Alex Mather, a Google-certified photographer, surprised Motueka, New Zealand based Skydive Abel Tasman’s marketing manager David Bonham-Carter with an unexpected phone call. With Stuart Bean, owner of the skydiving company, out of the country on a holiday, Bonham-Carter was on the receiving end of a unique business offer he couldn’t refuse. Mather suggested Skydive Abel Tasman contribute to Google Street View for the first time with a skydive experience. Even though Stuart Bean was thousands of miles away in New York, Bonham-Carter didn’t hesitate to contact him to communicate the extraordinary offer.
It’s not everyday a local business receives the opportunity of a lifetime – to become first in the world to provide a view unlike any others in the vast online existence of Google. An amazing offer such as this warrants a call to your boss when he is vacationing.
Mr. Bean trusts David Bonham-Carter to make a sound business decision in his absence if he feels it is the right move for the company. The magnitude of the opportunity, however, clearly resonated more with him once he returned to New Zealand from his trip to New York.
“[David]’s a good fella and I trust him with that side of things, so I said, ‘if you think it’s worth doing, go for it’,” Bean said of his marketing manager. “When I got back I sat down with Alex, and I was blown away by what he wanted to do.”
The project was filmed over the course of five days in December, utilizing panoramic 360° photography. The shoot captures the perspective of the full conventional experience of a skydiving passenger. From the moment a skydiver arrives at the Skydive Abel Tasman front desk, puts on the skydive equipment, is seen walking to board the plane and finally, the scenic flight climbing up to 16,500 feet over the majestic Abel Tasman National Park.
In the first stage of development, still photos of the breathtaking skyview were taken to create the actual Google Street View. The impressive images were shot from the sky as the skydiver was descending to the earth in increments of 2,000ft. This is the first time shots at this angle have ever been included into Google Street View.
During the second part of the project, Mather and Skydive Abel Tasman produced a 360 degree interactive video so people utilizing a mobile device including a smartphone or tablet, a desktop computer or a Google Cardboard virtual reality device can share the awesome experience of a freefall at nearly 125 miles per hour. Safety was always a primary consideration in the undertaking of the project. In the effort to offer an enhanced experience, customized attachment points and a rigging system for a 360 GoPro Pano Ball digital camera was constructed. Skydive Abel Tasman Operations Manager Kevin Bedford, a veteran of 18,000 skydives, was consulted and participated in the creation of the safety and photography elements.
According to David Bonham-Carter, the creation and implementation of the project was quite challenging. The demands, however, were countered by the exhilarating feeling of throwing yourself out of an airplane thousands of feet above the ground for the purpose of innovating technology. “You look at the results that came out of it and it’s pretty stunning, we know we live in a special region but you look at it from the air and it puts it all in perspective,” remarked Bonham-Carter.
Kyle Mulinder from Bare Kiwi assisted with the filming, Paralympian Liam Malone conducted a refresher course in an advanced freefall program and the Nelson Regional Development Agency’s Mark Rawson all contributed interviews behind the scenes for the skydiving project.
Alex Mather has had the opportunity to work on unique, demanding projects in the past. He photographed each and every seat in a theatre for a project that involved the Hadron Collider, which is the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world. Unfortunately, the project was unable to be published because of a concern about security. Working in the capacity of an official Google photographer, Mather said he was always enthusiastic to work on new and intriguing projects, and he realized capturing the perspective from skydiving would be a first.
Skydive Abel Tasman’s David Bonham-Carter had hoped that Mather could be convinced to spend a longer period of time in their Abel Tasman region. “I spent a couple of weeks working with this guy closely, and he can solve problems like I’ve never even seen, it’s been pretty cool to work with him,” Bonham-Carter said. “I catch him looking out at the mountains quite a bit – he’s spent a bit of time down here now and I think we may have won him over.”
“The world is a toy that must be played with,” is a mantra to live by. To Alex Mather, the opportunity to give back and raise money for friends and colleagues affected by the November 14th earthquake in Kaikoura was just as important as participating in this innovative undertaking. As a result, Mather waived his standard fee in lieu of a donation to the recovery effort for the New Zealand earthquake. “It didn’t occur to me that this was anything other than a pro bono job but when the guys said how much will it cost, I said let’s do some good, have some fun and make something cool,” he said.