Tag Archives: VR

Behind the Title: Start VR Producer Ela Topcuoglu

NAME: Ela Topcuoglu

COMPANY: Start VR (@Start_VR)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Start VR is a full-service production studio (with offices in Sydney, Australia and Marina Del Rey, California) specializing in immersive and interactive cinematic entertainment. The studio brings expertise in entertainment and technology together with feature film quality visuals with interactive content, creating original and branded narrative experiences in VR.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Development Executive and Producer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I am in charge of expanding Start VR’s business in North America. That entails developing strategic partnerships and increasing business development in the entertainment, film and technology sectors.

I am also responsible for finding partners for our original content slate as well as seeking existing IP that would fit perfectly in VR. I also develop relationships with brands and advertising agencies to create branded content. Beyond business development, I also help produce the projects that we move forward with.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The title comes with the responsibility of convincing people to invest in something that is constantly evolving, which is the biggest challenge. My job also requires me to be very creative in coming up with a native language to this new medium. I have to wear many hats to ensure that we create the best experiences out there.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My favorite part of the job is that I get to wear lots of different hats. Being in the emerging field of VR, everyday is different. I don’t have a traditional 9-to-5 office job and I am constantly moving and hustling to set up business meetings and stay updated on the latest industry trends.

Also, being in the ever-evolving technology field, I learn something new almost everyday, which is extremely essential to my professional growth.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Convincing people to invest in virtual reality and seeing its incredible potential. That usually changes once they experience truly immersive VR, but regardless, selling the future is difficult.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
My favorite part of the day is the morning. I start my day with a much-needed shot of Nespresso, get caught up on emails, take a look at my schedule and take a quick breather before I jump right into the madness.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
If I wasn’t working in VR, I would be investing my time in learning more about artificial intelligence (AI) and use that to advance medicine/health and education.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I loved entertaining people from a very young age, and I was always looking for an outlet to do that, so the entertainment business was the perfect fit. There is nothing like watching someone’s reaction to a great piece of content. Virtual reality is the ultimate entertainment outlet and I knew that I wanted to create experiences that left people with the same awe reaction that I had the moment I experienced it.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I worked and assisted in the business and legal affairs department at Media Rights Capital and had the opportunity to work on amazing TV projects, including House of Cards, Baby Driver and Ozark.

Awake: First Contact

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
The project that I am most proud of to date is the project that I am currently producing at Start VR. It’s called Awake: First Contact. It was a project I read about and said, “I want to work on that.”

I am in incredibly proud that I get to work on a virtual reality project that is pushing the boundaries of the medium both technically and creatively.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My phone, laptop and speakers.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Yes, especially if I’m working on a pitch deck. It really keeps me in the moment. I usually listen to my favorite DJ mixes on Soundcloud. It really depends on my vibe that day.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I have recently started surfing, so that is my outlet at the moment. I also meditate regularly. It’s also important for me to make sure that I am always learning something new and unrelated to my industry.

Tackling VR storytelling challenges with spatial audio

By Matthew Bobb

From virtual reality experiences for brands to top film franchises, VR is making a big splash in entertainment and evolving the way creators tell stories. But, as with any medium and its production, bringing a narrative to life is no easy feat, especially when it’s immersive. VR comes with its own set of challenges unique to the platform’s capacity to completely transport viewers into another world and replicate reality.

Making high-quality immersive experiences, especially for a film franchise, is extremely challenging. Creators must place the viewer into a storyline crafted by the studios and properly guide them through the experience in a way that allows them to fully grasp the narrative. One emerging strategy is to emphasize audio — specifically, 360 spatial audio. VR offers a sense of presence no other medium today can offer. Spatial audio offers an auditory presence that augments a VR experience, amplifying its emotional effects.

My background as audio director for VR experiences includes top film franchises such as Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema’s IT: Float — A Cinematic VR Experience, The Conjuring 2 — Experience Enfield VR 360, Annabelle: Creation VR — Bee’s Room, and the upcoming Greatest Showman VR experience for 20th Century Fox. In the emerging world of VR, I have seen production teams encounter numerous challenges that call for creative solutions. For some of the most critical storytelling moments, it’s crucial for creators to understand the power of spatial audio and its potential to solve some of the most prevalent challenges that arise in VR production.

Most content creators — even some of those involved in VR filmmaking — don’t fully know what 360 spatial audio is or how its implementation within VR can elevate an experience. With any new medium, there are early adopters who are passionate about the process. As the next wave of VR filmmakers emerge, they will need to be informed about the benefits of spatial audio.

Guiding Viewers
Spatial audio is an incredible tool that helps make a VR experience feel believable. It can present sound from several locations, which allows viewers to identify their position within a virtual space in relation to the surrounding environment. With the ability to provide location-based sound from any direction and distance, spatial audio can then be used to produce directional auditory cues that grasp the viewer’s attention and coerce them to look in a certain direction.

