Interview: Using VR to preserve the last remaining haunted house amusement rides

Joel Zika is on a mission to preserve the last remaining haunted house amusement park rides before they disappear and he’s using virtual reality to do it.

There are less than 18 working rides left in the world (12 of them in the U.S.) by his count. Zika’s already filmed six using a specially designed 360-degree camera rig, but he needs some help from the crowd-funding community to finish the job.

“We’ve got great content and we could really just share it,” he told me over Skype while sipping his morning coffee and checking on the progress of his Indiegogo campaign. “I’m really excited about what I’ve done, but it’s difficult. You hate asking people for money.

Zika’s always been interested in the history of media and how it’s influenced by new technology. He sees the dark ride, an umbrella term for any indoor amusement ride where passengers sit in specially guided vehicles, as a precursor to movies, video games and even virtual reality. Instead of strapping on a headset you strap into a cart, but you’re still embarking on a carefully choreographed experience that was developed using some of the best technology available at the time.

“You can look at the old plans for these rides and they’re these complex diagrams that look like the way you might plan a level in a computer game,” Zika said.

To record each haunted house ride, Zika uses a rig featuring three Sony cameras capable of recording in extremely low light . He says it’s the best option available for under $100,000. He’s looked into newer 360-degree cameras, but none of them can handle the low-light conditions that are a key component for most dark rides.

Recording a single ride also requires multiple pass throughs. Zika needs to account for changes to the light, including moments where some rides exit out onto a balcony in the bright sunlight. Varying speeds can also affect the experience, especially if you’re watching with a virtual reality headset and prone to motion sickness.

“It’s a creative thing, trying to capture the way the ride they way it was,” Zika said. “There are moments when you want the ride to be very dark and black. There are moments when you need to see the texture of the wall or the track in front of you. The technology is not quite there yet.”

But Zika can’t afford to wait. The few remaining haunted house rides require constant upkeep and there’s no telling how long they’ll stick around. He’s setting out to record eight more rides next year.

Any money raised on Indiegogo will help cover equipment and software upgrades, along with travel and living costs along the way. In return, backers will get early access to the VR content he creates. You check out the project, and a few more 360-degree videos, via the source links below.


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Jacob Kleinman

Jacob Kleinman has been working as a journalist online and in print since he arrived at Wesleyan University in 2007. After graduating, he took a...Jacob Kleinman has been working as a journalist online and in print since he arrived at Wesleyan University in 2007. After graduating, he took a...