Take virtual 3-D tour of Ebenezer Baptist Church

Step inside the historic Civil Rights Movement landmark


About a week ago, I got an email from Dan Smigrod, a local photographer who specializes in interactive digital tours through his company We Get Around. He said he had some new tech he thought we might like to experiment with in a story. We’ve collaborated with Dan before on 360-degree panoramic tours of Pullman Yard and the Clermont Hotel. He now had the ability, he explained, to create virtual 3-D models of multi-level spaces, kind of like digital dollhouses for viewers to explore. The tech has been used to showcase real estate, but what about storytelling?

John Ruch’s story about Civil Rights Tours Atlanta, Tom Houck’s three-hour bus tour that stops “at popular Civil Rights Movement destinations like Ebenezer Baptist Church as well as lesser-known landmarks like Martin Luther King Jr.’s final residence located at 234 Sunset Avenue in Vine City” was already slated for publication this week. The 47th anniversary of King’s assassination is April 4. CL Photo Editor Joeff Davis suggested a tour of Ebenezer Baptist Church, a place many people around the world have heard of because of King and the Civil Rights Movement, but may not have necessarily visited. So we sent Dan to Auburn Avenue to see how close his 3-D tour might feel to the real thing. Here, he answers some questions about the Matterport 3-D platform he used to create the tour, how you can use it to explore Ebenezer Baptist Church, and how virtual reality might impact the future of journalism.

Check out the tour, and Ruch’s story.

How is this tour different from the 360-degree panoramas you created for CL of Pullman Yard and the Clermont Hotel?
Comparing today’s Ebenezer Baptist Church tour to the Pullman Yard (2013) and Clermont Hotel (2014) tours (that I also created for Creative Loafing) is like comparing 2013 and 2014 Lexus cars to a 2015 Ferrari. All are luxury cars that improved each year while the Ferrari is a quantum leap forward in driving experience.

For the Ebenezer Baptist Church behind the velvet rope tour you can quickly and easily view one, two or three floors in dollhouse or floor plan tour view. Click on any point and “fly in” to “walk around” from nearly anywhere within the Church. As a three-dimensional (3D) model, you can visually understand the relationship of places within the Church instantly. With the Pullman Yard and Clermont Hotel, I used state-of-the art technology (at that time) to create 360-degree spherical panoramas and then link them together so that you can “walk-around.” These tours were limited to a single walking path in various directions and you cannot see the aerial dollhouse or floor plan views to fully appreciate the scale and scope of these unique places. With the Ebenezer Baptist Church tour, you can begin your tour on any floor from nearly any spot and walk around as if you have teleported in.

How did you make this? How long did it take? What gear did you use?
To capture, edit and share the Ebenezer Baptist Church 3D model, I used the Matterport 3D Media Platform consisting of:

1.Matterport Pro 3D Camera
2.Matterport Capture App (runs on an iPad Air)
3.Matterport Cloud for processing, hosting and streaming 3D models
4.Matterport Portal
5.Matterport 3D Showcase for viewing models (iFrame embed code)

While it typically takes less than a day for a 3D photo shoot of a three-story building like Ebenezer Baptist Church, it took me 16 hours over the course of three days to complete this photo shoot that includes nearly 200 360-degree nearly spherical images used to create the 3D model. That’s because I could only photograph when there were no people present (because the camera “sees” 360-degrees). That’s a challenge when you have a steady stream of individuals and tour groups. While the National Park Service would have granted us permission to shoot before or after hours, we really wanted the stained glass windows to be back-lit for viewing. That’s a much different experience had we shot at night. Many of the visitors take pictures of the stained glass windows.

The Matterport camera also captures three-dimensional data. At the end of each day, I uploaded the images and data for processing and the 3D model was ready to share the next day. It’s that fast.

What storytelling potential do you see in this technology?
While it may not seem obvious that technology that helps people make confident decisions about leasing and buying real estate is the next big thing in journalism, innovation often takes place at the intersection of a solution that can be used in an unexpected way than it was originally intended.

It’s exciting to collaborate with Creative Loafing and Matterport to help illustrate — in a new and exciting way — this Creative Loafing news article about the Atlanta Civil Rights Tour. Now, people that may not have the time or resources to travel to Atlanta to experience this iconic church of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What better way to help you understand and explore history: just as if you are there.

So, how do people use this 3-D tour on a desktop vs. a tablet or smartphone?
From any reasonably current smartphone, tablet, laptop and desktop, launch the tour by clicking (or tapping) on the blue 3D Showcase bar. The tour will launch in about 10 seconds. I suggest using the Google Chrome browser when possible.

On a computer, use your arrow keys to walk-around … in the bottom left, click on the dollhouse or floor plan view and control which of the three levels (or all levels) with the arrows in the bottom right corner.

On an Apple iPad Air, for example, simply drag, pinch and tap to walk around the 3D model.

How do you anticipate journalism and virtual reality interacting in the future?
2015 is the year that journalists begin embracing three-dimensional (3D) technology — mashed up with virtual reality — to amplify their words. Facebook and YouTube announced support for hosting 3D content. Samsung announced that Gear VR powered by Oculus will launch this Fall.

Once Matterport launches its companion virtual reality app, you will be able to simply look up and down and turnaround to view Ebenezer Baptist Church. Look long enough at a spot and you’ll ‘walk’ in that direction.

While spending so many hours watching tour groups come into the space what did you learn about the legacy/life of Dr. King?
During my 19 hours in the church, I saw many student tour groups come and go and I heard many times, the recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s address at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March.

What struck me was that 50 years after Dr. King says in this address, “How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” I noticed that nearly every group listening to these words was nearly 100 percent black students. It seems like the arc of the moral universal is taking longer than Dr. King may have expected.

Have more questions? Email Dan.