VR is still unfamiliar territory for a lot of people, and the viewing process isn’t as straightforward as a 2D film or game, so dropping viewers into an experience can leave them feeling lost and overwhelmed. Inexperienced viewers are also more apprehensive and rarely move around or turn their heads while in a headset. Spatial audio cues prompting them to move or look in a specific direction are critical, steering them to instinctively react and move naturally. On Annabelle: Creation VR — Bee’s Room, viewers go into the experience knowing it’s from the horror genre and may be hesitant to look around. We strategically used audio cues, such as footsteps, slamming doors and a record player that mysteriously turns on and off, to encourage viewers to turn their head toward the sound and the chilling visuals that await.

Lacking Footage
Spatial audio can also be a solution for challenging scene transitions, or when there is a dearth of visuals to work with in a sequence. Well-crafted aural cues can paint a picture in a viewer’s mind without bombarding the experience with visuals that are often unnecessary.

A big challenge when creating VR experiences for beloved film franchises is the need for the VR production team to work in tandem with the film’s production team, making recording time extremely limited. When working on IT: Float, we were faced with the challenge of having a time constraint for shooting Pennywise the Clown. Consequently, there was not an abundance of footage of him to place in the promotional VR experience. Beyond a lack of footage, they also didn’t want to give away the notorious clown’s much-anticipated appearance before the film’s theatrical release. The solution to that production challenge was spatial audio. Pennywise’s voice was strategically used to lead the experience and guide viewers throughout the sewer tunnels, heightening the suspense while also providing the illusion that he was surrounding the viewer.

Avoiding Visual Overkill
Similar to film and video games, sound is half of the experience in VR. With the unique perspective the medium offers, creators no longer have to fully rely on a visually-heavy narrative, which can overwhelm the viewer. Instead, audio can take on a bigger role in the production process and make the project a well-rounded sensory experience. In VR, it’s important for creators to leverage sensory stimulation beyond visuals to guide viewers through a story and authentically replicate reality.

As VR storytellers, we are reimagining ways to immerse viewer in new worlds. It is crucial for us to leverage the power of audio to smooth out bumps in the road and deliver a vivid sense of physical presence unique to this medium.


Matthew Bobb is the CEO of the full-service audio company Spacewalk Sound. He is a spatial audio expert whose work can be seen in top VR experiences for major film franchises.

Editing 360 Video in VR (Part 2)

By Mike McCarthy

In the last article I wrote on this topic, I looked at the options for shooting 360-degree video footage, and what it takes to get footage recorded on a Gear 360 ready to review and edit on a VR-enabled system. The remaining steps in the workflow will be similar regardless of which camera you are using.

Previewing your work is important so, if you have a VR headset you will want to make sure it is installed and functioning with your editing software. I will be basing this article on using an Oculus Rift to view my work in Adobe Premiere Pro 11.1.2 on a Thinkpad P71 with an Nvidia Quadro P5000 GPU. Premiere requires an extra set of plugins to interface to the Rift headset. Adobe acquired Mettle’s Skybox VR Player plugin back in June, and has made it available to Creative Cloud users upon request, which you can do here.

Skybox VR player

Skybox can project the Adobe UI to the Rift, as well as the output, so you could leave the headset on when making adjustments, but I have not found that to be as useful as I had hoped. Another option is to use the GoPro VR Player plugin to send the Adobe Transmit output to the Rift, which can be downloaded for free here (use the 3.0 version or above). I found this to have slightly better playback performance, but fewer options (no UI projection, for example). Adobe is expected to integrate much of this functionality into the next release of Premiere, which should remove the need for most of the current plugins and increase the overall functionality.

Once our VR editing system is ready to go, we need to look at the footage we have. In the case of the Gear 360, the dual spherical image file recorded by the camera is not directly usable in most applications and needs to be processed to generate a single equirectangular projection, stitching the images from both cameras into a single continuous view.

There are a number of ways to do this. One option is to use the application Samsung packages with the camera: Action Director 360. You can download the original version here, but will need the activation code that came with the camera in order to use it. Upon import, the software automatically processes the original stills and video into equirectangular 2:1 H.264 files. Instead of exporting from that application, I pull the temp files that it generates on media import, and use them in Premiere. (C:\Users\[Username]\Documents\CyberLink\ActionDirector\1.0\360) is where they should be located by default. While this is the simplest solution for PC users, it introduces an extra transcoding step to H.264 (after the initial H.265 recording), and I frequently encountered an issue where there was a black hexagon in the middle of the stitched image.

Action Director

Activating Automatic Angle Compensation in the Preferences->Editing panel gets around this bug, while trying to stabilize your footage to some degree. I later discovered that Samsung had released a separate Version 2 of Action Director available for Windows or Mac, which solves this issue. But I couldn’t get the stitched files to work directly in the Adobe apps, so I had to export them, which was yet another layer of video compression. You will need a Samsung activation code that came with the Gear 360 to use any of the versions, and both versions took twice as long to stitch a clip as its run time on my P71 laptop.

