Creating Compelling VR & AR Experiences at LIFE VR

Mia Tramz, Managing Editor of LIFE VR at Time, Inc.

Mia Tramz, Managing Editor of LIFE VR at Time, Inc.

Mia Tramz is the Managing Editor of LIFE VR at Time. At the 4th Annual LDV Vision Summit, Mia will be giving a keynote on "Pioneering VR & AR for Media Companies." Evan had a chance to catch up with her in May about the virtual reality and augmented reality projects she is producing at LIFE VR and where she thinks virtual reality will go in the next 5-10 years.

Discount tickets still available for the next LDV Vision Summit May 24 & 25 in NYC.

Please share with us how and why you evolved from a more traditional photo editing career into multimedia and now the Managing Editor of LIFE VR.
Immersive, non-traditional storytelling has always been of interest to me and even as a photo editor on TIME.com I was looking to push the boundaries of the way in which we tell stories visually. In 2014, about a year after I had been hired, I produced TIME’s first underwater 360 video, Deep Dive, with Fabien Cousteau. That project set me on a path towards VR – soon thereafter I started researching how to produce a VR experience for TIME. Around the same time, LIFE VR – Time Inc’s company wide VR initiative – was approved and they were looking for ideas to put into production. I worked with several of TIME’s editors and reporters to come up with a list of experiences we could produce that year – which ended up being about ten pages long. I think when they saw my early enthusiasm for the medium and how much leg work I had done, they felt I’d be the right person to launch the brand.

Deep Dive with Fabien Cousteau - Courtesy of TIME

Deep Dive with Fabien Cousteau - Courtesy of TIME

What is your biggest challenge in creating VR and AR content today?
I’ve found the challenges for creating AR and VR to be quite different. 

With VR the biggest challenge is getting proper resources behind the projects I feel are most important to produce. These are often ambitious, moon shot projects with price tags to match. Raising capital to make sure those projects are properly produced is no small feat. I’ve been very lucky to have had early support from Time Inc and our brands in both creating and promoting VR and 360 video; outside of our company, we've been fortunate to have support from partners such as AMD and HTC on past projects such as Remembering Pearl Harbor. We’ve also been lucky to work with supportive production partners who have, in many ways, made it possible to achieve a very high quality of storytelling.

With AR, the biggest challenge is producing content that isn’t a gimmick – it needs to have inherent value for the consumer so that activating it isn’t a chore. It should feel delightful and compelling, and the user should feel that they got a return that was worth their time and effort, just like with any digital content. There’s many ways to implement AR, both editorially and for advertising clients. With the AR camera now available in the LIFE VR app that we launched last week with the Capturing Everest issue of Sports Illustrated, we can launch 2D and 360 video content as well as 3D CGI animation and graphics off of both our print products and pretty much any other physical object. We can also make the pages of our magazines, including advertisements, shopable. Parsing out the most impactful way to implement AR throughout our brands – that serves both our editorial and sales teams – will be an exciting challenge in the months to come.

Remembering Pearl Harbor - Courtesy of LIFE VR

Remembering Pearl Harbor - Courtesy of LIFE VR

I am sure you see many different story opportunities to publish in VR. How do choose the best stories to produce VR today? Can you give a couple examples?
At this early stage, it’s a lot to ask a consumer to download our app, find a headset and then dedicate time to watching the experiences we create. My guiding principle has been that any experience we produce or distribute has to be compelling enough that a consumer would go to all those lengths to be able to watch it – and that it delivers once they’ve invested the time and energy. Beyond that, an important part of my job is finding unique ways to bring the DNA of LIFE Magazine to the work we do. So, for example, LIFE covered the attack on Pearl Harbor extensively; when we were looking into historical events to recreate, it was a moment in history that LIFE – and TIME – could speak to authoritatively and something that we could weave LIFE imagery and reporting into. With Capturing Everest, the VR and AR project we just launched with Sports Illustrated, LIFE famously covered Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of the summit with iconic photography and written reporting. Tackling the first bottom-to-top climb of Everest in VR allowed us to bring the spirit of that storytelling to a new audience, and a new generation.

Capturing Everest © LIFE VR & Sports Illustrated

Capturing Everest © LIFE VR & Sports Illustrated

Which business sector do you believe will be most disrupted by VR and why?
At the moment I see VR augmenting and supplementing business sectors versus disrupting. If you look at education, it’s an incredibly powerful learning tool that enhances the curriculum teachers already have in place; it’s been a great tool for the military and medical fields for decades; when applied to film making and journalism, creators now have the option to weigh it against other more traditional methods of covering a story such as photo or video. In each case, I see VR becoming another tool in the tool box, not necessarily a disrupter or replacement. 

Depending on how quickly facial recognition techniques evolve, I could see video conferences perhaps eventually being replaced by VR or AR conferences. The gaming industry may present the biggest question mark – but again it seems like VR will be a great option among many others, not necessarily a replacement for existing gaming consoles.

What excites you about speaking at our LDV Vision Summit?
Sharing of information is such a key part of the development of any industry or innovation, especially in its early stages – I’m a big believer in collaboration and the ‘all ships rise’ approach. What we are able to inspire in and learn from each other will shape the future of AR, VR and MR as much as what we are able to invent and discover on our own. Getting to share what I’ve learned and to learn from others is the most exciting part of participating in the summit.

What is not possible in VR today that you hope will be possible in 5-10 years?
The headsets themselves right can be limiting. Implementation of inside-out tracking and accommodating for AR and MR in addition to VR are all innovations that seem to be on the way that I think will support both user adoption and content creation. 

The realistic rendering of human faces and registering of emotions in CG is also still a huge challenge and prohibitively expensive in most cases. Companies like 8i have developed methods for volumetrically capturing living people and their technology is improving day by day; incorporating some AI seems to be a necessary next step. When it comes to people who are no longer with us – or who never existed in the first place – rendering a face, emotions and responses that are believable is a big challenge. 

To experience LIFE VR, download the LIFE VR app for iOS and Android; visit the LIFE VR channel on Samsung VR; or visit time.com/lifevr. Certain experiences are also available on Steam, Viveport and in the Oculus Store.