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story.lead_photo.caption Submitted photo VIRTUAL VIEW: A panoramic view from a trail at Garvan Woodland Gardens will give potential visitors a unique look at Hot Springs in a new virtual reality film from Visit Hot Springs. The convention and visitors bureau said the two virtual reality films it produced, "Hot Springs, The Experience of a Lifetime," are the first of their kind in tourism marketing in Arkansas.

Hot Springs is set to be the first destination in Arkansas to utilize virtual reality to promote local tourism.

Two virtual reality films make up "Hot Springs, The Experience of a Lifetime," produced by Visit Hot Springs and Freelance Society. Bill Solleder, marketing director for Visit Hot Springs, said the two films showcase all Hot Springs has to offer.

Solleder told The Sentinel-Record during a preview of the films in mid-August that this is a "badge of honor for Hot Springs" to be the first in the state to utilize Oculus technology for tourism marketing.

"(The films) are both just a little over three minutes long," he said. "One is very fast paced and super exciting, and it features the World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade, the World Championship Running of the Tubs, Magic Springs, Oaklawn, Lake Hamilton. Then the other one is a much slower, more peaceful piece that takes you to Garvan Woodland Gardens, you go to Lake Ouachita, you go to the Quapaw Bath House, downtown Bathhouse Row. So between both pieces, you get all of our attractions, but both pieces are super night and day. One is super high-energy and one's very mellow."

Filming took place from March through July, he said. The more upbeat film takes viewers on a roller coaster at Magic Springs Water and Theme Park, atop the gate as the horses break at Oaklawn, and wakeboarding on Lake Hamilton. The slower-paced film narrates the viewer's experience walking through Garvan Woodland Gardens and walking down historic Bathhouse Row.

Commissioners with the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission got a first look at the films Sunday during the organization's annual retreat. The films will premiere to a wider audience on Sept. 7 during a private event before going public for various events in central Arkansas.

"In fact the very next day we'll take it to the Main Street Food Truck Festival in Little Rock," Solleder said. "We'll have a VR booth there where we'll ask people to come up and experience Hot Springs. When we go to conventions to represent Hot Springs, we'll take it there, too. What better way -- you can hand someone a brochure or you can actually show them, immerse them in what we have to offer."

One of the other plans is to make the films available with Oculus Go headsets at the Visitors Center in Hill Wheatley Plaza starting Sept. 10, to allow visitors a taste of Hot Springs' attractions before experiencing the real thing. The films will also be shown at Spa-Con in September and at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in October.

Solleder said while he's very familiar with traditional video editing, producing a film in VR has been challenging.

"It's been a real learning curve," he said. "I'm real familiar with editing in 2-D, which today's culture wants really fast edits. But with VR, the viewer really wants a chance to explore so it took me a second to slow down; you don't need to have an edit every three seconds. It's been fun to make and I'm excited to get it out there."

Solleder said soon one of the tasks will be determining distribution channels for the films to reach a broader audience.

"Oculus, the format, is similar to the concept of YouTube where you can put on the headset and you can click on a channel, the NPR channel or The New York Times channel, the CNN channel and then video content will load for you," he said. "Once we're completed with the editing, we're trying to figure out how we can get onto the VR TV, so-to-speak.

"After we've taken it around a little bit and made the experience only available with the headset, we'll then release it in a slightly different form on a flat screen so you can watch it on your phone, watch it on your desktop. But the experience, putting on the headset is the ultimate experience. Sometimes you feel like you're in these places."

Local on 08/28/2018

Print Headline: VHS to premiere first VR tourism films in state

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