That’s me crawling around on the floor in the stage production of “Breath of Kings”
My name is Sébastien. I make theatre for a living in Toronto. I act in it, write it, produce it, and market it.
Not unlike startup developers, a lot of us in the theatre industry have to wear multiple hats to get our productions out the door. I’m here to put on one more hat: Immersive Video Researcher & Developer. Forgive me, I’m making this whole thing up as I go along.
As someone who’s been trying to put on memorable live performances since I was 10 years old, I see theatre as one of the greatest forms of entertainment out there… so long as you make it to the venue on time, can afford the ticket price, and don’t fall asleep halfway through. In an article for Intermission Magazine, I listed three ways that 360º/Immersive Video/VR could fundamentally improve the theatre industry. Now I’m conducting experiments and sharing my findings with people I think would benefit from it.
Let’s encourage our community to experiment with this new technology, share our findings, and push our medium forward, together. —“Virtual Reality and the Future of Theatre”
So in the spirit of sharing, I’m going to list 5 takeaways from the Breath of Kings trailer we shot in 360º at the Stratford Festival. To be clear, this is something I adapted to 360º and directed, alongside Jason Clarke from the Stratford digital media department, so all of this constructive criticism is levelled at me. Everyone else has been amazing.
Side note: Incase you haven’t heard of Stratford, it’s North America’s largest classical repertory theatre company, and it specializes in Shakespeare. The fact that they put up the resources to help us make a trailer in 360º is pretty forward thinking.
Here are 5 observations.
1. Proximity to your VIP is Very Important (FAIL)
Our VIP, Henry V (played by Araya Mengesha) busts onto the scene alongside his fellow soldiers, but he’s too far from the camera for us to invest in him. Araya’s performance is grounded, deep, and made clearer by a quality sound recorder. Although he’s looking at the camera, in the world of immersive video, we miss out on that VIP relationship because we can’t see him well enough. By offering the audience a consistently engaging relationship with the main character, and the words they’re speaking, we can help ensure that the best things about our scene will land.
We didn’t give Araya the opportunity to cement a relationship with the viewer from the beginning.
Whenever introducing a main character in a commercial, film, or TV show, the camera always lingers on that actor for a moment, letting us, the viewer, get to know them, and in some ways, fall in love with them. I’d like to experiment with how we can do that in immersives too.
2. Stitch Lines: Don’t Sweat’em? (FAILish)
Maybe it’s just me, but I think the conversation around stitch lines is misplaced and perhaps overblown. Yes, try to line up your stitches as well as possible. That said, the technology will improve with time, and at no point has someone said to me, “That stitch line is distracting.”
Like they say at Oculus Story Studio, “Story is King.”
If audiences are perturbed by stitch lines, it’s probably because they’re looking for them, and aren’t engaged in your story.
That said, I still think getting rid of the tripod or the “Nadir” (which sounds more like an elf from LOTR) using Photoshop or After Effects is worth your energy. A tripod could possibly be a set-piece in the world that you’re creating. As such, be aware of what will and won’t be considered “set pieces” in the story that your viewer is stringing together.
3. The Visual Lull (FAIL)
There’s a period of time in this video, at the beginning, right after the audience goes, “Who’s that guy that just rushed onto the stage?” when it lulls for a bit. It’s mainly a visual/composition problem. Because it’s an immersive video, the audience starts looking around them, but they aren’t rewarded by what they see, especially in the huge gap to the left of Araya.
Staging-wise, it would have been stronger to put soldiers in that gap off the top.
In addition, the soldiers who appear on the other side of the stage are placed too far away to read. Having them join Araya earlier might have given the audience more ease to just relax and watch Araya, and check in with the other soldiers when they feel the impulse.
4. Making Contact (WIN)
Did you notice this? I love it. Before we shot, the actors were asked to pick moments to look into the camera and implicate the viewer in the story. To me, this is an example of performers bringing the world around the camera to life, and rewarding the exploration of an audience member.
Also, like a tableau, there’s a silent story being told here: A father-son relationship. Audiences who saw “Breath of Kings” watched Randy (Left) carry the lifeless body of Brent (Middle) on stage and grieve the boy’s death. As immersive storytellers, we can foreshadow and build in relationships that run alongside our primary focus.
5. The Big Reveal (WIN)
We stumbled across something exciting. Since you have a large dark room, why not take your time revealing the space in 360, just as it happens in theatre? In immersive video, we should experiment with size and scale, and discover how to go from the private to the expansive, from the intimate to the epic.
Theatre productions like The Lion King played with dynamic scale. Remember when Simba was being chased by the wildebeests? First they appear as very small puppets on the horizon, then they cascade down the gorge, and finally appear as actors in costume right next to him. The story is being told effectively without CGI, a gorge, or any dodgy wildebeests. While it’s hard to make that theatrical effect work on film, I’d be interested in seeing 360º pull it off.
For a first foray into 360º Video, I think there were a lot of successes and good failures. If I could go back, I would have tried these things:
- • Include a karaoke-like caption of Araya’s speech at the bottom or above. Especially for Shakespeare, I think you could have fun with this feature, especially if the words are animated and have visual personality. It might also keep the audience’s attention on the text, which in Shakespeare, is king above all.
- • Fill in the sparse areas with more action and movement.
- • Step up the proximity of Araya’s performance in relation to the camera.
Until next time,