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With New Swimsuit Issue, SI Is Taking Its Tech Game To The Next Level

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue model shoot, you’re in luck.

With the launch today of the 2018 edition of its iconic franchise, SI is taking its tech game to its next level–introducing a group of virtual reality and augmented reality features that bring fans of the issue closer than ever to the action.

For the last year or so, SI has been experimenting with VR and AR. It’s done things like embed an AR image in a cover story on Everest climber and amputee Jeff Glasbrenner that when scanned using the Life VR app, launched a 360-degree video about the climb; SI‘s sister publication Time also recently ran an AR activation on the cover of its Bill Gates-edited issue. And two years ago, SI made its first foray into VR with a 360-degree photo shoot of model Hannah Jeter.

With the new issue, SI is trying to one-up itself, even as it’s trying to fend off a good deal of internet mockery for releasing a #MeToo-related video to promote an issue full of nearly naked women.

To begin with, the Life VR app will feature a VR experience that takes users behind the scenes with Swimsuit editor MJ Day on a few days of the issue’s photo shoots, with her talking about how various elements of the project came together. The VR video also showcases the on-set experience, with several of the models and athletes appearing in the issue talking about what it’s like to be involved in its production.

On the AR side of things, SI is rolling out a slew of new experiences.

One is a 3D, computer-generated rendering of a Swimsuit model that was designed to be available to users of Apple’s ARKit for iOS, and which represented the first time that SI or the Live VR worked with ARKit. The idea, explained Mia Tramz, the managing editor of Life VR, was to frame it as fans’ chance to meet a Swimsuit model in AR.

[Photo: courtesy of Sports Illustrated]

Another ARKit feature is a virtual “portal” that users can place in any location they want with the Life VR app that, when they walk through it, takes them on set with two Swimsuit models.

“We are really excited about ARKit and possibilities it presents, and this was an opportunity to start bringing you even more into the issue,” Tramz says. “The sensation of walking through the door is different than watching a 360-video on FB….There’s something interesting about leaving the world you’re in and walking into this virtual one, something that we wanted to experiment with.”

Yet another is a Snapchat World Lens filter that lets users conduct their own faux-Swimsuit photo or video shoot wherever they like, complete with a small set of props, and create their own Swimsuit cover. This feature will only be available for a short period, as is often the case with special Snapchat filters.

[Photo: courtesy of Sports Illustrated]

Keep Keeping On

That SI continues to turn out issues enhanced with VR and AR features is a testament to the idea that those at the magazine believe readers want the interactivity. That’s borne out by the fact that the Capturing Everest AR experience generated 845 million media impressions, SI says.

“We need to be working with these technologies, and understanding their potential as storytelling mediums,” says Tramz. “The viewership is there. It seems our readers are excited about all the different technologies we’re working with.”

Clearly, SI believes it’s worth it to invest time and energy in developing a storytelling language for VR and AR, and that by doing it now, it has a chance to be somewhat early and stay ahead of the game. To Tramz, it’s going to be awhile before there’s a shared vernacular, or well-established business models for tying AR and VR to traditional publications.

“Being early to driving how [the] industry is shaped,” she says, “is something we’ve been really interested in, and something we’ve been lucky enough to explore with these brands.”

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