VR Editing Techniques for Invisible | Lewis Smithingham

VR Editing Techniques for Invisible | Lewis Smithingham

Lewis Smithingham, CTO and VR Creative at 30Ninjas, discusses editing techniques in Invisible, a  VFX-heavy VR mini-series directed by Doug Liman (Bourne Identity). Lewis goes through narrative story-telling technique in VR, and explains how the editor and post supervisor play a role that is close to DP in VR. Virtual reality cinema company Jaunt is a partner on the project. SkyBox 360/VR Tools for Premiere Pro are used in post-production.

Part of a series: Mettle Showcases Leading VR Filmmakers at NAB

VR Editing Techniques for Invisible | Lewis Smithingham

Why did you become a VR filmmaker?

I’ve always been interested in alternative ways of telling stories in sequential art. Cave paintings, zoetropes and hybrid documentaries. I’m also excited by cutting edge tech as well. VR is the perfect marriage of the two. As with all new forms, in their earlier stages there is always more room for experimentation and exploration. It’s really invigorating to be part of a form before it has become structured and codified.

Which of your project are you most proud of?

I’m hugely proud of Invisible as well as some of my work with Discovery VR.

What’s in your toolkit? (fave hardware and software)

For software: Adobe Premiere w/ Mettle Skybox Suite of course! For hardware, I’m a fan of Dell Workstations because of their power and reliability. With both Mettle and Dell, it’s nice to have a company that supports me and listens to my needs and questions! I don’t leave home without a Ricoh theta, they’re a great solution when monitoring is available as well as for location scouting. I also carry a structural scanner in my kit to scan close objects that will have to be repaired with CG in post. A good compass is also essential to help track intended viewer head tracking across camera placements. Laser pointers and protractors are also helpful if you’re not familiar with the camera or lensing that you’re using.

Is VR a new niche, or is it a taste of the future? 
I don’t think it’s a niche. Particularly when clear OLEDs get better resolution, or in the slightly more distant future when we have contact lenses that can project images, or even better opts-neural implant chips! As screens begin to disappear the visual immensity that VR/360 provides it will just make sense as a dominant medium. I don’t necessarily think it will eclipse “flatties” completely. But as cameras, resolution and visual languages get better, the question “why shoot/offer it in VR/360?” will become “why not?”

What is the craziest thing that you’ve had to do for VR?
Once, while filming sharks in 360, I planted the camera, then hid behind a rock. When I came out to retrieve the camera, as I turned the corner, I ran right into the nose of a 6ft reef shark. She was not pleased and displayed some aggravated body language. Later that day, at a different site (about 1000ft away), she followed me around and kept swimming between me and the rig, rubbing her side against my face. It was so awe-inspiring that she remembered me. With that said, I want to stress, that I never felt unsafe, sharks are beautiful, misunderstood creatures

Why is the company called 30 ninjas?

You don’t send a nunchucks guy to a sword fight. Similarly, it’s a bad idea to send a DSLR shooter to a VR shoot. From top to bottom, we work with the appropriate ninja/expert for the job. 

Where is the craziest place that you’ve ended up filming?
Shooting in Haiti was pretty crazy. Really intense shanty towns juxtaposed with colorful markets.

What’s it like transporting 360 camera rigs around the world?

As with all 360/VR cameras, people tend to have no idea what it is. This results in people either ignoring it completely or staring at it. Mounted on a steadicam, it looks exactly like an Imperial Probe Droid. VR rigs in general tend to look vaguely bomb-like. For example, Abyss underwater rig looks a bit like a cross between a monster from Descent II and a WW2 navel mine. This has resulted in confrontations with the Secret Service and confused TSA staff.
I try to carry around a headset with preloaded content to show people: “hey this is the sort of thing we are shooting!” After giving them that sort of experience (often their first), people are usually glad to help. The number of Delta/TSA employees who I have given their first VR experience…

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