A few years ago Lucas Wilson saw his first virtual reality demo and it blew him away. It was a simple piece, but for Wilson it was the best visual communication of a story that he’d ever seen. With years of production and post-production under his belt—including time spent as a professional musician, front-of-house engineer, audio engineer, video editor, and business development/sales manager for technology vendors—he quickly decided to jump into VR full time.
“I told everyone that I was a VR producer when nobody knew what that meant,” says Wilson. “Even today, virtual reality is still a fairly wide field, so having worked in this space for a few years now makes me sort of an old timer.”
Today, Wilson’s company Supersphere is consistently on the cutting edge of live-action work. The team does original content creation and a lot of client-based work through its offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Singapore.
Overall, the team focuses on understanding client goals, using VR, AR and other technologies to accomplish them. With everyone chasing after the latest and greatest VR technology, Supersphere finds opportunities where clients want the company to apply traditional filmmaking and creative sensibilities to the VR landscape in order to be effective.
“VR should be as much about the storytelling as it is about the technology,” explains Wilson. “That doesn’t mean we don’t play with the latest and greatest toys, we just make sure it is the right tool for what our client is trying to accomplish.”
Keeping pace with technology
For Supersphere, there’s no such thing as a VR project that isn’t also a consulting project. With so much crossover between 360-degree video, virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality content, the team takes the time needed to educate clients. Once the client has the necessary understanding of the technology and how it present solutions, they move on to the fundamental messaging and how to harness the technology to accomplish it.
“With 30-second television spots, everyone knows the rules, what to expect, how it will look and how it will be delivered,” says Wilson. “With VR there are always unknowns because the technology is changing so fast. If the last time a client did a project Facebook didn’t have ambisonic audio or full 360 stereo capability, we have to figure out if they want to incorporate that this time. If it’s been more than 45 days since a client’s last project, the technology has most likely changed in some way.”
The hybrid production model
At NAB 2017, Supersphere partnered with FlightLine Films, Big Vision Productions, Radiant Images, Subtractive, and SkyRae to create Immersed Live, a hybrid production model to support live broadcasts and events. Immersed Live introduced a 56-foot broadcast production vehicle that supports the production of both 2D(4K) and 360° degree video content at the same time and with the same crew trained in both disciplines.
“Until now, 360-degree video production has always taken a backseat to 2D because it hasn’t had the audience or budget,” says Wilson. “Now, the crew can work all cameras at the same time and realize tremendous cost efficiencies by delivering two products at once.”
Adobe Premiere Pro CC is the exclusive editorial platform for the company’s 360° degree video and virtual reality content. The team uses the Mettle plug-ins for visual effects and appreciates the tight integrations between Adobe Premiere Pro CC and After Effects. “Premiere has VR editing tools that are far ahead of other platforms making it the right choice for anything in editorial in VR,” he says.
Growing demand for content
Supersphere recently worked on VR Stereoscopic Production, Post, and Delivery for Sony Pictures Television’s VR project for the episodic series Timeless, taking viewers back in time to Houston Mission Control for the first moon landing.
The team also completed a complicated, multi-cam 360° degree Video livestream for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Red Carpet world premiere. Viewership remained consistent throughout the 2-hour and 18-minute broadcast, with 10,000 to 12,000 concurrent 360° degree Video viewers at any one time and an average viewer retention time of 5 minutes. Most notably, more people watched the 360° degree video stream than the 2D stream.
“People want more immersive experiences,” says Wilson. “They had a choice and more chose to watch the 360° degree video stream. It was a great success for both Disney and Facebook.”
Wilson recognizes the challenges that clients face in deciding to jump into the world of VR. If clients are funding VR projects, they tend to be marketing or branding exercises as there are very few monetization models currently in VR. However, as the mediums evolve more and more, content producers from production companies to brands to broadcasters will discover ways to realize a return on those investments.
“Outside of our own team, we’re starting to work with more directors and technologists who are doing also doing the same critical thinking about how to present dramatic narrative pieces using these new mediums,” says Wilson. “We’re looking forward to working in a true filmmaking capacity across a large-scale project.”
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