En Pointe is a VR short film that Perception Squared and Spliced VR created for Samsung’s MilkVR “There in 60 seconds” contest. The contest required VR filmmakers to produce a 60 second 360 VR short film that “takes the viewer to a place in the world that is special and unique to them”. We thought this would be a great creative challenge and would push us to dive head first into learning the ins and outs of storytelling in 360 VR. The film won $10,000 and had its premiere screening at Sundance Film Festival.
Director, Connor Hair, and producer, Beth Meberg, brainstormed ideas for places that were meaningful to them and stumbled upon the idea of using a theater. Once the setting was established, an idea for the story quickly developed. Theaters are a natural fit for 360 VR because the lights can be visible, it’s a large open space, and filmmaking in 360 is already very similar to how stories are told with stage plays.
After solidifying our concept, we moved quickly to reconfigure the current dual modified Gopro rig to work for a 360 setup. Connor Hair did some tests with his current 180 degree lenses but the amount of overlap was not sufficient to provide a clean stitch for 360. We ended up reaching out to Matt Wilkins and Joe LaVigne in Seattle who had also been using a similar rig with slightly wider lenses. They graciously said they would help out with the project and would allow us to use their fisheye lenses. We then had a custom plate machined for the Gopros so that they would be correctly oriented for 360 degree shooting.
The film definitely had its share of challenges during the production process. After an unsuccessful search for an affordable theatre location in Los Angeles, we moved our search to the Seattle area, where Connor and Beth both grew up. We also already had a connection with a great Seattle choreographer, Jared Jones. The Kirkland Performing Arts Center gave us a great deal on the rental and were excited to have us out to film this experience. On our first day of shooting, Kirkland had a huge wind storm that knocked out the power in the theater right as we were finishing up rehearsal and moving to film our first shot. The power outages continued intermittently for the rest of the day and we were only able to finish two takes of the film. Luckily, the theater manager Ryan was kind enough to let us come back the next morning to get the rest of the shots we needed. We crossed our fingers and the next morning were pleasantly surprised that the power had been restored and we were able to finish the film.
Post-production proved a challenge in its own right. Fred Beahm and Connor Hair had no prior experience with 360 stitching so they had to get up to speed very quickly. Connor left for a week long trip to China right when he got back to LA so the film was in Fred’s hands to stitch together. Starting out by storing the footage on a G-Technology G Speed Studio XL Raid drive, allowing for fast transfer & export speeds, Fred began to process the footage and prep for stitching. Along with the help of Steven Calcote, Stephen Les, and Andy Cochrane, Fred managed to learn Kolor's Autopano Video Pro and Autopano Giga in one week and successfully stitch together our two shots with no visible seams. His approach with this project was to treat the whole film as a VFX shot. He drew on his prior VFX knowledge to composite takes together and ensure that the video seams could not be seen. At the same time, he had to make sure that those edits did not affect the look of the costume transformation special effect. After coming back from China, Connor and Fred used DaVinci Resolve for noise reduction and the final color grade. Finally they manually mixed all of the foley for 5.1 3D surround sound and added VFX and titles to the film.
THE FINISHED FILM
Overall we learned a lot from the project and the quick turnaround gave us a crash course in 360 VR that will be extremely valuable for our future work with Virtual Reality cinema.