Over the past few years, Virtual Reality has been slowly seeping into the mainstream and finding its footing as a versitile medium. The applications have been far reaching, from medical research to journalism. But a large problem still remains: accessibility––not just in the adoption (at an $800 price tag for high end equipment) but in the production as well. Creating virtual reality projects is still an expensive and time consuming process, restricting content production to large studios.
Here at the Digital Humanities Initiative, we’re not only focused on teaching digital literacy, but also promoting works that seek to democratize often convoluted digital practices. Which brings me to Story Spheres, a simple tool to create web-based VR pieces out of panoramic images and audio. Anyone with access to a smartphone can create 360º panoramic images, record audio, then drop them into Story Sphere to create both 2D web and 3D VR experiences. Not only is it easy enough for anyone to use, but it’s also mobile, meaning it can empower content creators around the world. In one notable example, Save the Elephants, a UK-based charity headquartered in Nairobi, used the platform to create and share stories about the elephants and people of Samburu in Kenya through panoramic photographs.
You can make your own Story Sphere by downloading a 360º photo app, such as the Google Street View app on your phone. Clicking the camera icon will take you to their 360º camera that will ask you to take a series of photos around you. Don’t worry if it looks bad, the app will automatically stitch the average of these together to create a decent panorama, allowing you to save it to your phone. Most smartphones come with an audio recording app by default, which you can use to record things like interviews or ambient audio.
When you sign up for Story Sphere, you’ll be asked to sign in with your Google account, then to upload your panorama and audio files. Using their studio, you can place the audio clips throughout the scene and edit things like distance and autoplay. You can even link together multiple story spheres to create a tour of a larger space.
From there you can try out your newly created Story Sphere in your browser, or if you have Google Cardboard, try it in VR! You can share a link to your sphere, or even embed it directly in a webpage or blog.