Pictured is the promotional poster for “Re: Disappearing,” the Immersive Media Initiative’s first 360-degree narrative story.

Pictured is the promotional poster for “Re: Disappearing,” the Immersive Media Initiative’s first 360-degree narrative story.

Graphic courtesy of: Immersive Media Initiative

Student John Tauriello helps Immersive Media Initiative team member Josh Antonuccio test the IMI 360 Video Camera Rig helmet, which was used to shoot “Re: Disappearing.”

Student John Tauriello helps Immersive Media Initiative team member Josh Antonuccio test the IMI 360 Video Camera Rig helmet, which was used to shoot “Re: Disappearing.”

Photo courtesy of: Eric Williams

Pictured is the recording device used to capture audio for “Re: Disappearing.” The device includes external microphones placed inside two rubber ears to imitate human sound perception.

Pictured is the recording device used to capture audio for “Re: Disappearing.” The device includes external microphones placed inside two rubber ears to imitate human sound perception.

Photographer: Rusty Sedgewick

Featured Stories


OHIO’s IMI enters its first 360-degree narrative story into nation’s premier film festivals

School of Media Arts and Studies to offer University’s first virtual reality courses this summer


As the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab’s newly developed Immersive Media Initiative is preparing to launch Ohio University’s first virtual reality courses this summer, those involved in the initiative are hoping that the fruits of their first venture into 360-degree storytelling piques the interest of the nation’s film industry.

OHIO faculty and students involved in the Immersive Media Initiative (IMI) – part of the Scripps College of Communication – spent part of this past summer shooting the IMI’s first 360-degree narrative story. That work was followed up by many hours during fall semester devoted to the post-production process before submitting it for entry into three of the nation’s top film festivals. 

John Bowditch, director of the GRID Lab and co-founder of the IMI, explained that the heart of the IMI lies in creating learning experiences for OHIO students.

“The Immersive Media Initiative is dedicated to teaching students about immersive media so that Ohio University students can become leaders in the emerging markets of virtual and augmented reality,” Bowditch said.

Creating the 360-dgree narrative story was among the first of those immersive media learning experiences.

Titled “Re: Disappearing,” the nine-minute virtual reality experience tells the story of a teenage girl (played by Kyli MacNeal) struggling with the impending divorce of her parents while being guided through a treetop zip line course by a quirky employee (played by Jakob Bottoms). While the crux of the story isn’t unprecedented, the way in which the story is told illustrates a new frontier in filmmaking and storytelling and reflects the groundbreaking work being conducted at OHIO’s GRID Lab.

The 360-degree story allows viewers to feel as though they are physically in each scene; they can see everything that the characters in the scene are seeing – all 360 degrees of sight – and hear the sounds as though they are actually standing there. 

Viewing these sorts of 360-degree experiences in their purest form requires special virtual reality headsets, such as the soon-to-be-released Oculus Rift, or a cheaper version like Google Cardboard that uses a cell phone as the viewing instrument. However, the Google Chrome browser allows users to get a sense of what 360-degree film is like without using any special device. Using Google Chrome, viewers can watch 360-degree films on YouTube and see the entire 360-degree view by simply using the hand tool or directional arrows in the upper left corner to look around each scene. In November, The New York Times released “The Displaced,” a short 360-degree film about children who have been uprooted by war. That film is available here but must be watched using Google Chrome to experience the 360-degree effect.

OHIO faculty and students who produced “Re: Disappearing” spent two days this past summer shooting the film at Hocking Hills Canopy Tours. While the film’s story focuses on the teenage girl and her internal struggles, the story is told in five different scenes with a ride on a zip line serving as the transition from scene to scene. It is during those zip line rides that viewers are treated to the most thrilling 360-degree views. 

Eric Williams, an IMI team member and associate professor in OHIO’s School of Media Arts and Studies, co-wrote, co-produced and directed “Re: Disappearing.” He’s also one of the invisible stars of the project, having completed all the zip lining in the film while shooting those experiences with a special camera rig comprised of six GoPro cameras attached to a helmet he was wearing. The camera rig, owned by the School of Media Arts and Studies, allowed Williams to capture the entire 360-degree view during each zip line ride. The footage was then stitched together and edited at the GRID Lab using one of the lab’s high-end computers able to process the footage from all six cameras simultaneously. 

