"Virtualizing" The Olympic Games

By Hayli Goode - BSU at the Games

Credit: Matt Amaro - BSU at the Game

"Virtualizing" The Olympic Games

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    (L to R) Jeremy Ervin, Matt McKinney, Dan Edwards and Ryan Sparrow

    (Taylor Irby - BSU at the Games)

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January 20, 2014 Updated Jan 20, 2014 at 12:37 PM EDT

Park City, Utah (BSU at the Games) -- Placing their pens and cameras on the ground, they stepped up to a ski chair sitting inside the Alf Engen Ski Museum Foundation. A metal bar went across their laps, like they just stepped onto a roller coaster. They stared straight ahead at a blank screen.

Suddenly the sounds of mechanical bearings whirred and moved. The chair started shaking and on the screen popped up an image of a mountain.

They entered into a whole new virtual world. Quickly, the minds of the Olympic journalists were taken out of the museum and onto a speed-skiing track.

Since the Winter 2002 Olympic Games in Utah, the museum, dedicated to displaying an interactive history of Olympic sports, decided it needed to update its exhibits. For the Utah Games, the demonstrations included a pinball slalom machine and pictures of notable athletes. The update included a virtual tour of all winter games.

“We wanted people who have never skied before go on (the virtual alpine ski tour) and just hope that they say that is so fun. Our goal was to have people experience it, and maybe see them skiing next year,” Connie Nelson, executive director museum in Park City, Utah, said.

In 2002, the museum had the DVD footage of a slalom race and a snow base. According to Nelson, if the museum had built the exhibit with that footage, it would have been static—merely a person standing on skis, having wind brush through their hair.

Instead, Nelson got in touch with Coty Creighton, a design director at the JDH Group, a brand designing company. He not only had his hand in building the project but also in designing the concept of the interactive design. And according to Creighton, the museum left the ideas “pretty open.”

“They told us they wanted to make it high tech and more engaging and still give people the experience of skiing,” Creighton said.

Nelson gave only one instruction to the group: Have the project completed by the Media Summit on Sept. 29, 2013, to use as a marketing tool. Nelson thought the summit would provide the perfect audience, consisting of both athletes and journalists.

The work that went into it
Creighton and his team—2 builders, 4 designers, 2 and 4 revisions—designed fake snow made out of evaporable foam, fans in both the floor and ceiling to create the effect of the speed of the skiing experience, and a motion base ski lift, offering two degrees of freedom of motion: up and down, and left and right.

The only problem the group faced was gathering video from the sports. Using GoPro cameras, athletes were able to video themselves and their paths as they snowboarded, skied, slalomed, etc. But videos submitted by athletes such as Ted Ligety were too shaky for the purpose of the project.

Creighton worried the shakiness would cause seizures.

To match the motion of the video, the JDH Group created a motion-base software program. The software allowed the engineers, two in total on this project, to record left, right, forward and backward, and adjust directions on the fly.

Said Nelson, “It was a total exhilaration to see the project, two years in the making, being used by journalists in stilettos.”

BSU at the Games is a freelance news agency of 40 student journalists from Ball State University who will produce stories, photos, video and graphics from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. BSU at the Games is part of the university’s immersive learning initiative. The group aspires to be a top news outlet for coverage of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games by offering high-quality reporting to national news outlets.

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