Earlier this summer, Pixvana’s Virtual Reality Video Production Assistants, Lauren Kohler and Russell Sutter, headed off to sunny San Diego to produce a 360 tour of Comic-Con with SYFY WIRE.
The only catch? They had to shoot the footage and deliver the 360 video in just over 24 hours.
Read on to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on how Lauren Kohler and Russell Sutter pre-produced, filmed, stitched, edited, and colored the 360 tour of Comic-Con—all in one day.
Lauren: To plan for our shoot with SYFY WIRE, we started by having multiple conference calls with our client.
Russell: We discussed the scope of the project, what they wanted, what the end goal was, and theme. They wanted a “run and gun” news style video. So the focus was that, in 360, at Comic-Con.
Because we’re working in a 360 realm, we had to do some tests with their graphics—
They’re a media company with a specific set of branding, so they gave Lauren all these assets and then Lauren went and created them in a 360 space.
At that point, we went out and did two different test shoots to prepare ourselves. We had to figure out how we were going to do audio, how we were going to set up the interviews and the 360 space, and where everyone was going to be hiding—or, for me, sitting under the camera and recording the audio. We had to test shoot and figure out how we were going to execute things logistically. We actually shot in Manolin, right next to Pixvana.
Knowing that the final delivery was Youtube and Facebook and that the client needed a quick delivery influenced our camera selection. We chose the Insta360 because it’s easy to use, it renders fast, and it stitches well.
We chose to use 4K because of our turnaround time. We had 24 hours to start and complete the project, more or less. During the shoot, we worked with Adam Snell, the two producers from SYFY WIRE, and our talent, whose name was Jackie Jennings. It was a pretty small team.
It was our first VR shoot, so we were testing out the waters. Getting the talent and the producers to help us create a scene around the camera at Comic-Con, so it actually gives you a purpose to be clicking around—it was interesting at first. Lauren said early on that we needed to get more people around the camera after that first shot, which was helpful. As the day progressed we got more and more accustomed to it.
Working with everyone was really great—luckily, our talent was amazing with working in the 360 space. If we were to go back, we would work with our talent beforehand to make sure they know what they’re doing in the 360 space, just understanding how to utilize it and how it’s different than “normal video.” We had a really good time: it was a little stressful at times, but it was a very smooth shoot.
We prepped for the shoot by walking around Comic-Con on Day One and getting a sense of what we were going to do, how we were going to tell the story, where we were going to shoot, and just getting a feel for everything. We did some test shooting that night and planned for Day Two.
Shooting the Footage: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
We started Day Two at 9:00 a.m. on site, built our rig, made sure everything was working, and met up with the client. At 11:00 a.m. there was a cosplay shoot for Star Wars and that was our very first shot.
And mind you, our talent was walking up literally as we were starting. It was kind of like, “Here’s your microphone, you’re going to be put in front of all these people, yeah—”
It went really well because the person who was organizing the photoshoot for the Star Wars cosplayers was willing to let us get our 360 camera in there and we started dropping the SYFY WIRE name. What’s great about the cosplayers is they live for this kind of stuff—this is why they dress up—so they were more than happy to help us.
Then we spent a good portion of the afternoon inside—we didn’t even know we were going to go inside Comic-Con until a couple days before we left—we didn’t know what to expect in terms of what kind of footage we were going to be getting. We spent a good portion of the day inside and ended up going outside for a second shoot that was for the DC characters. Then we wrapped up all of our outdoor shots around 4:00 p.m., which was actually an hour earlier than we had anticipated—
In the Gaslamp Quarter.
Which was really nice—my favorite cosplay was definitely the Deadpool Pikachu. He was pretty great.
He was in the intro to the video.
Also the Kylo Rens were pretty awesome.
Lauren liked the Kylo Rens. My favorites were the Silent Hill cosplayers.
Post-Production: 5:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m.
For 360 video, we use lavs as our microphones just because they’re well hidden. We also used a hand-held mic because it was a news-style video. Everything has to be wireless. I recorded sound on my Zoom H5, which is a very handy device. All the microphones were Sennheisers.
There wasn’t much more equipment than the Insta360 for production, but for post-production we had three laptops that were just used for rendering and then we had two Macs for audio sync. We shipped one of our towers down there for editing because it was able to play back video very quickly, so it made the editor’s job—Lauren’s life—easier and smoother.
We prepared ourselves so well for post-production. We set ourselves up for success—we knew what we were going to do and how we were going to execute every single step going into it.
The template project you created was so helpful.
We took our test footage and created a little mini story with it, put it in a Premiere timeline with the nadir patch, the different kinds of graphic that we may or may not have been asked to use, different transitions that all adhered to their branding guidelines, and basically I was able to delete that test footage from that timeline and insert the actual footage when we got there, so I didn’t have to worry about where my nadir patch was going on where my title graphics had to be, it was all just there and ready for me to go which was super important.
All Lauren had to do was lay in footage.
