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2019 Excellence and Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling, Medium Newsroom finalist

Actual Reality

About the Project

Brought to you by the team at McClatchy New Ventures Lab, Actual Reality (currently in beta) is an experiment in storytelling and the world’s first AR app dedicated to serialized, non-fiction storytelling.

We believe the surge of new immersive media tools promises to create the most drastic changes in how journalists record events and communicate with audiences. Last year, we set out to test if it’s feasible for small, multi-talented teams of journalists to take advantage of these tools to rapidly produce non-fiction AR stories.

In order to utilize the best of what AR technology has to offer, we quickly realized we needed to create our own distribution platform. Actual Reality was born.

The app launched in March with two series, What They Carried and American Food. The AR experiences are first of their kind, going well beyond simply allowing viewers to place 3D objects in their living room. The stories are complete narratives told entirely in AR.

In making these series, we employed new story formats, tackled the challenges of quickly gathering 3D assets in the field, produced multiple episodes in a short time frame and added context and depth into the tiny window of a mobile experience.

We made 45 drone flights that spanned 34,787 feet. We built more than 60 photogrammetric models. About 5,000 lines of code were written by the time the app was complete. And it was all fueled by 1,350 cups of coffee.

What They Carried

What They Carried is based on the photography series El Sueño Americano (The American Dream) by Tom Kiefer. This three-episode AR experience features confiscated personal items from undocumented migrants who were apprehended trying to enter the U.S. Through the technical power of the Actual Reality application, audiences can place these intimate objects in their homes, examine them from every side and discover the hopes, fears and stories imbued in them by the migrants who carried them. The story also brings viewers face-to-face with three dimensional volumetric interviews with characters like Dreamer Karina Ruiz. Finally, original artwork by Micah Milner adds an interpretive layer to the story, illustrating meaning, history and memory.

American Food

The series explores the cuisine and culture of four ethnic enclaves around America: the prep, the chefs and the food’s history. Through the lens of the Actual Reality application, viewers order virtual take-out from these culinary treasures. By placing delicious 3D multi-course meals on their tables, viewers will find themselves inside kitchens, across from patrons and restaurant owners. They’ll even peer down into dollhouse-sized neighborhoods. Each course is packed with facts, stories and videos that give the audience a virtual foodie tour of the communities that the audience is invited to visit.