Big American FIlmsSmall Company with a Big Reach
We submitted a short article about the shooting of the ELLEMEN VR to 107cine.com. It made it to the front page. Check it out here. Yes, it’s in Chinese; as it turns out most people in China read this.
I wasn’t excited about using a goPro rig due to all the limitations of that little camera. One thing led to another and I decided to shoot wide angle on a RED. At first trying to find a configuration with 4 cameras I later gave up, the geometry just doesn’t work for anything close. Another possibility was shooting the angles separately, which is what I decided to do.
I had pitched the idea of our talent (a Chinese tv superstar, Wallace Huo 霍建華) playing 3 different roles and putting it all together as a little play. As I like to call it an “Inside out In the Round” with the viewer in the center and the action distributed into 3 segments. I had it lit as much like a play as practical. My advantage was it was in a photo studio and should look like one (in a meta kind of way, since we were also shooting the front cover to the magazine). I had these characters having a bit of verbal fun with each other, but never crossing the break between camera views. One was a movie star (playing himself), one his agent,and the third a cool fellow just hanging out, noire style. The writer did a great job of writing, but since we would only have a day to shoot it, Huo decided it was too much. Understandable since the shoot would be fairly technical and over 2 minute takes. I suggested que cards but in the end they wanted to use a single VO with all the acting mos.
As I said, ELLE Men had an app built and I pressed the developers for directional sound since it’s often hard to see where you’re supposed to be looking. At least with a dialog driven piece it made sense to me to have a sound direction. Much to my surprise this was something beyond their capability. I guess I had assumed for a while now that this was no big deal. It is, and I let it go. But it’s interesting in that it’s such a hard problem.
Having been involved in all kinds of production for decades now, live action, vfx (I’m a supervisor), and animation (I also direct animation), I’d rather not tell a story without all the tools one usually takes for granted with traditional storytelling. But this particular vr process gave me more ideas about how to stretch it and bend it, so to speak. Given the choice I’d still much rather shoot a traditional film and leave VR for games and events, and magazines! But there is clearly some grey in between. It doesn’t need to be a clear division, and nobody can claim it works or doesn’t work for telling stories.
So the result? It’s meant to play on a phone type device. Video looks fine at 4k, it’s clean and we did a great job on the stitching (we do start out with a few exterior gopro rig shots). At this early stage it seems to be a hit. Fans of Wallace will like to see him in this, and technically it works.
So next time I’m going to go stereo, try to get some surround audio, and play some tricks with the story. After this I can’t wait!
Here’s a brief ‘Behind the Scenes‘ of the new VR I created for ELLE Men magazine.
The VR is downloadable in their beautiful new app, on the apple app store. It’s in Chinese, but just barely. Press the buttons and it just works.
I just watched the 2½ hour epic “Becket” again, not having seen it since I was a teenager. It’s clear to me now how wonderful a screenplay it is. Based on a French play which was based on historical characters. The settings are restricted to only a few locations and a smallish cast as well, owing no doubt to its roots as a play. The movie is none the less impressive clearly because of the acting and story. I say clearly because there are no big set pieces of fights, chases, etc (and Peter O’Toole is incredible as Henry II). The point of this post is that if you step back and ask what the story is about it is primarily about one thing, a friendship. It is a very special friendship, uniquely so, and therefore worthy of holding our interest.
I think that in any story, if you cannot nail this essence then there is something wrong. The audience may not even be able to say this or that is the spine, and of course it is here colored by it being historical, theological and deeply psychological. But I’m guessing if you suggested that this story is essentially about a friendship you would get people nodding in agreement. It is this spine that holds our attention and makes us keep asking where the relationship is going. We respect more and more Becket and his devotion to his calling, while at the same time feel sorry for the loss of friendship between the two. It’s inspiring.
We’re moving. We loved our location the last couple of years in Jing’An but our rental partners China Blue Films decided to relocate, so we are doing the same. Our new home will be in the thick of a wonderful treelined area, close to lots of coffeeshops and great food. The new space is artsy and has a large rooftop area where I hope to have a BBQ before the summers over. Check the address on our Contact Us page.
Take a look at these other design oriented offices. Our decor budget is somewhat smaller, but they are still inspiring.
This is what my Dad used to say when you were working late into the night. And except for the oil part that’s just what we’ve been doing, trying to get this website up. All the pieces are ready to go, it’s just a matter of making them fit nicely. For example we spent many days creating the right type and size of videos for the portfolio, but now we have to ‘link’ things up and write some little blurbs about each of the projects. We just think it’s better to talk a bit about what we did and maybe how we did it, particularly the harder ones.
The thing is, it’s been way too long getting this site going so we just decided to get it up even in it’s unfinished state. Then there’s translation! The software’s in place, but we just need to get it done. So, enjoy what we have for now and check back to see more posted video as we get it up here.
It’s been a difficult time, it’s been a great time! There is more work in setting up characters than in animating them. Just to create all the facial position for phonemes and expressions took weeks of our very short 2 month schedule. The rooms took another gargantuan amount of work by another team. But somehow we made it all work. Sure, could have been better, always can, but it ain’t bad.