Since I was editing it and I was recording sound and I was under the camera, I was the only person who really know what each take looked like because the way that 360 shoots work is that you kind of set up the camera and you have to go hide yourself, more or less. Russell and the rest of the team took care of placement of the camera and would go hide somewhere, and I’m sitting under the camera the entire time, listening to the audio, to the talent, also kind of acting as the director, which was definitely unexpected, but it worked out because I’m just sitting down there taking intensive notes on every take and kind of marking, “Okay, this take is one that I’m going to use, this is one that I’m not going to use.” It was definitely a lot of preparation but also a little bit of…
Which is how production is. A shoot’s never going to go according to plan. It helps to prepare as much as you possibly can, but you have to be able to react. Anyway, we got back to the hotel around 5:00 p.m., showered, refreshed. At 5:30 p.m. we set up the systems, started rendering, and just rendered for the next three hours across multiple machines. The way that the 360 camera works is it’s six cameras that are all taking their own individual video and then a software finds common points between those and stitches those together. That takes a lot of processing power, especially if we have—how many shots did we have?
About 16 shots. And rendering those out at 4K resolution. And then Lauren had her audio, which she had to go and sync with all those clips, and then once you finally have the sound sync you can get into the meat of actually editing the piece. And then you had issues with the audio sync.
You can’t work with the 360 footage until you push it through a system once and then you can bring in that clip and work with it like a “normal video.” While Adam and Russell were stitching out all the content, I was cleaning up audio at the same time, just going through and adding some compression, doing some basic stuff, going through my notes and creating a visual timeline on a piece of paper saying, “Okay, we’re going to start with take seven and go to nine.” I had the whole thing laid out before the stitches were done. Once those guys finished stitching everything, I brought it in and synced all the audio to the finalized clips, which, as Russell said, we had a little software issue with, but it was fine because we had so many computers with us that we just did it on a different machine. Once everything was synced I brought that all into my Premiere timeline and, like a recipe, just followed what I had planned out for myself.
Lauren knew the shots that she wanted to use before she even got back to the hotel room.
My very specific notes that I took from shot to shot saved my butt during the editing process. It made it as smooth as it could’ve gone. I already had my graphics laid on there, I don’t think I even had to change any of the graphics. I didn’t go into After Effects at all. I laid it out, the three of us adjusted things here or there. Russell added the color correction to the piece because my eyes were not doing well.
You were tired.
We laid in the music that SYFY WIRE had given us as options, and I had those picked out prior as well. It was one of those plug and chug kind of things. All of the takes were just so perfect—every shot we took we used. I think we used twelve out of fifteen or sixteen shots. We were not messing around.
We didn’t waste our time.
We were like, “This is a shot we’re going to use, this is a shot we’re going to use, we’re not going to take shots that we’re not going to use.” Exported it out, sent it off to the client, which was actually one of the more difficult parts, because we were in the hotel and so at 3:30 a.m. I hit upload to YouTube, wake up at 5:00 a.m. to see how it’s doing, only to find out that it’s not going to be able to upload at the hotel at all. We booked it to Starbucks—
Lauren called me and I’m like, “Okay, go back to sleep for an hour and then we’ll go to Starbucks.”
We go to Starbucks, upload it, deliver it to the client, get their approval—did we even have tweaks?
I did extra coloring and then we had to fix a scale issue with one of the transition but no major changes. Legal was approving it. And then we had to upload it again by 12:00 p.m. We had two files — we had an official file that was going to go straight to YouTube and Facebook, which is about 1.5 gigabytes, and then we had this thing called a mezzanine file, which is the same exact video and codec but at a higher bitrate so that if the client wants to go back and compress that they have a source file to go through. That one’s ten gigabytes—how long did it take to do that?
Oh man. The smaller file itself took nearly an hour to upload.
These are huge, huge files. It’s not a 1080P.
It’s not just a 4K piece, it’s a 4K 360 piece.
About Russell Sutter
Russell Sutter is from Woodside, CA and holds a degree in Cinema and Business from the University of Oregon. His interest in film and cameras started early on in his life; they developed throughout high school and college and eventually blossomed into a career in video production. Growing up in the heart of Silicon Valley, Russell became fascinated by the technology behind film making, employing it to produce exciting, compelling, and emotional narratives. Over time, he hopes VR and 360 video grow into something that is not only accessible, but enjoyable and able to provide experiences and connections like no other media can.
About Lauren Kohler
I am a digital media artist located in Seattle, Washington. My roots are in Michigan, where I graduated from Grand Valley State University with a BS in Film & Video Production. I love pushing the boundaries of video and exploring the challenges in the field. Diving into the world of 360 video, graphics, and audio has been a crazy fun ride. I truly believe in the medium and hope to continue pioneering it. I am a passionate fiction film creator with an admiration for experimental film and stop-motion animation. I love to animate, direct, edit, produce, and work audio.
Next up is an interview with Pixvana’s Executive Producer, Aaron Rhodes, about the latest and greatest 360/VR production equipment!
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