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...