“Fowl Seas” 360/VR Pirate Adventure for GoPro | Light Sail VR

“Fowl Seas” 360/VR Pirate Adventure for GoPro | Light Sail VR

GoPro approached Light Sail VR and asked if they were interested in creating a totally original 360/VR short film for GoPro’s Facebook channel. Of course they were! Light Sail VR is a live-action virtual reality production company, so this project was a perfect fit. There were only two requests: it had to have a moving camera in the middle of an action “fight” scene, and it needed to be shot on GoPro cameras. Mettle 360/VR plugins were part of the post-production workflow.

Matt Celia, Partner, Light Sail VR explains the process:

The first major challenge was figuring out a great story that we could tell, as well as execute, with the challenges of moving GoPro cameras and delivering the kind of close action that occurs in a fight sequence. We worked with our writer (and Matt’s wife), Katie Celia, to come up with the concept of being a bird in a cage on a pirate ship. This worked well for a number of reasons:

  1. Being the center of attention meant that all the actors were going to engage with you, giving us lots of motivated eye contact and we think this deepens the sense of immersion.
  2. Moving the camera with the cage allows for the cockpit effect and is much easier to watch in a headset.
  3. We would create the cage in post and place the bars directly over the stitch lines in order to save us a lot of expensive rotoscope work. We prototyped this idea by importing some 3D objects in After Effects via Cineware and the Mettle Skybox Studio. When it worked, we were really excited.

SkyBox Studio plugin can convert Equirectangular format to Cubic Cross, allowing for easier cleanup of 360° footage.

There were a number of challenges on this project in addition to renting a pirate ship, hiring a stunt crew, and shooting this all in a single day!

We shot on GoPro cameras and all the moving footage was shot at 80fps to minimize the rolling shutter effect. Thankfully we were on the deck of a ship, so we had plenty of light to work with!

Our first scene was especially difficult because we wanted to do a drone shot, but since our location was so close to the US Airforce base, permits and insurance were out of the scope of the budget. Director Matthew Celia instead mounted the camera up to a Nodal Ninja pole, got on a dingy, and held it high as they did several passes by the boat.

In post production, JR Strickland (who also worked with Light Sail VR on Reggie’s Garage) took the several passes and was able to derive a clean plate that with a little blurring and finessing passes pretty well as a “drone” shot.

Editing 360° in Premiere Pro with SkyBox 360/VR Tools.

In our second shot, it’s revealed that you are a bird in a cage with the pirates standing around you. The cage was really important to get right. Our VFX artist, JR elaborates:

Going into this project, we knew visually we wanted to add an element that we haven’t seen before as well as an element that would enhance the story. VR gives you and unique experience, so Matthew and Robert were adamant about making the experience make sense as opposed to the, “Wow, you can look around at all angles” factor. So he pitched the idea of a bird’s POV to me in a cage and we came up with a plan to make the cage happen.

The viewer would be super close to the cage, and the entire scene involved live actors and a location. So the cage had to be photo-realistic. And not just from one angle, but from every angle, 360 degrees around.  The cage was modeled in Maya then brought into Cinema4d. There, we used Octane to render out the latlong, and finally composite in After Effects using Mettle’s Skybox Tools to reorient and check how it looked. We rendered out different passes for each scene the cage was in, since the lighting was different.

The interesting thing about this process is that, you can get a good feel with how you think it may turn out, but it’s not until everything is put together and finally rendered, that you truly get to fully experience the magic.  

The shots below deck were all shot in two parts so that we could light the scene and direct the actors. We then shot a plate shot of the other half and composited the two together in Premiere Pro.

Easily one of the most challenging shots was our final moving shot, where Captain Gilbert is running around the deck of the ship, holding onto a bamboo pole with our “cage”. To accomplish this, we rigged up the Nodal Ninja pole to a Kenyon 6×6 gyro stabilizer and covered it with PVC pipe painted to look like bamboo. Captain Gilbert then ran around the deck.

When shooting that shot, we didn’t have a live monitor, so Matt dressed up as a pirate and was on deck with the crew so he could listen and determine if the take was good.

In post, we realized we had to do a lot of work not only leveling the horizon, but also keeping Captain Gilbert in the same general space as the scene. We used Mettle’s reorient sphere and keyframed the clip. What we noticed though is that the stitch lines we were covering up with our cage also tended to move, so we also had to keyframe the cage to match.

A view from inside the cage – a combo of CG, 360 footage, After Effects and Premiere Pro.

Since we were moving the camera so much, painting out where the camera attaches would have also been a very time intensive process that we didn’t have the time or budget for. So we decided to hide the mount with a fake piece of rope JR created. He rendered it out as a 2D flat object with a lighting pass to match the changing orientation of the sun as the cage moves through the scene. We then used Project 2D to layer it on top of the 3D cage.

The entire piece was color corrected in Adobe Premiere using Lumetri.

Our sound mix was done using a beta of the Dolby Atmos tools by Empty Sea Audio. They hired the foley team that does “The Flash” on CW and they did a fantastic job. It was a lot of work to foley 12 characters at once in the 360 space and even more work to take all the recordings and assign them to each pirate as an object.

We were so lucky to have such a great production and post production crew. And a wonderful client in GoPro who really encouraged us to think outside the “cage” and push the envelope in narrative storytelling.

Mettle: Thanks for sharing the back-story to your project! 

Light Sail VR is a bleeding edge immersive cinema production company determined to push the boundaries of creative storytelling in Virtual Reality. They specialize in live-action Virtual Reality content with great characters and compelling narratives.

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