Frontline’s Virtual Reality Ebola Documentary

Ebola Outbreak PBS Secret Location VR

PBS’s investigative documentary series Frontline has created their first virtual reality documentary, taking viewers on an origin story of the Ebola virus that became a major epidemic last year.

The virtual reality documentary titled Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey, premiered last month at the digital journalism conference ONA15. As a collaborative project between Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism and VR producer Secret Location, the 11-minute immersive film is now available for Android smartphones that can be experienced with either Google Cardboard or a Samsung Gear VR headset.


Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey was shot by filmmaker Dan Edge in tandem with “Outbreak,” a broadcast-length documentary that premiered on PBS back in May. Shot on location in West Africa using 360-degree cameras, the immersive documentary plays out in three parts. The film starts viewers in a New Guinea village where a hollow tree is suspected to be the origin of the recent ebola outbreak. Viewers are then transported to Sierra Leone to get a glimpse of the epidemic and end with a look at an emergency Ebola field hospital.

Viewers meet witnesses in "Ebola Outbreak"

Viewers meet witnesses in “Ebola Outbreak”

The experience is a mix of live-action footage with 2D video overlay interviews mixed throughout, bringing you closer to the experts and those who had lived through the outbreak.

Digital production house Secret Location not only assisted in providing gear, training, and remote support for the documentary, they also handled the often technologically challenging post-production of the 9 different angle footage in their studio. Most recently, Secret Location won the first-ever Emmy in VR for their work on FOX’s Sleepy Hollow Virtual Reality Experience. The company also has a VR experience touring LA at the moment, developed in collaboration with the LA Philharmonic called VAN Beethoven.

Frontline joins a growing number of networks and studios diving into the new form of virtual reality storytelling. Although it may be different from the traditional Frontline type of filmmaking, in the end, this is all visually storytelling and we look forward to seeing more in the future.

Frontline is working on a second virtual reality documentary about the famine in South Sudan with the Brown Institute of Media Innovation at Columbia and Stanford Universities.

About the Scout

Jonathan Nafarrete

Jonathan Nafarrete is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of VRScout.

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