Reality Labs

Boz to the Future Episode 9: The future of visual storytelling in sports with Alex Honnold and Jonathan Griffith

May 9, 2022

Welcome back for the ninth episode of Boz to the Future, a podcast from Reality Labs (RL). In today’s episode, our host, Head of RL and Meta CTO Andrew “Boz” Bosworth is joined by photographer, filmmaker, and alpinist Jonathan Griffith and professional adventure rock climber Alex Honnold.

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One of the world’s leading mountain sports photographers and an accomplished Alpinist himself, Jonathan Griffith embarks on cutting-edge ascents to visually document expeditions in the Alps, Patagonia, Alaska, and the Himalayas. He specializes in award-winning VR productions in remote areas of the world that very few can access — bringing cutting-edge human adventure to your headset. Griffith is currently working on Ukrainian relief efforts, providing support to Ukrainian refugees.

The first person to successfully free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park alone, Alex Honnold has been climbing since the age of five and actively competing since the age of 16. You may know him from National Geographic’s Academy Award-winning documentary Free Solo, or from the recently launched virtual reality documentary Alex Honnold: The Soloist VR. His podcast, Climbing Gold, focuses on the sport of climbing, with new episodes expected in Spring 2022. In the meantime, his latest adventure is raising his baby girl, June, together with his wife, Sanni McCandless Honnold.

During today’s episode, Bosworth, Honnold, and Griffith discuss how immersive media like VR can advance unique sports narratives. They also talk about how advances in media technology have also expanded access to extreme sports, giving people an unprecedented view of elite sports that require tremendous skill, practice, and talent. While historically these challenging adventures have been exclusive to a small subset of athletes, VR lets anyone with a headset take a proverbial walk on the wild side.

Griffith is incredibly passionate about the immersive power of virtual reality. He fell in love with the medium the moment he first put on a headset and has merged his love of climbing and VR to give people an intimate look at free soloing and enables people to understand the beauty of the sport.

For Honnold, sharing The Soloist VR has been the best way to let his friends and family come close to feeling what he experiences when climbing and understanding why he does what he does. While more traditional media tends to focus on the negative aspects of the sport and its dangers, Honnold says that filming soloing in VR shows people the beauty of soloing in a way that’s hard to convey otherwise.

Griffith digs deep into the challenges of carrying a VR rig up into the mountains and capturing all of the scenes he needs in one take, as well as the challenges of filming in VR compared to rectilinear film. Rather than relying on all the techniques he’s learned for traditional filmmaking, Griffith strips filmmaking to its barest form when filming in 360° to avoid overwhelming the audience. He also focuses on letting the audience be in the experience as opposed to merely being a spectator.

In the second deep dive, they talk about the relationship between technology and extreme sports, questioning whether new trends would take off as readily if it weren’t for GoPro footage to help introduce people to these new activities. And even when they don’t inspire massive amounts of people to dive into a new extreme sport head-on, media can at least help change people’s perspectives and broaden their horizons. It’s unlikely that watching The Soloist VR would compel a novice to take up free soloing, for example, given how incredibly difficult and technical the sport is. But it could very well inspire people to get outside for a hike or start training for a 5K or half-marathon.

You can tune in to Boz to the Future on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Facebook — or right here on Tech at Meta. We’ll see you next month for a new episode.

You can follow Bosworth on Instagram and Twitter @boztank. You can follow Honnold on Twitter and Instagram, and you can find Griffith on Twitter and Instagram.

You can watch Episode 1 and Episode 2 of The Soloist VR on Oculus TV for the Meta Quest Platform. For more information, check out our interview with Honnold and Griffith on the Meta Quest Blog.