Western River Expeditions Announces First Ever 360º Interactive Video of a Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

14 April 2015

New Video Technology Produces Groundbreaking Virtual-Reality Experience

IMG_0025sm_edited-1Salt Lake City, UT – After a decade of development, planning and collaboration, a groundbreaking 360º interactive video of a Western River Expeditions J-Rig adventure through the Grand Canyon is now available for viewing.

When this video http://www.westernriver.com/360/ is viewed on a desktop or laptop computer (not yet available on iPhone and iPad), viewers can see around the entire "sphere of view" surrounding the 360º camera. If running Chrome on a newer Android phone, the experience is even more stunning. One can actually move the phone around to look up and down the river, up at the cliffs, or down at the boat and water. Regardless of the device used, viewers are advised to watch the video in its highest resolution and in full screen mode.

The filming took place last August, but the idea came 10 years ago when a former river rafting guide on the Colorado River stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon. 360 Labs cofounder Thomas Hayden was on a road trip across North America for a project that would later become Google StreetView. When confronted with the abyss below, he knew that the shots he really wanted in this new 360º medium were going to be down in the center of it all, on the river itself. It took nearly 10 years for the technology to become compact and rugged enough to bring on a whitewater river trip. Today 360 Labs uses the ubiquitous GoPro cameras, with a few modifications, on specially designed, 3D printed mounts to capture the 360º field of view around the camera. The viewer can either click and drag on their desktops or simply move their mobile device (Android) to look around the sphere of video content.

IMG_0124sm_edited-1"What we do, photographers have been doing for over 100 years. Taking multiple images, side by side, with a bit of overlap and matching them together to get a wider field of view. With today's digital technology in both hardware and software, we are now able to stitch all possible angles together and do it with up to 60 frames per second video." said Hayden.

Daniel Holton, another 360º photographer in the Denver area, and Hayden, at the request of Western River Expeditions, took on the shooting challenge together, arriving at Lee's Ferry with dozens of cameras and specialized rigging for shooting in 360º, wide angle lenses and panoramic tripod mounts as well as their standard photography kits. Holton's mission was to shoot 360º photographs while the party was on land, and Hayden's mission was to shoot 360º video while on the river over a six-day trip. For the 360º video, Hayden had 20 GoPro cameras and 90 batteries for them, knowing that solar recharging on the scale he might need would not be reliable so deep in the Inner Gorge. Various camera mounting positions on board the Western Rivers J-Rig boats were experimented with, but Hayden and the Western guides settled on a center mast position high over the boat for the clearest view of the river features as well as maintaining anonymity for the Western guests onboard.

360 Labs recorded over 100 named rapids through the Grand Canyon in 360º on the 2014 trip and will use the footage for a variety of projects and products. Their first, after delivering this edit to Western and YouTube, will be a virtual reality (VR) documentary about the proposed controversial development at the Little Colorado Confluence.

"We want to show that VR is much, much more than just cool." Hayden said of the documentary project, which 360 Labs will post on Kickstarter soon. "VR 360º video is, right now, the next best thing to actually being there, and anyone who sees this place, as it is, can't help but want to protect this river."

The 360º "postcard views" from calmer waters of the river trip soon plunge viewers into some of the Colorado Rivers biggest rapids including Hance, Granite and Hermit.

Hang on tight to your desk or mobile device, this is a wild ride!

Western River Expeditions has guided more guests through the famous gorge over the last 54 years than any other outfitter - and the word has gotten out. “It’s an absolutely inspiring adventure,” says Brandon Lake, CMO of Western River Expeditions.

Of course the new video technology is awesome but Western River reminds us nothing will ever compare to the real experience of running the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Adventurers may claim one of the few remaining spots for 2015 or book the adventure now for the 2016 season (April-September).