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PICK OF THE WEEK: The Modern Olympic Games (360 Video)

Blake Harris 08.17.2016

Have you been following the Olympics? Well, our PICK OF THE WEEK allows you to do more than just enjoy the 2016 Rio Games. With The Modern Olympic Games, a 360 video from The New York Times, viewers can be transported back in time to some of the most iconic Olympic moments from the past century. From Babe Didrikson’s triumphs in 1932 to the record-breaking feats of Usain Bolt in 2008. And, because of the 360-degree video format, viewers will actually feel like they are there; observing and embracing the virtual reality of these frozen, golden moments…

Olympic Image Alt

Almost as amazing as the final product itself, The Modern Olympic Games‘ creation is a marvelous indicator of what can be done in the 360 video space. In this case, The New York Times was able to use thousands of archival images to recreate a vast and nuanced three- dimensional space.

“It was an exciting prospect to work with this archival material, which presented an interesting opportunity,” explained creative director Eric Chang on the day of its release. “Photography is somewhat subtractive – the goal is often to focus on a specific action. Virtual reality is additive. The viewer controls the direction of focus, so as environment-builders we have to account for that.”

In addition to the stunning visuals, the piece is narrated by David Goldblatt, author of The Games: A Global History of the Olympics. It also includes a handful of interview segments with some of our nation’s Olympic heroes from over the years (including some of those who are re-making history before our eyes!)

Check out the 360° video below…


  • Directed by Graham Roberts
  • Creative Direction by Eric Chang
  • Produced by Evan Grothjan, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, Graham Roberts, Bedel Saget and Joe Ward
  • Written by Andrew Das, David Goldblatt, Simon Romero and Joe Ward
  • Cinematography by Evan Grothjan
  • Visual Effects by The Mill
  • Interviews by Evan Grothjan, Bedel Saget and Joe Ward
  • Narration by David Goldblatt
  • Archival Photography by Getty Images, Associated Press and The New York Times

3 Things We Loved About This 360 Video

1. Entry Point

One of the challenges that comes with VR’s incredible immersiveness is how jarring it can be to suddenly enter a new story. Attuned to this challenge, The New York Times wisely begins before jumping back in time. Instead, the 360° video opens in modern day Rio de Janeiro—the site, of course, of our current Olympic games—and then uses this destination as a jumping off point to travel back to 1896.

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Also key to pulling off this successful entry is the voiceover. “The Olympics,” our narrator begins after the visuals slowly fade to life. “Now more than a century old, it remains the greatest show on earth. It’s host cities, like Rio de Janeiro; the very grandest of stages. But it is in singular moments that the memory of the Olympics most effectively endures. As the games come to Rio, The New York Times invites you to travel back in time to experience a few of those Olympic memories on some of those grand stages. Let’s start in the beginning. By visiting the first Modern Games in Athens. The Year is 1896…”

2. The Narration

With those words directly above, the viewer is successfully (and excitedly) transported back in time. But the power of this video’s narration goes well beyond the entry point. Our narrator (author David Goldblatt) proves to be a wonderful tour guide for this adventure in time. Each time we “jump” to a new period, he does a wonderful job of setting the stage. Like this:

“1932,” Goldblatt narrates, as the viewer acclimates to the new environment. “Los Angeles: The Colosseum. It was the depth of the depression. But the Olympics met Hollywood in the California sun and Babe Didrikson was the undisputed star.”

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What’s so great about that description is that it’s not just about florid prose. But Goldblatt also evokes a sense of stakes by providing us with the context for the moment. A skill that continues throughout the entire narration and whose value heightens the quality of this 360 video.

3. The Action and Animation

During the first two transports—1896 and 1932—the viewer exists in a completely frozen moment. But as the video continues, action and animation and added to the mix.

Beginning in 1968 (in Mexico City) where first we see long-jumper Bob Beamon animate towards us through the air…

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Then, in step with his narration, we see the sky growl from sunny to thunderous…

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And then, in the following transport we see Usain Bolt animate to life as he sets the World Record in 2008…

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