For Better or Worse: This Year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Steps Into Virtual Reality

For an instant, she stares blankly out into the distance as she would for any photograph. But almost immediately, she takes notice. You're there. She turns her head, looks over, and then slowly turns back, looking down at her outstretched legs. Her eyes move slowly, looking down, as her chin lifts her gaze from the top of her legs to her feet. She's admiring herself — for you. She even starts crawling toward you. You turn your head to look around ("Toward me?," you think, but no one else is there). You turn back to her. The clip is over. You can take off your Google Cardboard viewer and go back to flipping channels on your living room TV.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is the anomaly that never was. Normally dedicated rather heavily to male athletics, the magazine takes one month out of the year to "honor" women laying around. Somehow, this made perfect sense. Of course, the reality of the issue's existence is only slightly more complicated: the Swimsuit Issue is a softcore feast for the eyes of those that represent the magazine's main readership: men. Readers are expected to gape at the images that were created specifically for the occasion. But, I can't decide if the Swimsuit Issue's move to virtual reality for content in its apps and online is the next big thing or flat-out creepy. Regardless, it's a big day for VR.

It's one thing for images to capture inviting gazes of women that never see or seem to interact with the viewer. But the move to virtual reality for such content as presented would serve oddly well as a free porn preview in the era of "Minority Report." These videos are simply immersive at best and extremely voyeuristic and outright strange at worst.

The scenario described earlier is even more slowly moving than the real thing, as Sports Illustrated took a rather fast-paced (almost runway-paced) approach to most of the filming. While one might think that would make for less sultry imagery, which it does, it's hard to understand just how odd the speed is in most cases. Where it's fast, the model's reactions feel forced. Relief comes in the few clips that seem more like the unthreatening behind-the-scenes videos of an SI photo shoot we're all used to. The videos are, after all, supposed to be based loosely on the answers to the question: "What is it like to be in a Sports Illustrated photo shoot?"

Slower clips are reserved for even more forced scenes. It's not the models that seem forced in these clips so much as it is the direction one can imagine behind the camera. These clips lend themselves to exciting those that enjoy the obviously staged aspect of the voyeuristic side of things. A woman on her knees in a fountain's pool scoops some water in her hands that she then pours down her cleavage as she leans back. Clips like these make you wonder if there's much ingenuity and creativity in these shots beyond the use of a new visual technology or medium.

It's not hard to imagine plenty of men (and plenty of women too, surely) enjoying what I consider to be rather creepy. But then, I was never one to enjoy the Swimsuit Issue as a piece of art by any means, but rather as a record of a handful of the world's undoubtedly and simultaneously most beautiful and most popular women.

Nevertheless, with the growth of virtual reality, it's near certain that this trend will stay. The technology's potential is huge, and I can only hope that those that are just now breaking into the field will soon learn how to better utilize it for a more cinematic and enjoyable experience, regardless of the final intent.

[via The Verge]

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Lee Morris's picture

Did they even try to make this look good? This certainly doesn't seem to be up to SI standards

Adam Ottke's picture

Yeah... That's the other part. Now, you could look at it as simple BTS footage, but it's obviously not shot that way (based on the subject matter and actions in the clips). And even that isn't up to their standards, it seems. Victoria's Secret BTS stuff...that's what this should look like if anything: clean, crisp, finished, professional...

Orwin SantaCruz's picture

Probably limited in the quality of video. This is about as good as I get from my Ricoh Theta S when uploaded to YouTube. It's a cool idea and I don't feel it's creepy because they know they're being filmed. I would have preferred a real BTS where we could see the photographer and the team setup while taking shots instead of quick cut scenes between models.
I'm hoping the video quality will jump when 4k 360 cameras like the Nikon KeyMission come out but I think unless someone besides YouTube hosts the videos, they will still look rough for what I'm guessing are bandwidth issues. Also, if future cameras don't have a really easy, straight forward process like my Theta S, I'll stick to lower quality because it is so minimal effort to work with.

Deleted Account's picture

For 360 to make any sense you need interesting content all around the camera... Not in this case... ;)

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Looks great on mobile. You see the 360 degree source.

Doug Birling's picture

The good news is this perfectly illustrates why this is just a dumb fad, since no one watching past videos from SI ever said, "Gee, I wonder what type of planting that is behind the camera, is that a palm or a coconut, I always get them confused"