The making of Mako Madness, Discovery VR’s 360-degree shark encounter experience

Imagine joining a camera crew for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. You’re suited-up to dive into the water just off the coast of Catalina in an area known for Mako sharks. Earlier, the team chummed the water with a mixture of bloody fish to attract these fast and dangerous sea creatures.

As you swim, you hear someone on the team shout “Mako!” You swing around and see the shark heading toward you, fast. He swims by once, twice, and on the third swing he comes right at you with his mouth open and teeth exposed!

Shooter and shark encounter.

You don’t have to imagine this. You just need a 360 video headset system with access to the Discovery VR app. This year, the network added to their annual Shark Week experience by creating some new immersive 360 videos. We caught up with Paul Matusheski, a veteran Executive producer and editor who has worked on Shark Week for more than a decade. He also heads-up Out of Frame VR, a company that specializes in 360 video experiences. He is also behind the “Mako Madness” 360 experience found on the app.

“I do a lot of animal-related filming; we’ve done it for years.” Paul says that from the first time he put on a headset, he knew 360 was his next leap forward.

Paul says that from the first time he put on a headset, he knew 360 was his next leap forward.

“I felt, here was a new way to deliver incredible close encounters with apex predictors, and other large animals, that you would never be able to go near.” 

Commissioned for Shark Week

Paul tells us that this isn’t the first 360 footage for Shark Week but, “This year Discovery really wanted to make a solid splash.” Previous attempts at 360 video were really just an afterthought to the 2D production. “It was not a thought-out, planned-out, choreographed [dance, or] the sole purpose of the shoot,” in the past.

The difference in this year’s approach means that there are some fantastic and visually stunning shark experiences that bring together a full team of shooters, editors, graphic artists and sound specialists. The primary camera for Paul’s shoot was the VRTULE 2, a high-end underwater camera built with 13 Blackmagic Micro Cinema cameras. The rig shoots in 4K at 60fps but weighs 70lbs. That means the operator is not quite as agile in the water.

VRTULE 2 camera

The team developed safety techniques while shooting sharks in Cuba, using a second camera on a pole. “It was a little bit hairy! We had one guy in the water who would use his smaller 360 Vuze camera as just kind of a way to create a barrier between the sharks and the other divers.” Paul says that he was impressed that the less expensive Vuze images actually held-up during editing, alongside the VRTULE images.

In fact, the signature shot in “Mako Madness” was of the shark biting the camera. That shot came from the Vuze and was part of the crew’s safety plan. The diver moved the pole with the camera to let the shark know that it could not pass.

Shot of the inside of a sharks mouth.
The signature shot in “Mako Madness” was of the shark biting the camera.

He didn’t actually push the shark away. Paul says, however, “Sometimes they get a little bit annoyed by this barrier [and try to] take a little ‘taste bite’ to find out if this is edible.” So, what goes through a camera operator’s mind when the camera gets bit by a shark? “At that moment we just wanted to get the camera back. He just tried to hang on and figure out the right moment to yank [it] back.” 

Real Sponsorship

Another unique feature of this project was garnering real sponsorship for the 360 production. “At the end of the day, it comes down to money.” Paul says that will be the key to 360 video’s future.

Just as in the early days of film and television, finding ways to fund a project was key, the same is true today. “What Discovery is doing is trying to create these 2-3 minute experiences, funded by advertising. You kind of get people to show up based on the strength of your experience.”

This project netted more than 4 million views during the first two weeks. He believes this kind of audience will help fuel other parts of the market. Paul does believe that 360 is still trying to find its niche.

“I don’t think that we need to compete with TV and films. I think we’re doing our own thing. We’re a different format with a different way to experience the world that has some benefits to it.” 

Currently, the veteran producer thinks the biggest drawback to 360 is the available goggles and delivery systems. While cameras and post-production methods are definitely increasing image quality, it’s very difficult to find a delivery method that matches this. Paul believes that viewers are going to take a shine to 360, and systems will catch up. He has no intention of slowing down his immersive outdoor productions.

To catch more 360 video from Shark Week, find the Discovery VR app for your device. To check out more of Paul Matusheski’s 360 work, check out his website. 

Jeff Chaves
Jeff Chaves
Jeff Chaves is the chief creative officer of Grace Pictures Inc. and is a full-time minister with over 12 years of experience in television broadcasting.

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