Commissioned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), “Travel across Bosnia and Herzegovina” by Visualise has been well received, being the fastest ever growing video with over 90k views in EBRD’s YouTube now. The immersive 360° documentary takes the audience to a journey along Corridor VC – Bosnia and Herzegovina’s new motorway — and shows some of the most spectacular scenery in VR.
How to add and plan extra variety in shots with Obsidian camera, drone and car? How to direct audience’s attention and solve the fear of missing out problem?
Follow Jack Churchill, the VR specialist and camera operator of the project, to learn the story behind and his insights of VR production.
Q1: Please tell us a bit about your team and the construction project.
The construction project sees the creation of Corridor Vc (5c), an essential highway that will span the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina, connecting from the port of Ploce in the south to the border with Croatia in the north – then extending through Croatia and into Hungary. The project is funded by various international and Europoean contributors, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The film was a collaboration between the EBRD and Visualise, with Visualise providing VR technical support to the direction and narrative produced by the EBRD. Jonathan Wells, who you may recognize as the presenter in the film, doubled as the director – scripting the narrative and developing the overall story to align with the EBRD’s involvement within construction.
The whole film was supported by producer Leslie Zunz who worked closely with the local construction companies in order to gain access to the locations and people, joined on location by sound engineer Phil Wade and myself, Jack Churchill, VR specialist and camera operator. Although a small team, we all had our roles and could contribute a great deal to the film. It was vital to have Jonathan (who was also the client) directing the camera action and his own narration as he was able to communicate exactly what the bank wanted to achieve from the project, whilst ensuring he delivered in a concise and engaging way.
Further to that, it’s worth saying that in addition to being the on-location camera operator, I also completed the post-production. Being able to be so heavily involved in the production process allowed me the ability to save a considerable amount of time in post as I was able to set up shots to favour what is possible further down the line. Likewise, I was able to push the ability of Kandao Obsidian R further as I knew what was needed in post to achieve great looking shots – for example the interior of the car.
Q2: The video “Travel across Bosnia and Herzegovina” has been well received and collected over 90k views in YouTube. Congratulations! Why do you choose VR to film it?
The video has certainly had a good response, being one of the fastest growing videos on the EBRD YouTube channel. On paper, a film about the construction of a road from the point of view of the investment firm may not always be the most appealing narrative, which is why it was important for us to make the film more than just a corporate face.
Through a number of techniques to boost engagement, VR being one of those, the film could really come to life. With the use of VR, we could really begin to show real world scenes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, displaying the expanse of scenery and fully see the scale of the project, without hiding anything from the audience. This way, the viewer can experience first hand what it was like for us to be there, whilst being guided through the location and given interesting facts by Jonathan. I think VR really helps develop the connection to the topic as it was such a visually interesting place.
Q3: Why do you choose Kandao Obsidian R camera as the main camera for the project?
When starting the project, there were a few requirements from the client to consider, one of which being the VR camera system we would use. In order to give the most flexibility, we chose the Obsidian R as it allowed us high resolution footage, whilst also delivering clean stitches, fast speed on-location and live preview. We also use Kandao’s Wifi Battery pack when shooting with the R as this gives us the added stability to Wi-Fi and extended battery life whilst shooting. The final output of the film was for OculusGo VR headsets, so quality was a big consideration for us, and shooting at full 8K allows for a very sharp downscale for a 4K output. Although we produced this film in monoscopic due to the fast turnaround, we shot in such a way that would allow us to revisit the project with stereoscopic in mind.
Q4: We notice that there are many drone, car and static shots in the video, they are quite useful for immersive perspective. How do you plan the shots?
Adding extra variety in shots was always a key consideration for us whilst planning. We knew that drone shots would form a big part of the narrative as we needed to show the road clearly from the air to see its scale within the landscape. We used a local drone crew who had a variety of options to help us capture these aerial shots. Primarily, we used the Obsidian R on a larger drone, also mounting a GoPro Fusion on the top to give additional help with drone removal in post-production.
We also developed the car related shots to show the point of view driving along the road, using suction cup rigging to mount the Obsidian to the sunroof. Car interiors are notoriously tricky in VR, but as the Obsidian R has such a wide field of view on each lens, it allowed more flexibility to hide stitch lines and create multiple plates to rebuild the interior.
Q5: What are the main challenges you run into in creating this VR experience?
Beyond inherent challenges faced with any shoot abroad, we faced a few challenges from a technical point of view. A large majority of the Bosnia film is shot from a drone and almost all of it filmed outside, therefore our very short production (three days) was totally reliant on good weather. Luckily two of the three days were dry so we managed to avoid rain, however wind caused us challenges at times. With time very limited there was added pressure to get the drone shots we needed so we didn’t return empty handed.
Our local drone pilots knew the weather well and worked with us to adapt the schedule to fit best with constantly changing wind conditions. The landscape we chose to film in was beautiful, although rolling hills didn’t help frequent gusts, making flying the drone challenging. In the end we managed to get all the shots we wanted, only once having to resort to a lighter drone with smaller GoPro fusions in order to work against the wind.
Q6: How do you finish the post-production work?
With regards to post-production, we have settled into a robust routine working in Mistika VR, Premiere Pro and After Effects. We do all our stitching in Mistika, using a mixture of pre-built templates, Kandao’s own stitching software and the Calibration tool to create base offline stitches that we can develop and refine later in the online. From there we edit in Premiere Pro, using proxy offline stitches in order to be able to select the best shots and takes.
Then in a traditional film manner we work with the client to develop the edit until we have achieved picture lock and they are happy with the edit. This is then where the fun starts. Having finalised the timings of each shot, we can then return to Mistika and fine stitch each shot, using the given times from the edit. By only focusing on the specific parts of the clip we are going to use, we can ensure not to waste time or data when exporting these high quality fine stitches. Our next step is to individually clean up each of these shots, removing any rigging, drones, tripods and crew. Using After Effects as a base for this clean up phase, Mocha Pro and Photoshop add to the tools to help remove and rebuild shots.
All of this is working at 8K and large file sizes, therefore the powerful network and multi-workstation setup at Visualise is important to be able to speedily process the footage. Two key shots that demanded more attention on this project were the cage interview and the car interior. Hiding sitchlines in these was tricky and called for multiple stitches so that we could rebuild the scene within After Effects. Each scene took three individual stitches to allow enough overlap between lenses to create the final stitch. Finally, we rebuilt the offline edit in Premiere Pro, adding graphics, applying a colour grade, and attaching the audio mix.
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?
It’s always important to consider the narrative of a project before deciding to make it within VR. As much as I love the medium and get excited to see new films, it’s always a challenge to create something if it isn’t meant for VR. If a project is being created for the sake of creating VR content, then I think the question should be, how can it be adapted to deliver the same message whilst making proper use of VR. That being said, having a character run round the camera, just because they can, doesn’t necessarily make for good content. Viewers can get ‘VR FOMO’ (fear of missing out) where your attention is expected to be split over multiple action points, not allowing the viewer to nicely digest your film.