ON POINTE

Computer Arts - - Special Report -

COM­MIS­SIONED BY SKY VR, GISELLE VR TRANS­FORMS CHORE­OG­RA­PHER AKRAM KHAN’S GRITTY PRO­DUC­TION FOR THE ENGLISH NA­TIONAL BAL­LET INTO A STUN­NING 360 VIDEO, BRING­ING THE SHOW TO A WHOLE NEW AU­DI­ENCE

Chore­og­ra­pher Akram Khan and ENB artis­tic di­rec­tor and prima bal­le­rina Ta­mara Rojo are known for chal­leng­ing per­spec­tives on dance. So when Sky VR was com­mis­sion­ing pieces for its new app, the prospect of trans­lat­ing Akram’s dark Giselle into a VR ex­pe­ri­ence was an ex­cel­lent fit. Giselle VR is a 2.5 minute stereo 360º video and can be watched on Google Card­board, Samsung Gear VR and Ocu­lus Rift via the Sky VR app. The ex­pe­ri­ence shows Rojo danc­ing around the viewer in an aban­doned fac­tory, emo­tion­ally por­tray­ing the plight of the bal­let’s hero­ine, Giselle.

Such ex­pres­sive move­ment at vary­ing depths posed plenty of prob­lems – not least that Rojo was con­stantly cross­ing over the stitch points from cam­era to cam­era. The so­lu­tion was to de­sign a be­spoke film­ing method us­ing two RED Weapons on a mir­ror rig, which fol­lowed Rojo’s move­ment from a cen­tral point. Once com­plete, the team then cap­tured hun­dreds of stills to de­velop a static 3D en­vi­ron­ment. The footage of Rojo danc­ing could then be tracked into the en­vi­ron­ment in post-pro­duc­tion. “Nor­mally you track the other way round: a still ob­ject on to a mov­ing ob­ject,” ex­plains Fac­tory 42’s creative di­rec­tor, Dan Smith. “But in our case we were track­ing a mov­ing ob­ject – Ta­mara – into a 360º stereo world made from stills,” he ex­plains.

Af­ter the track­ing, the team ro­to­scoped around Rojo so she blended into the en­vi­ron­ment per­fectly, be­fore an­i­mat­ing over 50 dif­fer­ent light trails as a vis­ual echo of Rojo’s moves. “We later changed it to ethe­rial smoke trails, which fits a lot bet­ter with Akram’s very dark Giselle,” says Smith. Once the trails were com­pos­ited in, the fi­nal stage was a clean up in Mis­tika and a colour grade. It was a big job and post-pro­duc­tion took a team of five around six weeks of full-time work.

Al­though Giselle VR is a rich vis­ual spec­ta­cle, find­ing a strong nar­ra­tive was es­sen­tial for Smith. “The cam­era plays the part of Al­brecht, Giselle’s lover,” he says. “Her per­for­mance is di­rectly to him.” Smith also worked with chore­og­ra­pher Khan to give the dance a be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end. “We’re get­ting past the demo stage of VR now. Find a story: it can be sim­ple, but you need one.”

Fac­tory 42 filmed Tamara Rojo’s per­for­mance us­ing a cus­tom rig in just one take, and then tracked it onto more than 400 stills of the back­ground.

up the space ready for the shoot was one of the most chal­leng­ing parts of the project. Fac­tory 42 fit­ted a 20m x 20m sprung floor to make the in­dus­trial space suit­able for bal­let, and the large win­dows were blacked out com­pletely so changes in light...

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