An option that gives you more control over the stitching process is to do it in After Effects. Adobe’s recent acquisition of Mettle’s SkyBox VR toolset makes this much easier, but it is still a process. Currently you have to manually request and install your copy of the plugins as a Creative Cloud subscriber. There are three separate installers, and while this stitching process only requires Skybox Suite AE, I would install both the AE and Premiere Pro versions for use in later steps, as well as the Skybox VR player if you have an HMD to preview with. Once you have them installed, you can use the Skybox Converter effect in After Effects to convert from the Gear 360’s fisheye files to the equirectangular assets that Premiere requires for editing VR.

Unfortunately, Samsung’s format is not one of the default conversions supported by the effect, so it requires a little more creativity. The two sensor images have to be cropped into separate comps and with plugin applied to each of them. Setting the Input to fisheye and the output to equirectangular for each image will give the desired distortion. A feathered mask applied to the circle to adjust the seam, and the overlap can be adjusted with the FOV and re-orient camera values.

Since this can be challenging to setup, I have posted an AE template that is already configured for footage from the Gear 360. The included directions should be easy to follow, and the projection, overlap and stitch can be further tweaked by adjusting the position, rotation and mask settings in the sub-comps, and the re-orientation values in the Skybox Converter effects. Hopefully, once you find the correct adjustments for your individual camera, they should remain the same for all of your footage, unless you want to mask around an object crossing the stitch boundary. More info on those types of fixes can be found here. It took me five minutes to export 60 seconds of 360 video using this approach, and there is no stabilization or other automatic image analysis.

Video Stitch Studio

Orah makes Video-Stitch Studio, which is a similar product but with a slightly different feature set and approach. One limitation I couldn’t find a way around is that the program expects the various fisheye source images to be in separate files, and unlike AVP I couldn’t get the source cropping tool to work without rendering the dual fisheye images into separate square video source files. There should be a way to avoid that step, but I couldn’t find one. (You can use the crop effect to remove 1920 pixels on one side or the other to make the conversions in Media Encoder relatively quickly.) Splitting the source file and rendering separate fisheye spheres adds a workflow step and render time, and my one-minute clip took 11 minutes to export. This is a slower option, which might be significant if you have hours of footage to process instead of minutes.

Clearly, there are a variety of ways to get your raw footage stitched for editing. The results vary greatly between the different programs, so I made video to compare the different stitching options on the same source clip. My first attempt was with a locked-off shot in the park, but that shot was too simple to see the differences, and it didn’t allow for comparison of the stabilization options available in some of the programs. I shot some footage from a moving vehicle to see how well the motion and shake would be handled by the various programs. The result is now available on YouTube, fading between each of the five labeled options over the course of the minute long clip. I would categorize this as testing how well the various applications can handle non-ideal source footage, which happens a lot in the real world.

I didn’t feel that any of the stitching options were perfect solutions, so hopefully we will see further developments in that regard in the future. You may want to explore them yourself to determine which one best meets your needs. Once your footage is correctly mapped to equirectangular projection, ideally in a 2:1 aspect ratio, and the projects are rendered and exported (I recommend Cineform or DNxHR), you are ready to edit your processed footage.

Launch Premiere Pro and import your footage as you normally would. If you are using the Skybox Player plugin, turn on Adobe Transmit with the HMD selected as the only dedicated output (in the Skybox VR configuration window, I recommend setting the hot corner to top left, to avoid accidentally hitting the start menu, desktop hide or application close buttons during preview). In the playback monitor, you may want to right click the wrench icon and select Enable VR to preview a pan-able perspective of the video, instead of the entire distorted equirectangular source frame. You can cut, trim and stack your footage as usual, and apply color corrections and other non-geometry-based effects.

In version 11.1.2 of Premiere, there is basically one VR effect (VR Projection), which allows you to rotate the video sphere along all three axis. If you have the Skybox Suite for Premiere installed, you will have some extra VR effects. The Skybox Rotate Sphere effect is basically the same. You can add titles and graphics and use the Skybox Project 2D effect to project them into the sphere where you want. Skybox also includes other effects for blurring and sharpening the spherical video, as well as denoise and glow. If you have Kolor AVP installed that adds two new effects as well. GoPro VR Horizon is similar to the other sphere rotation ones, but allows you to drag the image around in the monitor window to rotate it, instead of manually adjusting the axis values, so it is faster and more intuitive. The GoPro VR Reframe effect is applied to equirectangular footage, to extract a flat perspective from within it. The field of view can be adjusted and rotated around all three axis.

