125 kilometres of reconstructed trails and 3,900 families supported in Nepal. What does it look like through 360° videos and drone?

Published: Feb 16, 2018 Reading time: 5 minutes
125 kilometres of reconstructed trails and 3,900 families supported in Nepal. What does it look like through 360° videos and drone?
© Foto: Sajana Shrestha

On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal; multiple aftershocks and landslides followed. More than 8,500 people lost their lives and over half a million homes were destroyed. Soon after, we started “Unnat Goreto”, a project that employed over 3,900 local residents to reconstruct trails. In these remote Himalayan villages, the trails are the only way to access markets, schools, health clinics, and other villages. 

Over 125 km of trails were reconstructed last year alone under the UK aid funded project led by People in Need, with the support of local partners PHASE Nepal, Lumanti, and Scott Wilson Nepal. Over 900,000 GBP has been disbursed in local communities through employment. The project provided residents with temporary jobs, helped revitalize their local economies, and improved access to the entire region.

Throughout the project, we documented the impact of People in Need’s and partners’ work on the lives of communities, and highlighted the stories of people who participated in the reconstruction. At the end of our support, experienced Czech videographer Petr Pospichal came to showcase a different perspective on our work. Enjoy birds-eye videos filmed by drone, take a virtual tour through reconstructed trails, and learn how Pospichal made these extraordinary outputs through the following interview.

How was your experience going to Gorkha and shooting the trail project?

For me, spending a week eating daal-bhat (rice with lentils soup) with no phone connection is a nice retreat, so I wasn’t worried about surviving in the mountains of Northern Gorkha. I was amazed by the scale and atmosphere around the project; hearing the stories now felt much better than two years ago recording the devastating impacts of the earthquakes in my documentary “Back2Epicentre.” This time, I joined PIN comunications officer and experienced Nepali journalist, Sajana Shrestha, who planned the trip. We saw the real impacts of the project and how positively people felt about the wages they earned working on the trails, which they can invest for the future. Without Sajana, it would have been impossible to communicate with villagers why we were in the location and what we were doing.

What is the idea or concept behind this 360° project?

Nowadays, we see that videos are one of the best ways to capture online attention. But videos have some limitations as they are not interactive and don’t allow you to view at your own pace. Virtual tours, on the other hand, let you explore freely and offer huge potential for learning about places and projects. As a producer, it requires being a bit creative, and knowing how to work with websites and photography as part of the process.

The idea of making storytelling virtual tours came to my mind just after I started a company called Virtual Visit back in the Czech Republic. Our goal is basically to find new uses for virtual tours. The Unnat Goreto project fit this purpose beautifully, so when I noticed they are looking for drone operators in Nepal, I was thinking, this could be a great adventure. Luckily, I was just finishing my vacation in Nepal so it was logistically easy to offer People in Need my services. I started to think of the 360s as a side-project to ongoing aerial filming activities that were asked for by the NGO.

Is it a new technique?

The idea of a virtual tour is not new at all, but the use in this case is quite new. The Unnat Goreto 360 project is innovative in its style as it is an interactive virtual tour that incorporates the latest technological aspects in the field. One is aerial panoramas, another is high resolution, and the third is Google maps integration. Responsivity on all devices, such as tablets and phones, is another feature. With this we brought certain future-proof aspects into play.

How do you do it?

The process involves taking a series of photos in a row that you stitch in post-production into spheres. Nowadays, there are some “shortcuts” to it like Ricoh Theta and other 360 devices, but they are still not good enough for our needs. On your computer, you connect the photos into spheres and create a tour. To take a panorama that would be used to show people working on a trail, you need the villagers to not move for a couple of seconds. This brings the image to life. When shooting with a drone, you have to take multiple rows of images that you stitch together. Your drone must be stationary on a GPS device, and weather should be also on your side as wind can cause some drifting. I was happy to have a bit of experience already before shooting these 360s in Nepal. Still, without a computer in the field, we had to trust ourselves that we did everything properly.

What was the process in the field?

We basically brought about 10kg of equipment, so the choice to hire a porter to help us was a relief. The only problem was that I wanted to make quality drone footage and also aerial panoramas at the same time; the latter is very time and battery consuming. I was worried about being able to walk the distances and also shoot on the way. But we did it just fine and we used the batteries to the last drop.

We had to plan all the drone batteries to be charged when needed since there was no electricity in some places. This was a bit of a challenge. So, it was a good idea to carry four batteries for the drone and seven for our first camera, with another four for our backup camera. Still, we needed to charge them whenever possible. So basically, a lot of battery power for normal travelling, but just enough for our trip into the mountains. We also were not able to dump our footage, so we needed three extra 64GB cards only for the drone and another four for the DSLRs.

Camera: Petr Pospíchal and Sajana Shrestha

Drone footage: VirtualVisit.cz

Edited by Petr Pospíchal / www.virtualvisit.cz

Music by Kai Engel - "Seeker" under CC 

Autor: Sajana Shrestha, PIN Nepal Communication Officer / Petr Stefan, PIN Communication Officer

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