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Creating the Ultimate 49ers Fan Experience

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A screenshot from the Academy of Art University and Zeality collaboration project with the San Francisco 49ers. Photo courtesy of James Egan.

To emphasize and celebrate the ever-growing medium of virtual reality (VR), students and faculty from Academy of Art University’s Schools of Communications & Media Technologies (COM) and Motion Pictures & Television (MPTV) teamed up with Zeality to create the ultimate San Francisco 49ers fan experience.

By partnering with the world’s best producers and creators, Zeality aims to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley and Hollywood with experiences that transform everyday environments into unforgettable experiences. Zeality’s partners include the San Francisco 49ers, San Jose Sharks, Visa, RYOT News and Reebok—just to name a few—all of which are contributing to a pipeline of immersive content that will drive more end-users to discover, create and share VR and 360 video. 

“We believe that everyone in the world should have access to this immersive media,” stated founder and CEO of Zeality Dipak Patel. “Our mission is to empower and enable every media driven organization to create, deliver and proliferate this amazing new medium.”

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(L–R) VR student Lucia Wang, Academy instructor Alex Pearce and Adam Dubov from Zeality. Photo by Bob Toy.

The collaborative project with Patel; Zeality’s Chief Content Officer and Executive Producer Adam Dubov; the Academy’s Executive Director of Immersive Technology & Short Term Programs James Egan; expert in virtual reality production, Academy instructor and alumnus Alex Pearce, as well as his and Egan’s virtual reality post-production class; and Bay Area-based producer and cinematographer Kevin Kunze went off without a hitch. 

The project began after Patel reached out to Pearce prior to the start of the Fall 2016 semester to see if he would like to shoot and edit together footage of the 49ers for Zeality. “I had just joined Jaunt full-time, but I proposed a partnership with [the Academy], and long story short, we moved forward from there,” said Pearce.

The goal of the project was to create a 49ers fan experience that would allow fans to not only watch the game at home, but also be immersed in pivotal moments of the game with other fans live at Levi’s Stadium. “The 49ers fan experience gives exclusive access to the players and the experience of being at a 49ers game, from pregame to post,” explained Pearce. “You get the chance to feel like you’re right there.”

To help create this 49ers fan experience, Brenton Cooper, a senior MPTV student in the VR class, was granted a full security clearance to take part as one of the cinematographers onsite at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., for this incredible 360 shoot of the 49ers playing the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 2. Cooper described the opportunity as an “amazing hands-on experience.” 

While the majority of the other students in the class were editors, animation and visual effects students, Cooper stuck out as a strong cinematographer. Everyone in the class helped stitch together anywhere from two to twelve images that were taken at Levi’s Stadium manually using a program called Autopano Stage Video Pro. Egan made the conscious decision of selecting the Kodak Pixpro camera for students to use, as it’s a popular camera used specifically for VR projects in the industry.

With this relatively new medium of VR becoming increasingly popular, Egan emphasized that “the training in the class will prepare [students] for [their careers],” and how the collaboration with Zeality and the 49ers provided students with advanced training throughout the entire production process—even inspiring them come up with their own individual VR projects that they wished to pursue. 

 For Kunze, working with students on the project was an exciting experience. “It’s great to be a part of [the project]. I love working with students,” he said. “They have a fresh perspective, especially if it’s their first time shooting in the field.”

He worked alongside Cooper, running up and down the football field, making sure to catch the players’ every move. “We really had to work together on the field, running just as much as the players,” said Kunze.

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(L–R) Producer/cinematographer Kevin Kunze and VR student Brenton Cooper filming on the field at Levi’s Stadium during the 49ers game against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 2. Photo courtesy of James Egan.

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One of the shots from the VR shoot at Levi’s Stadium. Photo courtesy of James Egan.

Additionally, Kunze enjoyed overseeing the post-production experience with Dubov, because the project really “cater[ed] to students’ needs and the fact that they are new” to the VR field.

Zeality’s Dubov has three decades of experience in film, television and digital media, and won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media while at HBO for the fourth season of “Game of Thrones.”

“We live in a really exciting time, ushering in this new medium of 360 video and VR,” said Dubov. “It’s an opportunity, which, by the way, comes around only once or twice in a lifetime, for content creators, producers, cinematographers, editors—industry vets and students alike, to both teach a medium and learn from it as we try to tell compelling stories in new ways. It’s been a great experience and pleasure collaborating on the 49ers project with the skilled and talented students in the virtual reality program at the Academy.”