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Disney bets on Nokia’s Ozo camera for the future of VR

Disney bets on Nokia’s Ozo camera for the future of VR

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Ever since Nokia announced its 360-degree Ozo virtual reality camera it has positioned the system as a high-end option for Hollywood filmmakers, and today the company is announcing a partnership with Disney that should help deliver on that promise. As part of the deal, Ozo cameras will be put into the hands of Disney filmmakers and its marketing teams to create 360-degree, virtual reality content across all of the studio’s various brands.

"We are very excited to collaborate with Nokia Technologies to help explore the creation of VR content for our theatrical releases," Jamie Voris, chief technology officer for The Walt Disney Studios, said in a statement announcing the news. "We aim to bring extraordinary experiences to audiences around the world, and specially-created VR content is one more way we can transport people even further into the worlds our filmmakers create."

Ozo was used for 360-degree videos for 'The Jungle Book'

That flow of content has already begun, with Disney using the Ozo for two recent pieces as part of the promotional campaign for The Jungle Book. One brought viewers into a 360-degree roundtable interview with director Jon Favreau, the film’s cast, and moderator Chris Hardwick, while another planted them on the red carpet of the film’s Los Angeles premiere. While those kind of straightforward uses serve as decent proofs-of-concept, Nokia Technologies president Ramzi Haidamus stresses that they’re just the beginning, with the deal also covering the other studios that Disney owns like Marvel and Lucasfilm. That means the Ozo could potentially show up being used for 360-degree VR content for Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar properties.

"It’s just becoming a default activation dimension," Haidamus told me recently over the phone, explaining that VR tie-ins are becoming as much of an expected part of movie promotion as websites or social media accounts. While Nokia is keeping tight-lipped about Disney’s future content plans, he did reveal that the Ozo is currently being used to shoot behind-the-scenes footage for an upcoming Disney production — an enticing proposition for fans that might want to use a VR headset to step onto the set of Avengers: Infinity War or Star Wars: Episode VIII.

360-degree video has been taking off in recent months, with YouTube and Facebook both increasingly focused on the format. The Verge recently debuted YouTube’s first ever 360-degree live performance, and the topic was of particular interest at this year’s NAB trade show, as well. There, Nokia announced new 360-degree live-stream capabilities for the Ozo, as well as a new partnership with audio company Steinberg that will improve the Ozo’s potential both in post-production and in-live applications.

"It’s one thing to announce a reference design. It’s a whole different planet to actually build a product."

The Ozo is just one of many different VR camera options that have been announced, including a design from Facebook itself, but Haidamus sees Nokia Technologies as a company that’s uniquely suited to tackle the challenges of the emerging market. "We’re taking on virtual reality as one of our core businesses, so Ozo is the first step in many, many steps towards a global ecosystem play in virtual reality," he tells me. "It’s one thing to announce a reference design by Facebook. It’s a whole different planet to actually build a product, give it the support that it needs, and truly play in the current workflow. We are the only camera today that is purpose-built for VR at this professional level."

The next step, he tells me, will be expanding the product line. Companies like GoPro are moving quickly, introducing VR camera rigs ranging from $5,000 to $15,000, and Nokia plans to bring the technology behind Ozo to a prosumer rig as well — though he’s not talking dates just yet. "I can’t really say right now when the launch date is, but it’s not years out. It cannot be when this market is taking off right away."