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Virtual reality is on the verge of exploding into the mainstream, as headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive near consumer release, and it’s not only about games: 360-degree videos are also helping to lead the charge for this immersive new tech.
But it won’t only be high-end headsets driving the momentum. Right now, phone-based VR experiences like Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Cardboard make it easy to try out VR, plus 360-degree videos are viewable on YouTube and Facebook. Brands love these lightly interactive experiences because consumers are more fully engaged. And creators enjoy tapping into this new technology as they try to define this still-early form.
Immersive Media has been driving the tech behind 360-degree video capture for years, and its IM360 studio with VFX wizards Digital Domain has been tackling some very high-profile work for clients recently. AMEX Unstaged: The Taylor Swift Experience recently won the first-ever Emmy award for Original Interactive Program, and IM360 helped shoot and stitch together the results for the fan-favorite app.
Head of Post Production, IM360
“ftrack helps validate that we know what we’re doing. In that sense, it’s great.”
Steven Antturi, head of post production at IM360, started using ftrack when he was the entire department—but now they have a team of six in post, and ambitions to keep growing. He says that ftrack has been an essential tool in managing these complex projects, that it has scaled perfectly for their expanding needs, and that “it would be a nightmare to try to follow what’s going on” without it.
Immersive and in demand
Immersive Media’s role in 360-degree capture tech stretches back many years: in fact, the company provided Google with its first camera-equipped cars and drivers to make Street View in Google Maps a reality. They’ve continued to innovate and progress the technology over the years, and with IM360—a joint venture with Digital Domain—they’re able to harness that tech to help create amazing experiences as the VR boom heats up.
One example is The Neymar Jr. Effect, a virtual reality experience created in partnership with Nike. It puts players in the role of the international soccer star as he evades defenders and drives the ball to the goal on a realistic pitch. It’s a gorgeous, 360-degree video—and it was designed to drive interest in Nike’s Hypervenom II soccer boots.
Companies are now flocking to these types of immersive experiences because they’re not only powerful and innovative, but they potentially do a better job of delivering the message too.
“It’s a new way to engage your audience. Especially if we’re talking about a headset and you’re viewing it: you have users’ total, undivided attention. Which, obviously for brands, is gold,” explains Antturi. “But even on something like a mobile device or YouTube, they’re looking around or controlling the mouse or handset, and you have pretty much undivided attention there as well. Just the fact that they’re engaged with your video is huge, and it allows different ways of giving your message on the branding side.”
For the Taylor Swift app, IM360 worked with Radical Media and noted director Joseph Kahn to create the 360-degree music video based on the singer’s smash hit, “Blank Space.” Antturi did all of the stitching work to connect the footage from the various cameras into a single view, as well as compositing to hide the rig and put in the floor. It’s been one the highest-profile VR experiences released to date, and the Emmy win only elevates its impact.
“That is a very huge thing, validating that this is a format that is worthwhile and has impact,” he admits about the win. “Obviously for us, it helps validate that we know what we’re doing. In that sense, it’s great.”
Creating a captivating VR video experience is no small feat, however: from the shoot all the way through to the stitching, the all-around nature of the footage results in a host of complexities not found in more traditional media. It’s why Antturi’s post-production department has grown from just himself to a team of six in just a couple years, and why he foresees further expansion ahead. And it’s why ftrack is so crucial to help keep everything running along smoothly.
Approachable and scalable
Ahead of that previous growth, Antturi knew he wanted a project management system in place before expanding the department—rather than do things manually with Excel spreadsheets and then try to export that all into a software platform later. “I thought it was better to start from the beginning with something like that and grow with it,” he explains.” We really didn’t have a system beforehand, but we really didn’t need one because it was all in my head.”
Why ftrack? Well, the main reason was scalability: he wanted to start from scratch and have a platform that could grow with his team. Other competing programs that he researched seemed like they were targeted solely at larger companies, and needed a lot more support. With ftrack, IM360 could get its post production team tracking time and tasks with minimal hassle.
“A lot of the systems out there, it was almost like you had to be a big, established studio to start using one of these software programs, because maintaining and managing it—you needed a dedicated person, almost,” Antturi concedes. “[With ftrack], we could start with basically one license and scale up from there. It didn’t require a lot of specialized setup or anything like that.”
“So far, it scales perfectly, and I don’t see any issues going forward,” he adds. “I know there are lots of very big studios using it, and if they’re able to scale to that size, then I have no worries on my end!”
When a project comes into post, IM360 breaks it down into the different processes and assign those as tasks and subtasks to the team members. And as the project progresses, they do shot-by-shot breakdowns for further tasks, such as rotoscoping or compositing. And since IM360 is often juggling multiple projects at one, ftrack allows the team to stay on top of everything—and makes it easy for artists to know exactly what they should be working on at all times.
And time tracking tasks has had a very specific benefit to IM360: it allows them to track time spent on small pieces of the overall puzzle, which is important as they navigate this relatively new market for 360-degree videos. By analyzing that data after a project is complete, IM360 can better budget for future tasks. “It really helps on that side at this point,” he says, “just finding the baseline of what certain tasks cost.”
IM360 hasn’t done any custom work on ftrack just yet, but Antturi says it’s on the horizon. Since the footage they create requires a special 360-degree video player to run, they plan on having custom work done to integrate that into ftrack. And eventual customization was one of the big selling points when he was initially researching his project management options.
“You’re not locked into someone else’s thought of what’s supposed to work, especially since we’re not a full-blown VFX company,” he says. “There are some elements that are totally new and that no one else necessarily has to do, so there are some additional steps with 360-degree video. The fact that we have that option of customizing is very important.”
“We haven’t really gotten to the point where it’s been needed,” he admits, “but as the team grows from here, it’s going to become very important.”
Currently, IM360 does a lot of ad-centric work with short experiences, but as interest in VR surges, so too will a desire to do more with narrative and length. And given the complexities of the form, Antturi says they’re starting to approach feature film-level workflows to get jobs done—particularly as the studio begins to do more VFX work and 3D art in-house.
Luckily, ftrack makes it a breeze to scale for both permanent team members and temporary freelancers, and easy for anyone to use the web-based platform. That’s a huge benefit for a growing team like Anturri’s.
“The ease of it being browser-based: anyone can have that on, and you can jump from workstation to workstation and it all follows you along. The way it tracks time and task assignments is very simple and easy to read – so for the artists, it’s very easy to track your time on whatever task you’re doing,” he asserts. “It’s not over-complicated, and that’s the benefit I see in that.”