Most of the effects are pretty easy to figure out, but Skybox Project 2D may require some experimentation to get the desired results. Avoid placing objects near the edges of the 2D frame that you apply it to, to keep them facing toward the viewer. The rotate projection values control where the object is placed relative to the viewer. The rotate source values rotate the object at the location it is projected to. Personally, I think they should be placed in the reverse order in the effects panel.

Encoding the final output is not difficult, just send it to Adobe Media Encoder using either H.264 or H.265 formats. Make sure the “Video is VR” box is checked at the bottom of the Video Settings pane, and in this case that the frame layout is set to monoscopic. There are presets for some of the common framesizes, but I would recommend lowering the bitrates, at least if you are using Gear 360 footage. Also, if you have ambisonic audio set channels to 4.0 in the audio pane.

Once the video is encoded, you can upload it directly to Facebook. If you want to upload to YouTube, exports from AME with the VR box checked should work fine, but for videos from other sources you will need to modify the metadata with this app here.  Once your video is uploaded to YouTube, you can embed it on any webpage that supports 2D web videos. And YouTube videos can be streamed directly to your Rift headset using the free DeoVR video player.

That should give you a 360-video production workflow from start to finish. I will post more updated articles as new software tools are developed, and as I get new 360 cameras with which to test and experiment.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

Making the jump to 360 Video (Part 1)

By Mike McCarthy

VR headsets have been available for over a year now, and more content is constantly being developed for them. We should expect that rate to increase as new headset models are being released from established technology companies, prompted in part by the new VR features expected in Microsoft’s next update to Windows 10. As the potential customer base increases, the software continues to mature, and the content offerings broaden. And with the advances in graphics processing technology, we are finally getting to a point where it is feasible to edit videos in VR, on a laptop.

While a full VR experience requires true 3D content, in order to render a custom perspective based on the position of the viewer’s head, there is a “video” version of VR, which is called 360 Video. The difference between “Full VR” and “360 Video,” is that while both allow you to look around every direction, 360 Video is pre-recorded from a particular point, and you are limited to the view from that spot. You can’t move your head to see around behind something, like you can in true VR. But 360 video can still offer a very immersive experience and arguably better visuals, since they aren’t being rendered on the fly. 360 video can be recorded in stereoscopic or flat, depending on the capabilities of the cameras used.

Stereoscopic is obviously more immersive, less of a video dome and inherently supported by the nature of VR HMDs (Head Mounted Displays). I expect that stereoscopic content will be much more popular in 360 Video than it ever was for flat screen content. Basically the viewer is already wearing the 3D glasses, so there is no downside, besides needing twice as much source imagery to work with, similar to flat screen stereoscopic.

There are a variety of options for recording 360 video, from a single ultra-wide fisheye lens on the Fly360, to dual 180-degree lens options like the Gear 360, Nikon KeyMission, and Garmin Virb. GoPro is releasing the Fusion, which will fall into this category as well. The next step is more lens, with cameras like the Orah4i or the Insta360 Pro. Beyond that, you are stepping into the much more expensive rigs with lots of lenses and lots of stitching, but usually much higher final image quality, like the GoPro Omni or the Nokia Ozo. There are also countless rigs that use an array of standard cameras to capture 360 degrees, but these solutions are much less integrated than the all-in-one products that are now entering the market. Regardless of the camera you use, you are going to be recording one or more files in a pixel format fairly unique to that camera that will need to be processed before it can be used in the later stages of the post workflow.

Affordable cameras

The simplest and cheapest 360 camera option I have found is the Samsung Gear 360. There are two totally different models with the same name, usually differentiated by the year of their release. I am using the older 2016 model, which has a higher resolution sensor, but records UHD instead of the slightly larger full 4K video of the newer 2017 model.

The Gear 360 records two fisheye views that are just over 180 degrees, from cameras situated back to back in a 2.5-inch sphere. Both captured image circles are recorded onto a single frame, side by side, resulting in a 2:1 aspect ratio files. These are encoded into JPEG (7776×3888 stills) or HEVC (3840×1920 video) at 30Mb and saved onto a MicroSD card. The camera is remarkably simple to use, with only three buttons, and a tiny UI screen to select recording mode and resolution. If you have a Samsung Galaxy phone, there are a variety of other functions that allows, like remote control and streaming the output to the phone as a viewfinder and such. Even without a Galaxy phone, the camera did everything I needed to generate 360 footage to stitch and edit with but it was cool to have a remote viewfinder for the driving shots.

Pricier cameras

One of the big challenges of shooting with any 360 camera is how to avoid getting gear and rigging in the shot since the camera records everything around it. Even the tiny integrated tripod on the Gear 360 is visible in the shots, and putting it on the plate of my regular DSLR tripod fills the bottom of the footage. My solution was to use the thinnest support I could to keep the rest of the rigging as far from the camera as possible, and therefore smaller from its perspective. I created a couple options to shoot with that are pictured below. The results are much less intrusive in the resulting images that are recorded. Obviously besides the camera support, there is the issue of everything else in the shot including the operator. Since most 360 videos are locked off, an operator may not be needed, but there is no “behind the camera” for hiding gear or anything else. Your set needs to be considered in every direction, since it will all be visible to your viewer. If you can see the camera, it can see you.

