Shot by Obsidian VR cameras, ‘Money VR’ was a collaboration between artist Villette Dasha, Red Bull Music, and VR production house Baron VR, directed by Parker Howell. Music, dance, and culture collide to form this haunting 360 VR music video, taking full advantage of VR’s first-person feature, and director Parker is pushing the boundary of VR and inspiring the next-generation of VR creators.
In order to create the embodied experience of seeing the world through another human’s eyes, Director Parker has created their own helmet camera rigs with Obsidian cameras attached upside down because “it was light-weight, easily stitched, and shot in full stereoscopic 360”. Thanks to the unique first-person perspective, the video creates a virtual reality experience that would transport viewers into the incredible and creative dream world and play the role of an ex-lover haunted by dreamlike visions of Villette. Instead of putting on VR headset and watching a video only, this time, viewers can interact with the main character and have such a feeling that “wow, I am there” as if Villette was looking at them.
Additionally, Parker has made full use of Obsidian S & R to interchange between shooting high resolution and slow motion, setting up long shots and slower shots, which made an appealing spell and a natural rhythm for the film.
As an award-winning virtual reality filmmaker, Parker specializes in virtual reality and immersive digital experiences. In this interview, he shares the workflow of making this immersive stereoscopic first-person VR music video, and his insights on how to make a good VR film utilizing innovative techniques. Also, this video is coming to Oculus on the RedBullTV app.
Q1: Please tell us a bit about your team, and why you choose first-person perspective as a VR storytelling way to film the music video.
VR is a dynamic emerging medium allowing people to experience new worlds in 360 degrees and in 3 dimensions, but many storytellers have struggled to fully engage audiences in these environments. Therefore we shot in first person to give them a sense of imminent presence, as if they were a character in the story with action happening directly at them. We transported them inside another human being, inside a dream.
Q2: How can audience interact with the character and explore in your VR film?
VR opens the doors of exploration and allows the viewer to look wherever they like, but many VR films have failed because they lack focus. There’s action in every direction and the audience gets anxious not knowing where to look, or worrying that they might be missing something. That’s why in Money VR we direct the audience’s attention throughout our dimensional world. We setup long shots that allow them to explore the world, hiding Easter Eggs they can discover throughout the environment. Then we get into faster paced sequences where the action takes place directly in front of them. This way they get to explore during the slower shots, and then settle into the action focusing on the story that’s right in front of them. There’s a natural rhythm here that mirrors how people explore new environments in the real world. The result is a film that’s focused, dynamic and exhilarating.
Q3: What’s the helmet cam workflow?
We knew we wanted to shoot in first person, creating the embodied experience of seeing the world through another human’s eyes. There were already several companies out there that had created their own helmet camera rigs, but we couldn’t find any that could accomplish all the dynamic first person shots we were looking for due to stitching issues. Therefore we had to create our own. We looked at many different cameras but decided on the Obsidian series because it was light-weight, easily stitched, and shot in full stereoscopic 360. Additionally it had models S & R so we could interchange between shooting high resolution and slow motion. We attached it to a helmet, counter weighted it, and added GoPros®to help with our final compositing. This allowed us to shoot quickly, which is a must for music videos since you want to get many different shots in a day. The final result was a shot that perfectly captures our actor/cameraman’s perspective in 3D 360.
Q4: How many Obsidians did you use for the film? Could you tell us how you make a plan for that?
VR cameras have come a long way in the past few years. They’re becoming more powerful, faster, cheaper, and reliable. But the worst can always happen when a camera breaks down on set. Therefore we always shoot with at least two cameras. What was beautiful about the Obsidian S & R is that they had the same exact body but with complementary features. The S is able to shoot at a higher speed and the R is able to shoot at a higher resolution. This allowed us new options in VR cinematography. We utilized the high resolution camera to film in near darkness with lights sweeping through the frame (something that many other VR engineers told us was impossible). Then we swapped cameras and dropped our actor from the ceiling using the slow motion camera. What would normally just be a backup camera, was now giving us more options as storytellers.
Q5: What are the main challenges you run into in creating this VR experience?
It’s really exciting creating a 360 environment, and you know that when the cinematography and production design come together you’ll have created a mini universe unto itself. But then you’re reminded that all that magic has to been hidden from view. Unlike classic filmmaking you can’t just move the crew off to the side of the frame because the frame is everywhere in 360. Therefore we had to create a set that tucked away all the power chords, light stands, and hid the crew behind curtains. The Obsidian had wireless capabilities so we were able to send images directly from the helmet rig, in order to direct action from another room It takes a lot of planning and work but the final shot plays in all directions without breaking the spell.
Q6: How do you finish the post-production work?
Everyday more major software companies are adapting their post production suites for VR, and new companies spring up constantly to fill in the gaps. However, there’s no one tool that’s going to do it all for you in post production. Therefore not only did we work with all these emerging programs, but we also wrote our own code to let them talk to each other as efficiently as possible. We scripted a plugin to transfer tracking data from Mistika VR to adobe after effects, and pioneered all kinds of processes for stripping down stereoscopic footage, tracking it, treating it, and recombining it Ultimately, we build these tools knowing that one day we’ll no longer need them. These processes will become as simple as a click of a button, but for now the price of pioneering VR is that you can’t wait for someone else to build your solution. You have to build tools and find creative ways to tackle multi dimensional problems.
Q7: Could you share us some experience of how to make a good VR film, for example, with Obsidian? Do you think VR would shape the future of storytelling?
Many classic storytelling techniques work wonderfully in VR, and you can learn a lot from studying the great filmmakers, but there a few new things you have to ask yourself when creating VR. How will you direct the eye in 360 space? It’s powerful both to have strong direction for the audience to focus on, but also to give them space to explore the world. The trick is to find a balance that works well with the rhythm of your story. What is the perspective of your audience, and how do you use it to engage them? In some cases the fly on the wall approach has merit, but it’s way more engaging to put your audience right in the seat of the action. Maybe that means you shoot it in first person. Maybe you find extreme angles that stir up emotion or cause someone to look at the world from a novel perspective. Maybe you mix them all together. And how do all these decisions serve the emotion of your scenes? Think about how you want your audience to feel when they take off their headset, and then work your way backwards, plotting out a rollercoaster of emotions to get them to that point. Use the new perspective, depth, and sense of immersive presence to play with their emotions giving them the highs and the lows, and you’ll have given them something unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.
If you want to learn more about Obsidian cameras and purchase, click here: https://www.kandaovr.com/en/Obsidian/#/overview