While Michael Phelps remains the focal point for Team USA Swimming at Rio 2016, Olympic newcomer Tom Shields has qualified for both the Men’s 200 Butterfly and Men’s 100 Butterfly events. He finished second to none other than Phelps in both events leading up to the Summer Games.
Fans can get a 360-degree underwater view of Shields in action courtesy of his sponsor Kellogg’s, public relations and marketing agency Edelman and Deluxe VR, the new virtual reality division of Hollywood technology company Deluxe Entertainment Services Group. The Tom Shields: Dive Right In VR Experience is part of the larger Kellogg’s “Gets Me Started” marketing campaign.
“It was cool to be a part of this, and if VR does catch on I’ll be the first guy in,” Shields said in an interview. “Bringing that perspective from underwater through VR is great because it’s where a lot of the action happens, and people usually don’t see it.”
Andy Shripka, associate marketing director of the Kellogg’s Brand at Kellogg Company, said the goal of the Tom Shields experience was to put the viewer in the role of Shields and discover what gets him going in the morning.
“VR is a brand new storytelling medium,” Shripka said. “It’s not mainstream yet, but it allows us to connect with people in a new way. For example, we used audio to steer the viewer through the experience.”
Zachary Cole, the director and VFX/post-production supervisor on the virtual reality experience at Deluxe VR, said the one-day shoot required a lot of creativity.
“One of the biggest challenges was that the optical distortions you get underwater are different from what you get above,” Cole said. “Having a camera rig that could compensate for that was important. We used custom lenses on GoPro cameras to give us a wider field of view, then in post, software tools to un-warp those distortions and correct for them.”
Shields said the whole idea was to bring people into the pool with him. And the shoot required a lot of “jerry-rigging” to get the camera to move correctly underwater. Deluxe engineers created a customized underwater camera rig with a pulley system for the GoPro cameras to enable the 360-degree capture. They came up with a way to move the camera through the water and have the rigging be very minimal, so that the rigging could be removed in post.
“This allows the audience to focus on the action without the distraction of thinking about ‘Who am I?’ or ‘How do I fit into this story?,’” Cole said.
Shields said this added excitement to the shoot because they didn’t know if it was going to work. There was a lot of experimentation going on. Cole said there are several times in the Kellogg’s piece where Shields makes direct eye contact with the audience. You can even watch his reaction to seeing the 360-degree video itself below:
“It’s unusual and it worked well,” Cole said. “Directing those kinds of connections that you know will resonate with the audience is different.”
While Samsung will be providing 360-degree coverage of the Summer Games (via a one-day delay) this August, the Deluxe VR experience was the first to dive into the pool with Olympians.
“One thing we really pushed the edge on for the Shields piece was editing – that’s what’s going on more in this piece than others before,” Cole said. “We cut very quickly but on action, so as long as the viewer is following Tom as he swims through the piece, they won’t miss anything. But, if they want to check it later, they will see different elements.”
This Tom Shields experience is part of a bigger focus on 360-degree content from the Hollywood company that worked on the special effects for Oscar-winning films such as Gravity and Mad Max: Fury Road.
Malte Wagener, head of Deluxe VR, said most of its virtual reality projects are completed in under 10 weeks.
“We’ve invested a lot of resources in developing both our skills and our technology foundation to be able to overcome a lot of the biggest challenges of VR post today,” Wagener said. “We have streamlined the process in two ways: with talent, and with technology.”
Deluxe’s background in traditional and digital filmmaking, working with Hollywood studios on everything from providing dailies to cutting-edge visual effects, has also helped with this exploration of virtual reality.
“In the past 24 months, virtual reality has been mostly short demos and visual slices, and now that we are past a first critical mass in regards to developers and content creators, we will see a new level of content quality to follow,” Wagener said.
Deluxe VR has been working in both 360-degree and computer-generated virtual reality. Wagener said while 360-degree video today is relatively low immersion due to its technical limitations, CG VR and real-time VR already offer the full scope of immersion.
“One of the inherent features of VR should always be the presence factor; the feeling that you are there,” Wagener said. “This is directly associated with the perception of depth and the ability to move around quite freely. The opportunities offered by both content types will develop continuously, but right now, 360-degree video seems fantastic for non-interactive experiences and sharing a moment or a feeling. CG, and especially real-time CG, are great because they enable you to deliver fully immersive content right away, with all of its interactivity and the ability to manipulate the viewer’s mind and senses.”
It seems Deluxe VR is diving into virtual reality far beyond this Tom Shields experience.
John Gaudiosi is a freelance reporter with experience covering the world of videos game for multiple outlets, such as Fortune and [a]listdaily. Follow him on Twitter: @.