There are many different approaches to storing 360 images, which are inherently spherical, as a video file, which is inherently flat. This is the same issue that cartographers have faced for hundreds of years — creating flat paper maps of a planet that is inherently curved. While there are sphere map, cube map and pyramid projection options (among others) based on the way VR headsets work, the equirectangular format has emerged as the standard for editing and distribution encoding, while other projections are occasionally used for certain effects processing or other playback options.

Usually the objective of the stitching process is to get the images from all of your lenses combined into a single frame with the least amount of distortion and the fewest visible seams. There are a number of software solutions that do this, from After Effects plugins, to dedicated stitching applications like Kolor AVP and Orah VideoStitch-Studio to unique utilities for certain cameras. Once you have your 360 video footage in the equirectangular format, most of the other steps of the workflow are similar to their flat counterparts, besides VFX. You can cut, fade, title and mix your footage in an NLE and then encode it in the standard H.264 or H.265 formats with a few changes to the metadata.

Technically, the only thing you need to add to an existing 4K editing workflow in order to make the jump to 360 video is a 360 camera. Everything else could be done in software, but the other thing you will want is a VR headset or HMD. It is possible to edit 360 video without an HMD, but it is a lot like grading a film using scopes but no monitor. The data and tools you need are all right there, but without being able to see the results, you can’t be confident of what the final product will be like. You can scroll around the 360 video in the view window, or see the whole projected image all distorted, but it won’t have the same feel as experiencing it in a VR headset.

360 Video is not as processing intensive as true 3D VR, but it still requires a substantial amount of power to provide a good editing experience. I am using a Thinkpad P71 with an Nvidia Quadro P5000 GPU to get smooth performance during all these tests.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we focus on editing 360 Video.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been working on new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

Director Ava DuVernay named VES Summit’s keynote speaker

Director/producer/writer Ava DuVernay has been named keynote speaker at the 2017 VES Summit, “Inspiring Change: Building on 20 Years of VES Innovation.” The forum, which takes place Saturday, October 28, celebrates the Visual Effects Society’s 20th anniversary and brings together creatives, executives and visionaries from a variety of disciplines to discuss the evolution of visual imagery and the VFX industry landscape in a TED Talks-like atmosphere.

At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay won the Best Director Prize for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, which she also wrote and produced. For her work on Selma in 2014, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th. Her current directorial work includes the dramatic television series Queen Sugar, and the upcoming Disney feature film A Wrinkle in Time.

It was back in 2010 that DuVernay made her directorial debut with the acclaimed 2008 hip-hop documentary This Is The Life, and she has gone on to direct several network documentaries, including Venus Vs. for ESPN. She has also directed significant short form work, including August 28: A Day in the Life of a People, commissioned by The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as fashion and beauty films for Prada and Apple.

Other speakers include:
–  Syd Mead, visual futurist and conceptual artist
–  President of IMAX Home Entertainment Jason Brenek on “Evolution in Entertainment: VR, Cinema and Beyond”
– CEO of SSP BlueHemanshu Nigam on “When Hackers Attack: How Can Hollywood Fight Back?”
– Head of Adobe Research Gavin Miller on “Will the Future Look More Like Harry Potter or Star Trek?”
–  Senior research engineer at Autodesk, Evan Atherton on “The Age of Imagination”
–  Founder/CEO of the Emblematic Group, Nonny de la Peña on “Creating for Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities”

Additional speakers and roundtable moderators will be announced soon. The 2017 VES Summit takes place at the Sofitel Hotel Beverly Hills.

Review: Blackmagic’s Fusion 9

By David Cox

At Siggraph in August, Blackmagic Design released a new version of its compositing software Fusion. For those not familiar with Fusion, it is a highly flexible node-based compositor that can composite in 2D and 3D spaces. Its closest competitor is Nuke from The Foundry.

The raft of new updates in Version 9 could be categorized into one of two areas: features created in response to user requests, and a set of tools for VR. Also announced with the new release is a price drop to $299 for the full studio version, which, judging by global resellers instantly running out of stock (Fusion ships via dongle), seems to have been a popular move!

As with other manufacturers in the film and broadcast area, the term “VR” is a little misused as they are really referring to “360 video.” VR, although a more exciting term, would demand interactivity. That said, as a post production suite for 360 video, Fusion already has a very strong tool set. It can create, manipulate, texture and light 3D scenes made from imported CGI models and built-in primitives and particles.

