AN INSIDE LOOK BEHIND THE 360 3D VIRTUAL REALITY MAGIC
BY THE COMMANDER and AL CAUDULLO
The Spring is an action-drama, filmed in 360-degree 3D Virtual Reality (VR). Three female cave explorers set out, dropping down through a pit to enter a cave with an underground river. The seemingly harmless adventure turns deadly as the underground river suddenly floods. Our trio of spelunkers are forced to go deeper into the labyrinth of caves to make their escape via, “the Spring,” a rumored but unexplored exit.
The first of many questions that I had for Greg Passmore, Producer/Director of Passmore Labs, was: “When you are shooting a 3D 360-degree Virtual Reality movie in a cave (when at times you are perilously close to the top due to the water level), where do you put the crew?” His reply threw me off-guard: “Anywhere I want,” he replied. It was then that he told me he was shooting with one RED EPIC camera. How?
Greg realized two things during the pre-production process of the film. First, this story would make a fantastic virtual reality movie. Second, it would be impossible to shoot this with a traditional multi-camera VR Rig. For one thing, the only place for the 8-10 crew members to go during a take would be: underwater. For another, the near claustrophobic tiny crawlspaces that would need to be navigated would simply not accommodate the VR Rig. The obvious answer was, with such a small space, to shoot everything in panels.
Passmore Labs is an awarding-winning studio, working in the world of 3D multi-camera and 3D conversion. Greg is no stranger to inventing his own workflow, and in this case, creating his own proprietary Spherical compositing software to 'stitch' the elements of the 8-camera views together. Don't think for an instant this was an easy process. Lens calibration, filling in areas and warp correction are just a few of the hurdles that needed to be overcome.
The next challenge was lighting, in a water-filled, confined space. In order to achieve a film quality dynamic range in the shots, it would require a delicate balance. It needed to be intensely bright, and there really wasn't any place to light them. Actual caving lights emit a very low lumen light, insufficient for filming. The only choice was to create their own 'cave' lights. The actors actually wore them on their heads. Extra planning went into the direction of the actors, to not only deliver their lines, but to also properly light the scene.
I asked Greg about using Super Speed Zeiss lenses, but he explained the need for a deep depth of field, which those lenses don't offer. He needed to be able to stop down 2½ to 3 stops to achieve the proper near infinite depth of field. He used a variety of lenses, explaining: “Everything from the Peleng fisheye to the much nicer Zeiss Super Speed 35 (since we do panels).”
Audio presented another complex set of challenges. Keeping the microphones dry, for one. Plus the acoustics of a water-filled cave are far from ideal. Special waterproof cases were utilized with small inflatable boats.
As for DIT, Greg has a mobile production trailer/studio that he travels with to a location. The software has reached the point where he can ingest the raw files natively. Then the composite is built with the exported files feeding into an Oculus Rift for reviewing the days' shoot.
The footage is being turned into a VR movie by using software (PAM360) especially written for this process. Greg has been developing this software, with his team, for almost a year. PAM360 will be distributed by startup Poison Apple Media. The site is not operational yet in English, but should be finished soon. The principal photography is complete with B-roll, and expected to be completed soon.
Post Production is being handled at Passmore Studios in Austin, Texas. They have not finalized distribution since this is such a rapidly changing landscape. The official release is at E3 at the Immerex booth. E3 is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, an annual trade fair held in Los Angeles every year, especially for the video game industry. Virtual Reality has its roots firmly entrenched in video games, but it is gaining ground with non-gamers for its ability to immerse you into a story.
The company, Immerex, engineers and creates immersive end-to-end virtual reality entertainment experiences. They explain themselves as: “We are a team of creative technologists, passionate inventors, ingenious cinema producers, decisive financial investors, and avid problem solvers, all of which fit perfectly with creating next generation immersive entertainment.”
The finished film will be two versions, a 10-minute version, and a 3-minute version. Right now what was created with VR is a feature length film. Longer and more involved features will most likely follow as the technology moves forward. The complexity of longer VR movies and the ability for the audience to stay immersed are still questions yet to be answered. Time undoubtedly will tell.
Greg's rationale was summed up with this statement: “If we start with something hard and survive it, we can then say, ‘Alright, great! Now we can do the easy stuff.’ I really wanted to try something with some teeth, and this particular film was challenging, because of the physical environment, as well as the filming issues. If VR really has this ability to create this intimate sense of space and feeling, then this was the perfect environment to show that off.”
Co-Author, Al Caudullo is a 3D Award Winner. With over thirty years of experience in the video production industry, Caudullo applied his knowledge toward the future of stereoscopic image capture, and has been considered “a 3D evangelist”, a title given to him by 3D industry icon and former CEO of 3Ality, Sandy Climan. AlCaudullo.com