The Future of News…

This morning’s New York Times came packaged with a cardboard box. Inside the sleeve was a virtual reality viewer – branded with The New York Times, GE and Google. Of course. It blows my mind to think about what kind of work went into creating this gee-whiz, deceptively simple experience. The kids immediately were curious about this box – which is called Google Cardboard.

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I had to download the nytvr app from iTunes and get the contraption set up, which didn’t take long. I made the video to record how the kids experienced the tool for the first time. The VR videos on the NYT app are meant to accompany feature articles in today’s paper.

The viewer reminds me of the Poppy 3D, which I got from a Kickstarter campaign. It’s a tool that allows you to use your iPhone to shoot 3D videos. Read post…

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Engineering a Marble Run

Shen's Marble Run

For Christmas, Shen asked Santa for marbles. I’m not sure where he got that idea. He’d never spoke about marbles before and when it was his turn to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what he wished for Christmas, he said, “Marbles.” Perhaps, in the moment, Shen simply said the first thing that came to mind and forgot to say what he’d actually been talking about: Hot Wheels cars and a train set.

I found a marble run set online from Quercetti and gave that to Shen “from Santa.” It’s a low-tech toy that can scale up or down in complexity according to how many pieces you have. You can buy additional segments or sets that have motorized elevators and such. We started with the basic 45-piece set, which costs about $20. It’s still a little too challenging for Shen to set up, so I have had to help him. But he thoroughly enjoys watching the marbles wend their way through the maze of tracks. I asked him what he likes about the marble set and he replied, “I like playing with you.” (Awww.)

Quercetti Marble Run

Shen asks many questions about how things work, so I think the marble run can help him develop those engineering skills. He did construct a tall run that worked – even if it wasn’t perfectly stable. But matching the pieces to one of the design examples on the box takes a little help. The other day, we built one of the example structures and then Shen asked me to shoot a movie of him demonstrating how it works. I shot it in 3D using the Poppy (read about Poppy), but the lighting and resolution of the video aren’t great, so it’s a bit fuzzy (sorry). But I love that my usually shy Shen thought about what he wanted to say — we did three takes and he started the same each time: “Hi. I made a marble set with my mama and I can show you something really cool.” At the end, he says, “Done. Goodbye.”

Kickstarter: Poppy 3D and iPhone

Shen is viewing a 3D movie through a Poppy device.
Shen is viewing a 3D movie through a Poppy device.

My friend Ethan Lowry and his co-developer, Joe Heitzeberg, launched a Kickstarter project for the Poppy, a device that turns your iPhone into a 3D camera. I backed the project at the $39 level and received my Poppy right after Christmas. The concept is reminiscent of the View-Master, which we all have probably played with as children. (The initial fundraising goal for Poppy was $40,000, but the project ultimately raised more than $190,000.) Poppy uses optics to create the 3D effect. You slip your iPhone into the slot and flip the front optics box and start shooting photos or video using the Poppy app. It’s an ingenious and affordable device that I thought would offer us a fun way to collaborate and create.

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After Poppy started shipping, Ethan and Joe sent an email to all the Kickstarter backers inviting them to submit Poppy photos and videos for a chance to win another device. I had just purchased the Animation Studio kit, a box that transforms into a miniature set for a stop-motion movie, as a project for the kids. I thought it might be fun to use the Poppy to make a 3D stop-motion movie. Meilee and I had made a stop-motion movie in the past using Legos and the Stop Motion Studio iPhone app, but we certainly had not shot anything in 3D.

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Animation Studio is a fold-out box that serves as a miniature movie set. The kit includes different backgrounds, a how-to book, and cut-out characters and props.

We decided to create a simple story using two Christmas ornaments and a gingerbread cookie. We shot it using the Poppy and then created the movie with the Stop Motion Studio app. Meilee proudly claims that she did the actual eating of the cookie. I ended up rendering two versions. In the original, the titles are hard to read and the pace is a little too fast. The second version has cleaner titles and a slightly slower pace. You can watch them as is to get a sense of the plot, but it’s best viewed through a Poppy, of course.

Version 1:

Version 2:

On New Year’s Day, we went to the beach near our house and shot this short movie about beach combing.