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The first VR in China directly tied to a magazine is now ELLE Men. The issue is out tomorrow along with the press and a purpose built app on the apple store, a beautifully done one at that.

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.