“It’s taken forever to edit it,” Williams said, noting that every minute of finished 360-degree film uses a terabyte of data.

In addition to capturing the 360-degree view of each scene, “Re: Disappearing” also features three-dimensional sound, allowing viewers to hear the audio in each scene as it would be heard if they were actually there. Capturing that three-dimensional sound was made possible thanks to equipment purchased by the School of Media Arts and Studies – a recording device that captures sound via external microphones placed inside two rubber ears to imitate human sound perception.

That process (referred to as binaural recording) was overseen by IMI co-founder and School of Media Arts and Studies Lecturer Josh Antonuccio, who also mixed the sound and wrote and recorded the music score for “Re: Disappearing.” 

“Binaural audio experience is completely different for the user,” Antonuccio noted. “Instead of merely presenting you with a scene, it actually places you inside of it, with perception of boundary cues and a 360 awareness of your surroundings.”

“The School of Media Arts and Studies provided us with this really cool package of equipment, and we were really excited to test the gear with students this summer,” Williams said, noting the medical training work the IMI engaged in this past fall that also utilized the GoPro camera rig and binaural recording equipment. (See related story.) “We wanted to do something in the creative realm as well, so ‘Re: Disappearing’ is our first creative virtual reality project.”

The film’s three-person cast includes two Ohio University students: Jakob Bottoms, an undergraduate majoring in media production, and Beth Mishler, a graduate student in the School of Media Arts and Studies who plays the teenage girl’s mother. Mishler also helped Williams write the film’s original script when she was an undergraduate studying screenwriting. The lead role of Blu is played by Kyli MacNeal, a senior at Athens High School.

OHIO students were involved in nearly every element of creating “Re: Disappearing” – from casting and acting to shooting and editing – with many of those students working on the project in their spare time.  A crew of four Ohio University students – Tyler Blust, Alan Bostelman, Abigail Doyle and Michael France – performed a majority of the shooting and audio recording.

Overseeing the editing process was Taylor Rohrig, a sophomore majoring in games and animation and employed at the GRID Lab through OHIO’s Program to Aid Career Exploration (PACE).

According to Rohrig, the post-production process on the film began in September.

“We had to learn how to stitch 360 videos together, which was a lot of research and trial and error – like, all of September was trial and error,” Rohrig said as she was in the final hours of editing and rendering the film. “This was the first time I’d ever seen anything like this. These types of video are really new, and this is a really cool field to be a part of because it’s so new and so innovative.”

The group wrapped up fall semester by entering “Re: Disappearing” into New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival, Seattle’s Transmedia and Independent Film Festival, and the Los Angeles New Media Film Festival. 

“When we hopefully get into these festivals, we want to take the students with us and have them interact with professionals in the industry,” Williams said. “What the students don’t realize is that this field is so new that the professionals are trying to figure it all out, too. I think the pros want the students to help them figure it out, and that’s the most exciting part.”

The IMI doesn’t expect to begin hearing from the festivals until mid-March. 

In the meantime, the IMI co-founders –Antonuccio, Bowditch and Williams – are busy developing virtual reality courses, which will be offered at Ohio University for the first time ever this coming summer. 

According to Williams, OHIO’s School of Media Arts and Studies will be offering MDIA 4905: Immersive Media Process, a course on the evolution and future applications of virtual and augmented reality, and MDIA 4906: VR/AR Production, a hands-on virtual and augmented reality production course, during summer session. 

Williams noted that the courses will be open to all OHIO students.

“We want physical therapy students to take these classes, in addition to media arts students,” Williams said. “We want history students and journalism students because, from my perspective, we’re trying to teach people about immersive media so they can tell us how it can apply to what it is that they want to do. This technology isn’t just for storytellers. This technology is for anyone who wants to communicate in a new and innovative way.”

‘Re: Disappearing’ credits

A project of Ohio University’s Immersive Media Initiative, “Re: Disappearing” is the result of work performed by many individuals, including: 

Cast: Jakob Bottoms, Kyli MacNeal, Beth Mishler

Producers: Josh Antonuccio, John Bowditch, Eric Williams, Petra Williams

Director: Eric Williams

Technical director: John Bowditch

Music by Josh Antonuccio

Editor: Taylor Rohrig

Writers: Eric Williams, Beth Mishler

Inspired by the short story by M.E. Yankelevich