Founded in Portland by Brad Gill, Thomas Hayden, and Matt Rowell, 360 Labs is a virtual reality video production company. In 2013 all three of them were competing in Portland against each other. They went door-to-door trying to build up their photography businesses. ProudQueer sat down with Brad Gill, Co-Founder and Rachel Bracker, Post Production Supervisor and Producer. Gill has been with the group since 2014, and Bracker started as an intern in 2016 while in graduate school at the University of Oregon.
“We were offering Street View, panoramic tours of the inside of businesses,” Brad Gill told me from his office space on 3rd Avenue, here in Portland. “But we were often stepping on each other’s toes. I’d talk to a business a week after Thomas or Matt had gotten it. So we decided to put our heads together. We first developed a populated website with all the business view photos which we created here in Portland.”
Hayden brought it to their attention they could put a bunch of GoPro cameras together to capture 360 video. They were not the originators but they certainly helped to pioneer the technology. Hayden had worked for David McCutchen at Immersive Media Company, formerly Portland-based, where the technology was initially developed for the Internet. The first videos were one-off experiences. A Lamborghini, driving through the city, footage from Silver Falls, and other videos which became test-runs for 360 Labs to embrace the new technology.
The group works with clients to create and share these experiences over Social Media. They use headsets like Samsung Gear VR, and a few other platforms for viewers to experience the videos. They have even shared content with Vimeo and VeeR which is a Chinese VR platform, self-described as a "video community for virtual reality video lovers."
“We recently worked with the University of Oregon to create a fully immersive experience. Perspective students can navigate with a Google Cardboard to explore all over campus,” Gill told PQ. “We’ve done all kind of other passion projects too. We’re also working on “Through Darcelle’s Eyes”, which is a 360 degree, virtual documentary about Darcelle XV.”
The group just completed another documentary. Called, “as it is,” about a controversial development in the Grand Canyon. The film has been several years in the making. The story Gill says, “is as big as the canyon itself. So you might find in your headset a lot of 360 short video experiences. But, as the film is almost 20 minutes, it’s a complete journey.”
The film highlights the proposed development of a gondola, and other attractions, which would would bring 10,000 people a day to an area sacred to local Native American communities, such as the Navajo and Hopi Tribes.
“The project would bring as many as 10,000 people a day to an area that sees maybe 25,000 people over the course of an entire year." Bracker, explained. “The film is both educational and entertaining, in that you get to see the many sides of the Grand Canyon. We hope viewers are motivated to act, to do what they can do in terms of natural conservation. The project, has incredible spatial audio. It’s a really immersive, and hopefully inspiring, motivating experience.”
There was a kickstarter campaign, and a little bit of money from Google, Gill and Bracker explained. There were funds from Google, which funded 360 with camera equipment and money to get down to the canyon on a rafting trip.
On Wednesday, May 9th, from 4:30 PM to 9:30 PM, 360 Labs will host a viewing party for “as it is” at Opal 28 in Northeast Portland. Entry is free, as are some complimentary nibbles, and a cash bar is available. Guests will be able to watch the video at the same time, wearing headsets.
“So it’s like a theatre experience but everyone’s in their own headspace,” Gill explained.
I met Gill at the Testify Drag Brunch, this past Easter Sunday. Initially he grabbed my attention with an upcoming documentary on Portland’s own legendary Darcelle XV. He explained how new technology met old school talent.
“We were finishing “as it is” and I wanted to do another passion project,” Gill explained. “Even though the Grand Canyon is a great cause, you know I’m not much of an outdoorsy person.”
(Readers, please note: all Portland locals who are also not outdoorsy-type people, you may now come out of the closet.)
“I want to preserve the history of the elders in the LGBT community. The younger generation is kind of losing, or hasn’t paid much attention to that history. They might take things for granted on some levels,” Gill said, his upbeat tempo revealing how excited he was to work with a local legend not only of performance, but of activism. “I wanted to sit down with an 88-year-old drag queen and get her side of things, to spill the tea, in a way.”
Bracker and Gill were going through some of the interview footage they had already captured, on the day of our interview. They promise it’s going to be a compelling story for a large audience, both here in Portland, the Pacific Northwest, and perhaps globaly throughout the extended LGBTQ community.
Bracker admits prior to Gill’s excitement and explanation about who Darcelle XV is, she had not heard of the legendary performer or her cabaret showplace.
“I remember the day Brad came up with the idea. I was on the other side of the office,” Bracker explained. Turning to Gill, “You popped your head in the door and said, “What about a film about Darcelle XV?” I was like who? I had no idea who Darcelle was, even though I have lived here in Oregon a long time. But, less than a week later I went to my first show. We went to the Wednesday night performance. I realized how much of Portland history I’d been ignorant to. So, I agree that there is a wide audience who might find the film appealing. There are people who need to learn where this city has come from, and the leaders who have helped make what the community has become today. It was an honor to meet her, and sit in Darcelle’s kitchen.”
Gill says they just walked up to Darcelle and asked if she’d be interested in doing a documentary. They explained the format would be a little different than what she was used to. Darcelle simply said, “Call me.”
“It was kinda interesting to see [Darcelle’s] response to the new technology. We showed Darcelle the “as it is” footage, and she seemed pleased with the new format,” Bracker explained.
So far, they have boiled down about 40 minutes of the most important basic parts of Darcelle’s history, especially recent show footage. Unlike most documentaries, there is not much archival footage from earlier decades because of the nature of the technology requires it be shot on the current camera systems. Although they have an interesting remedy to a lack of 360 and panoramic archival footage.
“What I would like to see, we have worked with both the Portland City Archives and the Oregon Historical Society, and there are many photos from the early 70s,” Gill explained. “We are hoping to recreate the intersection when the Darcelle XV showplace took over Dema’s Tavern. This way we can show viewers what Portland looked liked then.”
Right now it’s just been Darcelle. Gill and Bracker explained, but they hope to interview other performers and people within Darcelle’s orbit.
“We want to show how Darcelle has motivated and inspired people in the community,” said Bracker. “We have several hours of footage at this point, but we hope to get more. We’d like to film Darcelle this year at Pride. So, there’s more to do, and we’re excited about it.”
The new rigs for 360 photography is much more streamlined. With the earlier multiple GoPro camera approach, a lot of the footage had to be edited to function smoothly as 360 degree video. It was a lot of manual labor, uniting disparate shootings, which the new technology has eliminated.
Work which they were also excited to talk about, was a number of recruiting videos 360 Labs developed for the Coast Guard.
“The Coast Guard is all about wanting to recruit people who would be interested in joining the Coast Guard. What better way to show people what their day to day life in a job would be like than with 360 video,” Bracker explained. “Right? You can get a really immediate sense of what the job entails. We made four videos for them. Think of everything from helicopter rescue, boat rescue, kind of like a drug bust raid, and then boot camp for trainees.”
“You went on a drug bust raid with them,” I burst out asking. “How exciting!”
“It was a staged raid,” Bracker told me, with both she and Gill laughing at my excitement. I admitted to being disappointed, but the safety of both Bracker, Gill, and their colleagues at 360 Labs is far more important than them actually taking part in a Coast Guard raid.
In terms of the Darcelle XV documentary, they hope to incorporate footage of Darcelle at Pride, and showing the film later in the summer. ProudQueer will surely do another story on the film’s premiere. You can view the current trailer here and here. For more information, follow 360 Labs on Facebook. ProudQueer looks forward to doing other articles on local businesses which are of interest to the LGBTQ community.