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I Am You

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Preparing the Shoot

 

How do you prepare to shoot a film for VR? Well, that’s the challenge that I've been facing over the past 4 weeks of rehearsals.  As the project evolved over the past eight months and the techniques that Alex and I were working on became more apparent, I knew that this would be a tough gig for the actors as they not only had to give awesome performances but also behave as the camera operators as well (thankfully only one at a time).  In addition, because the lenses of the cameras have such a wide field of view and the room we are shooting in is small, I can’t be in there with them because I will be seen in the shot.  

POV of actor looking out the window on set.

POV of actor looking out the window on set.

That makes it difficult because I can’t really see if they are framing up the shot properly, hence why we needed to do rehearsals for this project.  The process of rehearsals is something that is definitely more common in theatre compared to film, but was necessary for the actors to aquainted to our technical approach, even at some points it probably fustrated them as they just wanted to shoot the damn film.  I could truly relate, but as this is such a new way of shooting a film we can’t afford to rush.  To make it easier, we decided to add a third gopro to the rig and watch it as it streamed wirelessly to my laptop in the other room.  We also mic’ed up the actors so that I could hear what was happening while we were shooting.  This proved to be an effective technique and one that I would recommend to anyone who is trying to make a film for this medium.

Andrew Pimento and myself talking through a scene on set of "I Am You"

Andrew Pimento and myself talking through a scene on set of "I Am You"

In addition to all these technological work arounds, I believe the most important skill or attitude that needs to adopted is patience.  That’s something that I learned, because when you are working on a single take that lasts for 6 minutes which has a lot of movments, you need patience.  As we were working from an improvisation, there was a lot of play, but the actors still had to nail the physical movements. Rehearsing with both Andrew and Nina has been fun and I look forward to seeing the film come to life.  On a personal note, this has been such a different experience because my other films have been so loose as I would have the ability to turn on a dime when we were shooting.  To a certain extent I still have this freedom, but “I Am You” is a completely different beast and I’m truly flexing my muscles as a filmmaker in a completely different way.

 

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How I Got Started Making Films for VR

The Initial Spark

“I Am You”, the film project that I am working on at the moment, feels like the biggest of my career. It’s not because I am working with a big budget or even a big star, but rather because it’s based in virtual reality.  When I’m talking about virtual reality, I’m not refering to the early 90’s film “The Lawnmower Man” (although I do love that film).  What I am refering to is how virtual reality looks today and that is through the lense of the Oculus Rift, a piece of hardware that has captured the hearts and minds of tech enthusiasts, developers, and creators everywhere.  When I first saw their technology popping up at major film festivals such as SXSW, Tribeca, and Sundance, I had this feeling that it was only a matter of time until filmmakers would start to make movies for it and I definitely wanted to be one of the first.  

Following My Instincts

I took steps to educate myself by going online and reading threads in forums, Reddit, and other people’s blogs.  I was also introduced to a local Toronto VR meetup group by a developer I met at the Raindance Booze’n’Schmooze who, like me, was interested in creating a film for VR. We worked together for a short time but ultimately went sepearate paths.  However, before parting ways he introduced me to Will McMaster, a filmmaker that had spent a great deal of time learning about the workflow for creating content in VR.  Despite his initial technical challenges and learning curve, he was completely sold on VR as the future and had stopped ‘traditional' filmmaking entirely so that he could focus all his attention on it.  I can only presume this paid off because shortly after I met him, he relocated to the UK for a job opportunity in VR.  Needless to say, his passion and work really convinced me that what I had been reading and dreaming about was indeed possible and I wanted in immediately.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

So there I was, my curiosity turning into a daily obsession to nail my approach.  The first problem I had was I didn’t own an Oculus Rift, which really felt like the first thing I had to solve because this was the only way I could view content.  I found a lightly used one on eBay and two weeks later the Oculus Rift - DK1 was in my hands.  With that problem solved, I still had to decide how I wanted to shoot my film as a lot of creators out there were building camera rigs with four to twelve GoPro’s, in order to capture a 360 degree field of view.  One of the conversations that Will and I had was simply using two GoPro’s and shooting the film stereoscopic.  I liked this approach as it was a realitively inexpensive way to dip my toes in the water and see if I could create something engaging.  I knew I wouldn’t get the full 360 effect, but I thought that if the content was compelling enough, it wouldn’t really matter.  I purchased the GoPro’s and the Dual Hero System which allows you to sync the cameras up perfectly every single time.  Despite this being a very big step forward I still had to figure out how to get the footage to play in the Oculus, which is not as simple as I initially thought.  What I learned is that a lot of developers are using a game engine such as Unity or Unreal Engine to get their content inside the Rift.  As I didn’t have any experience in game development I decided that I needed to get some help in this particular area and thought that I could maybe meet someone at the VR meetup that might be able to help me.

The Journey Takes Flight

I met Alex Kondratskiy a couple times at the meetup group before I actually had the opportunity to sit down with him one on one.  He was there not only as an attende but also a speaker.  His talks were focused on the subject of scale and it's importance in relation to the VR experience.  I knew from the get go he had a strong technical background and a methodical mind, but it wasn’t until he talked about his experience making his own game for a VR Jam that things really clicked for me.  You see, for me there is a difference between someone who talks about ideas in theory and someone who puts themselves in the fire and sees if they can create something under a lot of constraints. I have always worked like that and resonate with people who share the same values or lets say the same way of working or work ethic that I do.  We set a date to meet and we sat down to talk about my idea for making a film for VR and I knew that he was the right guy to work with.

9 Months Later

So here we are, nine months later, and we are prepping to go to camera on the first weekend of January 2015.  It certainly feels like it has been a long journey as we’ve spent a lot of brainstorming, testing, and pushing the boundaries.  I’m excited to see this film finally come together although it still feels there is so much to do and that’s probably true.  That said, everyone we’ve shown our test footage to has been really impressed with it and although I haven’t gone in much detail in this post, I want to wait until the final film is released as there is alot of cool stuff we’ve been working on that we can’t really share yet.  However, I promise it will come and we are working hard to make it look good.  Till then the rest of this month we are rehearsing with the actors once a week and completely focusing on our goal of making the film. I can’t wait for you to experience “I Am You”.

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