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Immersing Yourself in the Story

November 11, 2011 | Hogan Keyser
condition_one_ipad_app.jpg
November 11, 2011 by Michael Kamber via NYTimes.com -- Tired of news footage where all you can see is what's right in front you as the camera rolls down a road in a war-torn landscape? A new iPad app is about to change all that, immersing viewers in a near virtual reality where they can become director and editor.

With the Condition One app, which debuts Friday, viewers can get a 180-degree field of view by simply moving the iPad in their hands. Swipe the screen or move the tablet left or right to see a truck full of soldiers rolling beside you. Want to examine the sky?  Hold your iPad up, as if you are blocking the sun, and your field of view is filled with clouds or warplanes streaking overhead.

"We are trying to create a new type of storytelling for new devices," said Danfung Dennis, a combat photographer and filmmaker who developed Condition One with three colleagues.

"We have heard from older people that their young kids approach the TV, swipe their fingers across it and say, 'It's broken.' Today, it's almost expected that our experience is interactive.  Viewing is no longer a passive experience, it's one where you have to participate and explore."

The company will license its software and technical support to media companies whose employees will shoot video using what Mr. Dennis describes as a small, inexpensive camera - though one about which he declined to give more information, citing its proprietary technology.  The Condition One software embedded in each media company's app will interpolate the footage, providing the viewer with an immersive experience.

"It's a time of change, and the media business model is dissolving," he said.   "Media companies are moving to tablets; they are pursuing stories but they are failing to innovate and capture audiences."

Condition One tested the app with Patrick Chauvel, a well-traveled combat photographer, who filmed three short pieces in Libya, Thailand and New Orleans.   The Libya piece is a sensory revelation: the viewer, surrounded on all sides by chaos and gunfire, pans the iPad to experience new fields of view and follow the combat.

In one astounding scene, Mr. Chauvel takes cover behind a berm with Libyan rebels.  The viewer hears the whoosh of rockets overhead and can pan up to watch the streaking missiles burn through a smoky sky.  Here, with excitement on all sides, the app breaks new ground in creating a genuine experience for the viewer.

Yet even in the combat scenes from Libya, easily the most successful of Condition One's pieces, there are signs of the medium's limitations.  It conveys a great experience, but can it become something more?  Created expressly to give the viewer editing choices, the app appears to add little to traditional storytelling.  It may even prove an impediment. Lovers of linear narrative need not apply here.

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