cardboard virtual reality viewer
Credit: Image by nicknormal on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

German news outlet Deutsche Welle has been experimenting with a new storytelling tool called Fader, which allows journalists with no experience of virtual reality production or programming skills to create and distribute VR content.

The tool is being developed in collaboration with Berlin start-up Vragments, headed by Linda Rath-Wiggins, who is also a VR expert in Deutsche Welle's innovation department. Fader allows journalists to combine their 360-degree videos and photos with text and audio to quickly produce and publish immersive virtual reality stories.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement about VR journalism because it is a new way of storytelling," she said, speaking at the VR & AR World conference in London today (20 October).

"But there are lots of challenges associated with it, including time, skills, money and the uncertainty of what platforms we should be publishing it on, which Fader is designed to help with."

Deutsche Welle has been experimenting heavily with computer-generated imagery (CGI) in virtual reality. Three of its major projects have used this method to show how beacon technology works in a Berlin metro station, how cancer treatment affects people's lungs and what an unfinished Berlin airport would have looked like if the building process had been completed.

Data visualisation is a very interesting area to experiment with in virtual realityLinda Rath-Wiggins

Rath-Wiggins explained that when journalists use Fader to produce content, they shoot footage with a 360-degree camera, such as a Ricoh Theta S, then they import the files into the tool, edit the content within, and receive a URL to share the final project with audiences watching on mobile devices.

Fader allows journalists to produce virtual reality content in three main templates: importing a map before adding text and information for the viewer to explore, importing open data and creating 3D graphs and bar charts, and by creating a virtual room, enabling people to walk from one pre-defined story point to the next one.

"You can combine text, audio and images together, upload multiple pieces of footage and change the order, and even upload 2D video," Rath-Wiggins said.

"Data visualisation is a very interesting area to experiment with in virtual reality, so although we are still seeing what works and what doesn't, at the moment you can upload a spreadsheet into the tool and it will show you a 360-degree representation of that with bar charts."

She explained that Deutsche Welle is constantly testing Fader to see how it can be further tailored to suit reporters' needs as the industry expands, and the tool has also received funding through Google's Digital News Initiative earlier this year.

"The idea has to be that one journalist in the newsroom goes out, shoots, and comes back and puts it all together.

"We imagine the map software will become much more advanced in the future, where you can maybe see the map from above and have even more interactivity," said Rath-Wiggins.

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