Mongolia in Virtual Reality / by Cyrus Moussavi

In a fit of madness, I took a virtual reality camera rig on our trip to Mongolia. It consisted of six GoPro cameras in a 3D printed plastic housing.  It was rickety and somewhat untested, but I was excited about the possibilities. Here is some of the footage. NBC wasn't ready to go VR, so we just put it up ourselves. 

I've been trying to trace back the steps and figure out how and why this VR experiment  happened. I was in Yangon, staying on the couch of a Jamaican-British expat musician named Adam. It was the last night of our Burma shoot and I was sick and weird but he convinced me to meet his friends at a bar.  DJ Joo had just arrived in the country from Los Angeles and was not a DJ or Jewish but a Korean-Brazilian commercial editor with a wanderlust.  We spoke briefly, exchanged info, and went about our lives. 

Months later, I was crashing on his couch in Los Angeles. I can't remember how that happened, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. He liked Raw Music, had a lot of experience and advice, and we were hoping to make some videos together.  

When I got there, he was losing his shit about this new VR tech. I'm suspicious about this stuff, but he handed me a headset and told me about huge companies that were starting to make films in this medium. I was impressed. 

At a party in LA I met a kid named Matt who works at an ad agency as a "creative technologist."  He'd been experimenting with the tech, too, and said he could 3D print me my own rig and help on the stitching and software side.  He said it was the future. He had a good look about him and seemed to know what's up, so the idea further solidified. 

Back in New York, I scrimped and shuffled and evaded and got some deals on some GoPros that weren't great but would do the job.  As the trip neared, Matt's offer to 3D print a rig fell through (their machine broke or something).  I had to find another option.  

On Ebay, I found some guys with a home-made 3D print operation in Staten Island.  So my (ex-girl)friend Brittany and I got on the ferry and went to the island of Shaolin to meet two sweaty bros pounding Monster Energy drinks and 3D printing with abandon. They were very proud of their operation. They showed us their 3D printed 3D printers, which were 3D printing 3D printers. It was slightly disconcerting, but I blamed the energy drink jitters bouncing around the room. 

For $75 they printed me a rig. The guy even drove it out to Bushwick the next morning.  Shirtless in the kitchen, I tested the thing out. But the stand was poorly made (it was a nut the bros had glued into the thin plastic at the bottom of the rig). The whole rig fell of my tripod after 15 seconds. 

I tried to fix it but no luck. Time was short. I was off to Berlin to meet Jacob. We would spend 5 days there finishing our preparations before heading to Mongolia.  

 

Somehow Norwegian Air managed to lose my bag on the 2 hour flight from Stockholm to Berlin. I didn't get it back until I returned to JFK a month later.  I spent those 5 days in Berlin replacing our camping gear in the middle of a heat wave. But my friends Clara, Nicola and Dani helped out.  They took me to a joint called Modulator full of guys in clear glasses and cutoff black t-shirts (the summer alternate tot he black turtleneck).  They came up with a few solutions for fixing the base of the VR rig. At a music store down the street they gave more suggestions. All these musicians and engineers flipping my dumb VR rig around, looking for answers. But they were really good and helpful. It cost about $100 and a day of sweat.

In Mongolia, Jacob and I used the airplane glue and screws and wires accumulated in Berlin to create some sort of stand for the camera. I put it in a Pelican case and hauled it around the country.  We rode a bus for nearly 3 days nonstop. I kept the thing by my side.  When we finally reached deep into the countryside I got sick from some yak milk and couldn't use the camera for a couple days.  We did what we could.

Back in the states, broke, I sold all the cameras through ebay and craigslist to help fund my recent trip to Kenya.  GoPro and Kolor Software generously donated software for editing.  I put it together late one night. At the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a kind video editor helped me refine the footage.  I got on a plane to Kenya and forgot about it til now.  That's how we made this video.  I think I'm done with virtual reality for the time being.