Added in Version 9 is a spherical camera that can capture a scene as a 360 2D or stereo 3D image. In addition, new tools are provided to cross-convert between many 360 video image formats. Another useful tool allows a portion of a 360-degree image to be unwrapped (or un-distorted) so that restoration or compositing work can be easily carried out on it before it is perfectly re-wrapped back into the 360-degree image.

There is also a new stabilizer for 360 wrap-around shots. A neat feature is that Fusion 9 can directly drive VR headsets such as Oculus Rift. Within Fusion, any node can be routed to any viewing monitor and the VR headset simply presents itself as an extra one of those.

Notably, Blackmagic has opted not to tackle 360-degree image stitching — the process by which images from multiple cameras facing in different directions are “stitched” together to form a single wrap-around view. I can understand this — on one hand, there are numerous free or cheap apps that perform stitching and so there’s no need for Blackmagic to reinvent that wheel. On the other hand, Blackmagic targets the mass user area, and given that 360 video production is a niche activity, productions that strap together multiple cameras form an even smaller and decreasing niche due to the growing number of single-step 360-degree cameras that provide complete wrap-around images without the need for stitching.

Moving on from VR/360, Fusion 9 now boasts some very significant additional features. While some Fusion users had expressed concerned that Blackmagic was favoring Resolve, in fact it is now clear that the Fusion development team have been very busy indeed.

Camera Tracker
First up is an embedded camera tracker and solver. Such a facility aims to deduce how the original camera in a live-action shoot moved through the scene and what lens must have been on it. From this, a camera tracker produces a virtual 3D scene into which a compositor can add objects that then move precisely with the original shot.

Fusion 9’s new camera tracker performed well in tests. It requires the user to break the process down into three logical steps: track, refine and export. Fusion initially offers auto-placed trackers, which follow scores of details in the scene quite quickly. The operator then removes any obviously silly trackers (like the ones chasing around the moving people in a scene) and sets Fusion about the task of “solving” the camera move.

Once done, Fusion presents a number of features to allow the user to measure the accuracy of the resulting track and to locate and remove trackers that are adversely affecting that result. This is a circular process by which the user can incrementally improve the track. The final track is then converted into a 3D scene with a virtual camera and a point cloud to show where the trackers would exist in 3D space. A ground plane is also provided, which the user can locate during the tracking process.

While Fusion 9’s camera tracker perhaps doesn’t have all the features of a dedicated 3D tracker such as SynthEyes from Andersson Technologies, it does satisfy the core need and has plenty of controls to ensure that the tool is flexible enough to deal with most scenarios. It will certainly be received as a welcome addition.

Planar Tracker
Next up is a built-in “planar” tracker. Planar trackers work differently than classic point trackers, which simply try to follow a small area of detail. A planar tracker follows a larger area of a shot, which makes up a flat plane — such as a wall or table top. From this, the planar tracker can deduce rotation, location, scale and perspective.

Fusion 9 Studio’s new planar tracker also performed well in tests. It assessed the track quickly and was not easily upset by foreground objects obscuring parts of the tracked area. The resulting track can either be used directly to insert another image into the resulting plane or to stabilize the shot, or indirectly by producing a separate Planar Transform node. This is used to warp any other asset such as a matte for rotoscoping work.

Inevitably, any planar tracker will be compared to the long-established “daddy” of them all, Mocha Pro from Boris FX. At a basic level, Fusion’s planar tracker worked just as well as Mocha, creating solid tracks from a user-defined area nicely and quickly. However, I would think that for complex rotoscoping, where a user will have many roto layers, driven by many tracking sources, with other layers acting as occlusion masks, Mocha’s working environment would be easier to control. Such a task would lead to many, many wired up nodes in Fusion, whereas Mocha would present the same functions within a simper layer-list. Of course, Mocha Pro is available as an OFX plug-in for Fusion Studio anyway, so users can have the best of both worlds.

Delta Keyer
Blackmagic also added a new keyer to Fusion called the Delta Keyer. It is a color difference keyer with a wide range of controls to refine the resulting matte and the edges of the key. It worked well when tested against one of my horrible greenscreens, something I keep for these very occasions!

The Delta Keyer can also take a clean plate as a reference input, which is essentially a frame of the green/bluescreen studio without the object to be keyed. The Delta Keyer then uses this to understand which deviations from the screen color represent the foreground object and which are just part of an uneven screen color.

To assist with this process, there is also a new Clean Plate node, which is designed to create an estimate of a clean plate in the absence of one being available from the shoot (for example, if the camera was moving). The combination of the clean plate and the Delta Keyer produced good results when challenged to extract subtle object shadows from an unevenly lit greenscreen shot.

Studio Player
Studio Player is also new for Fusion 9 Studio; it’s a multi-station shot review tool. Multiple versions of clips and comps can be added to the Studio Player’s single layer timeline, where simple color adjustments and notes can be added. A neat feature is that multiple studio players in different locations can be slaved together so that cross-facility review sessions can take place, with everyone looking at the same thing at the same time, which helps!

