For Veterans Day, journalist and filmmaker Sarah Hill wanted to make a movie to honor her late grandfather, who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Her film, Honor Everywhere 360, is a virtual reality (VR) tour of war memorials in Washington, D.C.
As the CEO and chief storyteller for the Missouri-based VR film company StoryUP VR, Hill made a 10-minute VR movie for veterans who would like to visit their memorials but might not be able to travel to D.C. for health or financial reasons. "My grandfather never had the opportunity to see his memorial," Hill says. "When I look at those guys, I see his face. He would have loved something like that.”
Those “guys” to which Hill refers are veterans in D.C. visiting the memorials for the first time, seen by donning the VR headset. Viewers are not only up close to the expressions on their faces, but also immersed in a 360-degree view of the landscape -- the landed reality of the veterans' experience.
From journalism to VR filmmaking
Hill’s film is one of several being released today in partnership with the Palo Alto-based VR company Jaunt. Jaunt provided Hill's production company with a VR camera to film the project for free.
Hill had worked for 20 years as a broadcast journalist before starting her VR company. While fundraising for the project, Hill reached out to a friend of hers at Jaunt who agreed to partner with her.
The goal of the film was to create an immersive experience told through the eyes of veterans. So Hill captured footage of veterans at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Since then, Hill says all of the people who were featured in the film have passed away. But Hill says having filmed these war heroes captures their experience for their loved ones. "They can be feet away from them again, in full glory, and feel like they're there with them," she says.
Getting VR headsets into veterans' hands
VR filmmaking has only slowly edged its way into mainstream culture over the past two years. Device adoption of VR headsets is not yet as widespread as laptops or gaming consoles, despite the fact that a pair of VR glasses for a mobile device can be purchased for under a dollar. Consumers can also watch experiences online or on a player outside of a headset.
The currently low uptake of VR hardware has posed a challenge for Hill in connecting her film with the people she most wants to reach. So Hill takes a proactive approach to the technology, putting devices into veterans' hands and seeking donations of headsets from Google and other manufacturers. “We take the devices to them," she says of enabling veterans to experience her project. "We've just been flying there as our budget allows.”
No subsitute for reality
Despite Hill’s ambitious goal of providing her VR film to as many veterans as possible, she doesn't see it matching the experience of visiting the war memorials in real life. "There is no substitute for seeing a memorial in person," Hill says. Hill actively encourages senior veterans, in particular, to contact the non-profit organization Honor Flight Network, which transports veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect on war memorials.
And if you happen to have a VR headset gathering dust in a corner, Hill suggests lending or donating it to your nearest and dearest veteran. “On a day where we honor the people who gave the ultimate sacrifice, to be able to give a gift to veterans who aren't able to travel, it's a perfect day for that," Hill says. "Tell a veteran about the experience. That headset is not for you, it's for them.”