Blog

The Making of 360 Riot Walk

By Adiba Muzaffar

A production team member editing the 360 video tour

2020 has been a challenging year for artists and art institutions with shared physical space earning a terrible reputation. We’re grateful that the 360 Riot Walk was conceived with several kinds of accommodations in mind – thinking through the technical aspects of accessing it and sharing it as a project, the manners in which it may be valuable for bridging knowledge gaps about the racial history of Vancouver, and finally the ‘hows’ that allow it to be a simple tool that anyone could yield, engage with, or even use to lead a physical tour of the locations in the foreseeable future. 

I am writing this on behalf of the team behind the creation phase of the project. Arian Jacobs, Evan Craig and I worked under Henry Tsang’s direction and with Sean Arden’s technical support when this project began for us in May 2019. We thought that we ought to give more from the making-of-the-project to offer a more wholesome understanding of the story so far to friends and future allies of the project. So here’s a look at some of the key decisions which underlined the values of artist Henry Tsang as he led his team to design-think about how the subject of the Anti-Asian Riots of 1907 ought to be perused. 

2019

The Equipment

The Basically Good Media Lab was able to loan us an Insta360Pro, which is a 360 camera with six 200 degree lenses that film and photograph in 8K. The project began with our small team coming together to learn how to use this camera to photograph and stitch images of spaces for 360 viewing. *For those interested in similar captures, smaller cameras by Insta360 make for great starting points to understand 360 imaging, as the equipment comes with access to a device-specific desktop application made for previewing and stitching the images. 

The Shoots

We made several field trips to the stops Henry had in mind – photographing on days with sunnier skies and getting chased sometimes by locals who needed to know more about our affiliations – before deciding on the final map of 13 stops between Gassy Jack and Oppenheimer Park. 

Learning Pano2VR

We used Pano2VR to create the tour, which some may know to be an application that allows space to be seen in 360 while being able to transition between images (or rooms) with included interactivity. We were keen on ensuring that the tour is available in multiple languages, which meant learning how the tour could branch out seamlessly and play the audio clips in the preferred language you choose right at the start.

Designing the Application

By this point we were familiar with the ‘nadir’ and the ‘gyroscope’ as Pano2VR was quick to bring us up to speed with these new ways of seeing in 360. But simplifying the experience, such that someone with as much as a basic internet connection is able to make sense of the UX was a key agenda. We created a tour which would let you move from stop to stop in a linear narrative (with audio clips for each stop) and also let you choose which stop you’d like to see using the map.

Shooting on location and colouring Archival Images

Once we had figured out the experience we were hoping to achieve, we finalized on the 13 images for the stops. We had to photoshop ourselves out of the location images, after which an important decision was made about flipping the norm of using black & white images to represent the past. As Henry wished for the archival images to be the focus, we decided to look into recolouring them and placing them over black & white images of the present (the stops). We first made use of an AI tool which adds colours and tints to black & white images, manually retouching only some images that required a bit more enhancement after the AI’s efforts.

Trying out styles of Superimposition

Another aspect of the workflow was around the nature of superimposition – do we blend the old buildings with the new (now-standing) buildings, do we put the images of things in the distance in circular clouds of some sort? It was important to ensure that the focus was not lost from the contextual information in the images. We found a way to feather the images to be able to help them blend into the current day scenes. 

Recording the Audio

Alongside the visual components of course, there was a lot of work put into the script for each stop. Furthermore, voice over artists had to be brought in to help us record in English, Japanese, Cantonese and Punjabi with care around dialect specific enunciation.

Figuring out a way to make the tour a pre-installed App

As we were looking at the Powell Street Festival as an important deadline, we began to consider issues for Festival specific purposes. We had  a number of iPads we borrowed from Emily Carr University of Art & Design, with which we were able to address not needing all viewers to use their data as the tour could be hosted on a handful of pre-set devices. 

Powell Street Festival 2019

360 Riot Walk was launched on July 27, 2019 at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which was a partner and host for the project. The Powell Street Festival, which was the weekend after, was a perfect context for tours to happen, and for the application and its user experience to get tested. The attendees who had signed up gathered at the Japanese Language School and were led by Henry Tsang, as we circled back to the starting location to answer questions and allow a discussion to ensue about the project and the cultural components touched upon in the tour. As the (being heavily gentrified) Downtown Eastside happens to be a part of the tour, several voices concerned about the erasure of history of the neighbourhood came into conversation. The discussions that take shape post-tour remain to be the most important and most exciting aspect for the project.

A laptop screen showing a virtual meeting between three people

2020

Revisiting the Images

Come 2020, the team reconvened to make some updates to the tour. As it was tested out in 2019, we had plenty of feedback to help us troubleshoot most of our technical issues. But we also felt that the image quality could be enhanced.   

Recolouring and Re-compositing the archival images by hand

This time we decided to do a bit more research about the colours of the architecture from the early 1900s in Vancouver, and set out to revisit and recolour each of the archival images by hand. Using Photoshop, we took nearly 4-5 weeks to recolour and re-brighten the fine details in each image that were more true to a lived-past than what the AI assumed.

Sing Ping Columbia-Theatre - archival picture of Cantonese opera. Group of Chinese opera singers in costume standing.
Colourized picture of Sing Ping Columbia-Theatre - archival picture of Cantonese opera

Remaking the Tour

Updated instructions with video embeds were added, new voice-overs were recorded, scripts (in all four languages) were made available and our website was designed to help cover more ground and explain the project’s deeper roots. In order to make the tour more accessible, keyboard shortcuts were also added to the tour alongside some instructional videos which we created to help first-time users get a quick sense of how to engage with the technology and media. 

The goal for 360 Riot Walk is to enable and engage curiosity and take forward a culture of near-physical engagement with historical facts that still haunt the city, through creative use of new media. The role of the digital arts comes full circle with the use of this medium, for purposes where truly transformative ways of thinking apply and get further compounded by the visual components from a different time. One way in which the context of the riot has been archived is in Stop 13 (also the final stop) wherein documents are visually presented of reimbursed funds that was owed to each establishment that bore the brunt of damage caused by rioters. These terms by which value was ascertained  (in the aftermath of the riot) does not even begin to acknowledge the hatred, fear and emotional trauma that immigrants experienced as a consequence of the rioting. As an immersive 360 experience, the tour is able to reclaim historical facts in historically specific locations. Such a manifestation is able to assert more than a passive engagement with history, as one witnesses people in the images looking right at the camera and like that at the viewer, covering spans of space, time and context.