Fifty Shades Darker: The Masquerade Ball is a 360-degree VR experience that takes you right inside one of the key scenes in the steamy new flick based on the bestselling E.L. James novel of the same name. The VR scene was produced by Montreal virtual-reality and augmented-reality company 5th Wall Agency.
“We’re breaking the fifth wall by putting users not in a seat in a theatre looking at their favourite movies or the favourite characters but they’re actually inside the scenes,” said Ricardo Poupada, founder and CEO of 5th Wall Agency.
This was the first major Hollywood film project for 5th Wall, which was created in July, 2015, and the Old Montreal-based company, which has 20 staffers, is now working on a couple of other VR projects for major Hollywood films but Poupada is not allowed to name the films.
“Any time you have a high-profile project, it’s almost like an instant stamp of approval,” said Poupada.
The 5th Wall-produced VR segment takes us into the masquerade ball scene, with Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) taking part in a gala soirée at the Grey family mansion. The final part of the scene has the two lovers walking upstairs with Anastasia saying: “This time, no rules, no punishment, no secrets.” Olé olé!
The central concept of a VR production is that it’s shot with VR cameras that give viewers a 360-degree view of the scene so that you feel you are right there in it with the actors. They shot the scene after the filmmakers had finished shooting the scene for the film, which was shot in Vancouver. There were 200 extras and actors on set for the scene. Then 5th Wall spent six months in post-production here in Montreal on the scene.
“We had to come in and coordinate what we think is one of the largest-ever coordinated VR shoots,” said Poupada. “In 360, you just can’t hide. When you’re doing a 2D shoot, there are things that are going to be off-camera. In a 360 environment, everything is seen. Even for these Hollywood actors, it was the first time they were interacting with a camera that was omni-directional. You have these experienced actors, someone like Marcia Gay Harden, who’s won an Academy Award, who’s never acted for a camera that’s not only to her side but kind of around her. So even for people in Hollywood as VR becomes more and more a component of how things are shot, they have to sort of relearn their craft in that environment.”
The scene has been viewed over four million times, mostly via Facebook and YouTube, and the ironic twist is most are viewing it without VR goggles. But Poupada, and most in the VR biz, believe these goggles will be much more widely available in the near-future.
“You can see it without (the goggles),” said Poupada. “The 360 video obviously gets enhanced if you have the VR head-sets because you’re truly immersed. It’s difficult when you’re using your mouse or your hand on your phone to get the same experience versus blocking out all your senses and being surrounded in the scene.”