Traditional media institution The New York Times continues to break new ground in its augmented reality news coverage, this time with a 3D volumetric capture of model Ashley Graham.
The feature, part of the publication's coverage of New York Fashion Week, serves to shine a light on the issue of body diversity and image in the fashion industry, but it also represents its first use of volumetric video for augmented reality.
"If you are constantly showing an altered woman in media, what is that little girl going to go and do when she looks in the mirror and see smoothed out skin or almond eyes or a pinched nose and plumped up lips," said Graham in the Times article. "Why would we want young girls and boys to go home and not love themselves because we are lying to them in magazines and lying to them on social media."
Available only via the NY Times app for iOS, users are able to place a stunningly realistic virtual version of Graham in their physical environment and watch her walk around and pose in their space. Another experience within the article shows a dance performance by Graham.
"The Times chose to feature Ashley Graham because of her approach to body positivity; she is outspoken about not altering images of her body or face shape, a practice that is commonplace in the fashion industry," said Joanna Nikas, staff editor of Styles for The New York Times, in a statement provided to Next Reality. "It's also one of the main reasons she decided to participate in The Times' first volumetric AR experience, an opportunity that captures her from all angles and with no altering."
Graham's performance was captured using more than 100 cameras positioned around her, enabling output of content viewable from any angle with vivid detail. The Times enlisted Microsoft's new Mixed Reality Capture Studio, operated by Metastage in Culver City, California, to produce the content.
"Very proud to have our volumetric capture of Ashley Graham featured in The New York Times today," the company said via its Twitter account.
The iOS exclusivity of this particular experience does pose a few questions. Why was the Android app, which has consistently supported the same experiences available on the iOS app, excluded from this experience?
"The reason is that this volumetric video format is powered by Microsoft technology which extends our previous AR capability. Unfortunately, at this time, Microsoft's technology requires certain features that are not yet supported by what Google offers for Android. We are working with both to bring this technology to Android as soon as possible," said Roberts.
How about porting the experience to Magic Leap One, for which The Times has adapted its AR feature on the Guatemala volcano and such volumetric content is tailor-made?
"Great idea. I hope we can. We plan to explore lots of things on Magic Leap. It really demonstrates the potential in not just AR but how we will consume media post-smartphone. Of course the smartphone is where the audience is now and so is the priority and where we can have the most impact," said Roberts.
Nevertheless, the content presents a considerable leap forward in the publication's AR coverage, as previous features relied on stationary 3D content. The media giant's ability to now include volumetric video promises a number of other, much more immersive experiences in the near future.