreal requires too much memory for the Quest, and doesn't work with the Left and right eye of the headset without causing headaches. You can't even use transparency when making an app, for it is too high a cost for memory. I think I had finally come up with a solution and was so stoaked when disaster struck. Not sure if it was a test to see if we could counquer, or if it was a random bug sent just to me, but one of the methods of testing an app you are developing is uploading using Android Debug Bridge. You upload your apk that way, and then copy over your Obb file. There was a green SD card symbol that appeared on my Quest headset and downloaring, and somehow they installed a block on my headset that is wouldn't allow on of those 2 elements to be uploaded, and therefor wouldn't work. I tell you when the green SD card comes up on your headset, they are changing something, so watch for what they have changed. Anyway, having them block my progress was a wall that I couldn't find a creative way around.
I decided to be done with my Oculus Launch program, just submit my video. I also had to do a Oculus Laucn Slide show for my Review that I have attached, and a Demo Pitch Video that I also have below.
Here is my Oculus Launch Slide Show.
Here is the Video I created for Demo Day for Oclulus Launch
So basically in conclusion, my Oclulus Launch Experience has been very rough. At times I completely and totally lost my passion and purpose and struggled with the blues. I was stuck in an weird in between spot. I was down, for I had dug in to figuring out programming almost everyday after work for months, and had so little to show for my huge efforts. I think the computer I was working on was dealing with a virus that was directly affecting Unreal and many "Bugs" in Oculus made things even rougher. I was stuck for I didn't know if I could go back to the quality of my simple InstaX2 videos for I now knew how beautiful the footage was on a Pro 2, but I still can't justify the expense. I have put in thousands of hours and thousands of dollars into this 360 venture, and I think I have made a total of a little over $150. Of course, just like many times in my past, I have come back to the calm feeling that this is not about making money for me. It is about me sharing hope and happiness, and give me a Passion and Purpose to my life. I often get direction and ideas from above while I chase my Passion and Purpose. If you haven't found your Passion and Purpose of your life, I tell you that it is SO wonderful when you find your own Passion and Purpose. Talk to the One above, and have him help you find your Passion and Purpose, then chase it like crazy. There is nothing better than not only finding your Passion and Purpose, but then also getting a stamp of approval from above. That is really something. Find yours....it is worth it!
Sending Love and Positive Vibes Your Way!