Fusion 9 Studio also supports the writing of Apple-approved Pro Res from all its supported platforms, including Windows and Linux. Yep – you read that right. Other format support has also been widened and improved, such as faster native handling for DNxHR codecs, for example.

Summing Up
All in all, the updates to Fusion 9 are comprehensive and very much in line with what professional users have been asking for. I think it certainly demonstrates that Blackmagic is as committed to Fusion as Resolve, and at $299, it’s a no-brainer for any professional VFX artist to have available to them.

Of course, the price drop shows that Blackmagic is also aiming Fusion squarely at the mass independent filmmaker market. Certainly, with Resolve and Fusion, those users will have pretty much all the post tools they will need.

Fusion by its nature and heritage is a more complex beast to learn than Resolve, but it is well supported with a good user manual, forums and video tutorials. I would think it likely that for this market, Fusion might benefit from some minor tweaks to make it more intuitive in certain areas. I also think the join between Resolve and Fusion will provide a lot of interest going forward for this market. Adobe has done a masterful job bridging Premiere and After Effects. The join between Resolve and Fusion is more rudimentary, but if Blackmagic gets this right, they will have a killer combination.

Finally, Fusion 9 extends what was already a very powerful and comprehensive compositing suite. It has become my primary compositing device and the additions in version 9 only serve to cement that position.


David Cox is a VFX compositor and colorist with 20+ years experience. He started his career with MPC and The Mill before forming his own London-based post facility. Cox recently created interactive projects with full body motion sensors and 4D/AR experiences.

postPerspective Impact Award winners from SIGGRAPH 2017

Last April, postPerspective announced the debut of our Impact Awards, celebrating innovative products and technologies for the post production and production industries that will influence the way people work. We are now happy to present our second set of Impact Awards, celebrating the outstanding offerings presented at SIGGRAPH 2017.

Now that the show is over, and our panel of VFX/VR/post pro judges has had time to decompress, dig out and think about what impressed them, we are happy to announce our honorees.

And the winners of the postPerspective Impact Award from SIGGRAPH 2017 are:

  • Faceware Technologies for Faceware Live 2.5
  • Maxon for Cinema 4D R19
  • Nvidia for OptiX 5.0  

“All three of these technologies are very worthy recipients of our first postPerspective Impact Awards from SIGGRAPH,” said Randi Altman, postPerspective’s founder and editor-in-chief. “These awards celebrate companies that define the leading-edge of technology while producing tools that actually make users’ working lives easier and projects better, and our winners certainly fall into that category.

“While SIGGRAPH’s focus is on VFX, animation, VR/AR and the like, the types of gear they have on display vary. Some are suited for graphics and animation, while others have uses that slide into post production. We’ve tapped real-world users in these areas to vote for our Impact Awards, and they have determined what tools might be most impactful to their day-to-day work. That’s what makes our awards so special.”

There were many new technologies and products at SIGGRAPH this year, and while only three won an Impact Award, our judges felt there were other updates that it was important to let people know about as well.

Blackmagic Design’s Fusion 9 was certainly turning heads and Nvidia’s VRWorks 360 Video was called out as well. Chaos Group also caught our judges attention with V-Ray for Unreal Engine 4.

Stay tuned for future Impact Award winners in the coming months — voted on by users for users — from IBC.

Blackmagic’s Fusion 9 is now VR-enabled

At SIGGRAPH, Blackmagic was showing Fusion 9, its newly upgraded visual effects, compositing, 3D and motion graphics software. Fusion 9 features new VR tools, an entirely new keyer technology, planar tracking, camera tracking, multi-user collaboration tools and more.

Fusion 9 is available now with a new price point — Blackmagic has lowered the price of its Studio version from $995 to $299 Studio Version. (Blackmagic is also offering a free version of Fusion.) The software now works on Mac, PC and Linux.

Those working in VR get a full 360º true 3D workspace, along with a new panoramic viewer and support for popular VR headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Working in VR with Fusion is completely interactive. GPU acceleration makes it extremely fast so customers can wear a headset and interact with elements in a VR scene in realtime. Fusion 9 also supports stereoscopic VR. In addition, the new 360º spherical camera renders out complete VR scenes, all in a single pass and without the need for complex camera rigs.

The new planar tracker in Fusion 9 calculates motion planes for accurately compositing elements onto moving objects in a scene. For example, the new planar tracker can be used to replace signs or other flat objects as they move through a scene. Planar tracking data can also be used on rotoscope shapes. That means users don’t have to manually animate motion, perspective, position, scale or rotation of rotoscoped elements as the image changes.

