Interview: The Challenges Of Shooting VR Films

Interview: The Challenges Of Shooting VR Films
May 2, 2017
Photo Credit — Billy Bennight for Agent Emerson LLC


Virtual reality is the new holy grail of the cinema industry.


From big shots like Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott to independent names, countless movie directors around the world are dipping their toes into the field of virtual reality.


Ilya Rozhkov, a Moscow-born director is one of those emerging names experimenting with this new medium.


Teaming up with The Rogue Initiative — a technology based entertainment studio from Los Angeles — Rozhkov has filmed a short 360 degree movie with a custom engineered camera, placed on an actor’s head.


Titled as “Agent Emerson” the short movie tells the story of a CIA operative who awakens to find himself part of an experimental government program where subjects are under complete remote control by “The General”.


“Shooting with a 360 degree camera doesn’t simply make a virtual reality movie,” says Ilya Rozhkov. “We designed Agent Emerson as a virtual reality production starting from the writing phase. Then we reached out to Galaxy Vision and asked them to build a custom-engineered proprietary stereoscopic VR camera rig called the IC-Cam — Identity Capture Camera.”

Photo Credit — Billy Bennight for Agent Emerson LLC


The IC-Cam is placed on an actor’s head to provide a first-person point-of-view. Depending on the set up, this rig can consist from 21 to 23 custom-modified small cameras.


The whole setup weighs around 11 pounds (5 kg.) and the maximum resolution is 6K per eye, which can shoot in 3D.


Location is a storytelling tool in VR

Director Ilya Rhozkov on the Agent Emerson set. Photo Credit — Twitter


“In virtual reality, location becomes a major storytelling tool. We tell the story through the environment,” says Rozhkov. “When the movies first came out, people started asking ‘what makes them special?” The answer was the ability to tell stories through images. No sound, dialog needed. Actually this is the same with virtual reality.”


“Editing is one of the most different things about virtual reality. When you teleport from one shoulder to another shoulder, that is absolutely inorganic for the viewers. That is why we kept the shots very long and the cuts hidden.”

Photo Credit — Billy Bennight for Agent Emerson LLC


According to Rozhkov, shooting a movie in virtual reality requires a different mindset and skills, however regardless of the medium, the most important thing is to understand the audience.


“Before shooting this movie, I watched a lot of people reacting to VR content. In 360-environment it’s very hard to force the audience to direct their attention towards a certain point. This process has to be very natural. Not only visuals but the sound is also very critical.”

Lyndsey Fonseca & Tony Denison


Rozhkov says virtual reality acting borrows the continuity of action from theatre and the intimacy of the moment from film.


“Moreover it (VR) pushes the intimacy to another level: when somebody is standing next you in VR, looking directly into your eyes, it is very impactful — you can see a lot of emotion there. Physicality is one of the fundamental aspects of the virtual reality. And working with action you always have to think of not only the dramatic arc of the scene, but also the physical comfort of the viewer. You need to know where to stop and give your audience a break”


Agent Emerson will be featuring Lyndsy Fonseca as the female lead, who will be joined by award-winning actor Tony Denison as ‘The General.’


The movie is expected to be released in 2017 summer, and will be around 12 minutes. Rozhkov says, Agent Emerson may be a pilot production for a longer VR series and possibly a game series to keep on going.

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