Time magazine is getting even techier under its new ownership.
The weekly publication, purchased last year by Salesforce billionaire Marc Benioff and his wife Lynn, has created its first “immersive” app with virtual and augmented reality technology, a project over a year in the making. The first initiative on the app is a 3-D re-creation of the moon landing by Apollo 11, which marks its 50th anniversary on July 20 and is also the topic of the upcoming magazine issue. The imaging was rendered with 3-D assets developed over more than 20 years by John Knoll, a cofounder of Photoshop and chief creative officer of George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, who used data sets from NASA. Time is calling it “the world’s most accurate re-creation” of the moon landing.
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“Every dimple on the surface of the moon, every piece of rock that you see is based on data John collected,” Mia Tramz, Time’s editorial director of enterprise and immersive experiences who led the project, said. “The trajectory in space in the first chapter is the most accurate rendering of the trajectory that can be achieved. What you’re seeing in the AR experience is a perspective that no human has ever seen before and it is all due to him.”
And it is some perspective. If you download the app, which is free and so includes a relatively unobtrusive sponsorship from Jimmy Dean (also celebrating 50 years this year), you’ll get to see the lunar module Eagle come from a distance and pitch and yaw for about a minute before it lands on the moon surface, a moment complete with the dust that rose up upon touchdown. You’ll hear the original communications between commander Neil Armstong and NASA. You’ll hear Armstrong describe the surface of the moon as being “a very fine grain, almost like a powder” and Buzz Aldrin, who touched the surface 19 minutes after Armstrong, call it a “desolate place.” Then you can move your phone around to see a larger swath of the moon’s surface, complete with the flag and the astronauts in suits (also precisely rendered based on the real thing). The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is a partner in the project — and also facilitated Tramz connecting with Knoll — as is Verizon Media’s Ryot and the app itself was designed by Trigger. The web version was built by Amazon’s Amazon Sumerian.
At the end of the few minutes it takes to get through the experience, does it feel like you took a trip to the moon? No. But is it sort of fun and worth a fraction of the time most people spend on Instagram? Yes. And according to Tramz, this is only the beginning of Time’s projects in AR/VR and with 5G. While she credited Time’s editor in chief and now chief executive officer Edward Felsenthal with always having an experimental bent and being long supportive of immersive photo projects, Tramz says getting acquired by a tech founder like Benioff has given her some more freedom.
“Our new ownership certainly enhances what I’m able to do…we got so incredibly lucky with that pairing of brand and owner,” Tramz said.
The app will be regularly launching immersive stories, pinned to magazine content but stand-alone in consumption with a goal to partner more with educational groups and publishers. But none if it is really feasible without 5G, essentially a major increase of data download speed that’s only now beginning to be deployed at a larger scale by companies like Verizon.
“Everything I’ve wanted to do with VR and AR is only possible with 5G,” Tramz said. “I’m not ready to reveal what we’re trying to pull off in the next couple of years, but this is a starting point and we’re going to push the boundaries further and further with each project.”