Spherical video has the ability to bring a viewer right into the center of the action, no matter if that’s sports, entertainment, concerts or even a birthday party. The viewer feels like they are a part of the event. It makes sense that Hollywood has been on the cutting edge of the technology. Today, we are seeing some groundbreaking work in 360.
We caught up with three industry insiders to get their take on capturing live events in spherical video. Their expertise ranges from massive outdoor venues to small concert theaters. They all agree that this medium is so new that every production is a learning experience. They share some of their experience in capturing the big events:
30 Ninjas at work
Lewis Smithingham is the President of New Technology with 30 Ninjas Productions. They are credited with the first episodic spherical production and their live credits include Conan Live in 360 at Comic Con for the past two years, Good Morning America Underwater Live and many more. 30 Ninjas is considered a leader in Hollywood in the 360 genre.
Lewis says the biggest failure in live spherical productions is that the cameras don’t get close enough to the main subject. “These cameras have wide angle lenses. When you project something in a very high res image, because of the way the image is projected and the way the sphere is made, things need to be close up” He says that if you can’t get in close enough, it may not be worth doing the shot. Of course, the balance is how close can you get without the camera becoming a distraction.
Lewis says the biggest failure in live spherical productions is that the cameras don’t get close enough to the main subject.
He tells us that another big consideration is networking. How will you make connections? How will you run cables? How will the images be delivered? “There is usually more infrastructure than normal. Not necessarily special parts, but just more of it.”
Tim Gedemer is the CEO and Sound Supervisor for Source Sound, Inc. He is a 360 expert and often works with 30 Ninjas Productions. His credits include Jack White’s Live VR concerts, plus work with NASA, Disney and the Wall Street Journal.
He tells us that because equipment and workflows for spherical video are still being invented, you have to be prepared to think on your feet. “Expect the unexpected. This means plan more audio system redundancy than normal and bring a very well stocked bag of tricks along for the ride.”
With sound, the question is the same as for video: how close can you get? This is going to make all the difference in the final product “Our goal is to create an experience you can’t get anywhere else. If VR can’t deliver a unique experience, why should someone tune in?”
Tim says that sound is an important way to enhance that experience. “Interestingly, simply properly executing spherical sound can do a great job of drawing attention to a production’s visual direction. Where it gets really interesting, is when we can specifically use spherical audio to steer viewers where we want them to look when there is an absence of visual cues to support it.”
Tim says that strategic mic placement is key to shaping the sound. “We believe in full spatial audio delivery, real-time tracking of all audio elements in 360 space, and as many ‘camera specific’ audio perspectives as there are cameras in the production.” That means creating unique mixes for each camera angle. When done well, this helps keep the experience by “placing” the viewer.
Digital domain works
Ben Carlin is a the Live VR Director for Digital Domain. He’s a broadcast veteran and has been focused on spherical video for a few years now. His credits include the 2017 X Games Minneapolis. Digital Domain has worked with all the major networks, plus the NBA, NHL and UFC.
Ben says that he always begins by asking one big question, “What experience will the live audience see, and how will those at home watch the event?”
He says by answering that you can decide the other questions like audio and camera selection. “Like any shoot, you want to make sure you use the best camera for the job at hand, and the right amount of cameras to ensure proper coverage.” Ben says that he may be a bit biased, but he prefers the Kronos camera developed by Digital Domain. “It’s low-profile footprint is the most venue-friendly on the market.”
Monitoring is critical when covering an event that will be switched. Ben has done many multi-camera productions and says that the control room is set up pretty much like it would be for a traditional feed. But as a director, “I have a VR headset which I am constantly wearing to see in real time what the audience is seeing, so we can make adjustments as necessary.”
The experts agree, spherical production is worth the effort, but planning is critical. As we see more big events produced, we will also see more and more techniques emerge.
Jeff Chaves is the Chief Creative Officer of Grace Pictures Inc., which he co-owns with his wife, Peggy. He got his start as an Army Broadcaster in the 1980s and spent 12 plus years working on broadcasting. Jeff left broadcast television to pursue full-time ministry.