Fusion 9 also features an entirely new camera tracker that analyzes the motion of a live-action camera in a scene and reconstructs the identical motion path in 3D space for use with cameras inside of Fusion. This lets users composite elements with precisely matched movement and perspective of the original. Fusion can also use lens metadata for proper framing, focal length and more.

The software’s new delta keyer features a complete set of matte finesse controls for creating clean keys while preserving fine image detail. There’s also a new clean plate tool that can smooth out subtle color variations on blue- and greenscreens in live action footage, making them easier to key.

For multi-user collaboration, Fusion 9 Studio includes Studio Player, a new app that features a playlist,
storyboard and timeline for playing back shots. Studio Player can track version history, display annotation notes, has support for LUTs and more. The new Studio Player is suited for customers that need to see shots in a suite or theater for review and approval. Remote synchronization lets artists  sync Studio Players in multiple locations.

In addition, Fusion 9 features a bin server so shared assets and tools don’t have to be copied onto each user’s local workstation.

PNY’s PrevailPro mobile workstations feature 4K displays, are VR-capable

PNY has launched the PNY PrevailPro P4000 and P3000, thin and light mobile workstations. With their Nvidia Max-Q design, these innovative systems are designed from the Quadro GPU out.

“Our PrevailPro [has] the ability to drive up to four 4K UHD displays at once, or render vividly interactive VR experiences, without breaking backs or budgets,” says Steven Kaner, VP of commercial and OEM sales at PNY Technologies. “The increasing power efficiency of Nvidia Quadro graphics and our P4000-based P955 Nvidia Max-Q technology platform, allows PNY to deliver professional performance and features in thin, light, cool and quiet form factors.”

P3000

PrevailPro features the Pascal architecture within the P4000 and P3000 mobile GPUs, with Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPUs and the HM175 Express chipset.

“Despite ever increasing mobility, creative professionals require workstation class performance and features from their mobile laptops to accomplish their best work, from any location,” says Bob Pette, VP, Nvidia Professional Visualization. “With our new Max-Q design and powered by Quadro P4000 and P3000 mobile GPUs, PNY’s new PrevailPro lineup offers incredibly light and thin, no-compromise, powerful and versatile mobile workstations.”

The PrevailPro systems feature either a 15.6-inch 4K UHD or FHD display – and the ability to drive three external displays (2x mDP 1.4 and HDMI 2.0 with HDCP), for a total of four simultaneously active displays. The P4000 version supports fully immersive VR, the Nvidia VRWorks software development kit and innovative immersive VR environments based on the Unreal or Unity engines.

With 8GB (P4000) or 6GB (P3000) of GDDR5 GPU memory, up to 32GB of DDR4 2400MHz DRAM, 512GB SSD availability, HDD options up to 2TB, a comprehensive array of I/O ports, and the latest Wi-Fi and Bluetooth implementations, PrevailPro is compatible with all commonly used peripherals and network environments — and provides pros with the interfaces and storage capacity needed to complete business-critical tasks. Depending on the use case, Mobile Mark 2014 projects the embedded Li polymer battery can reach five hours over a lifetime of 1,000 charge/discharge cycles.

PrevailPro’s thin and light form factor measures 14.96×9.8×0.73 inches (379mm x 248mm x 18mm) and weighs 4.8 lbs.

 

Assimilate and Z Cam offer second integrated VR workflow bundle

Z Cam and Assimilate are offering their second VR integrated workflow bundle, which features the Z Cam S1 Pro VR camera and the Assimilate Scratch VR Z post tools. The new Z Cam S1 Pro offers a higher level of image quality that includes better handling of low lights and dynamic range with detailed, well-saturated, noise-free video. In addition to the new camera, this streamlined pro workflow combines Z Cam’s WonderStitch optical-flow stitch feature and the end-to-end Scratch VR Z tools.

Z Cam and Assimilate have designed their combined technologies to ensure as simple a workflow as possible, including making it easy to switch back and forth between the S1 Pro functions and the Scratch VR Z tools. Users can also employ Scratch VR Z to do live camera preview, prior to shooting with the S1 Pro. Once the shoot begins with the S1 Pro, Scratch VR Z is then used for dailies and data management, including metadata. You don’t have to remove the SD cards and copy; it’s a direct connect to the PC and then to the camera via a high-speed Ethernet port. Stitching of the imagery is then done in Z Cam’s WonderStitch — now integrated into Scratch VR Z — as well as traditional editing, color grading, compositing, support for multichannel audio from the S1 or external ambisonic sound, finishing and publishing (to all final online or standalone 360 platforms).

Z Cam S1 Pro/Scratch VR Z  bundle highlights include:
• Lower light sensitivity and dynamic range – 4/3-inch CMOS image sensor
• Premium 220 degree MFT fisheye lens, f/2.8~11
• Coordinated AE (automatic exposure) and AWB ( automatic white-balance)
• Full integration with built-in Z Cam Sync
• 6K 30fps resolution (post stitching) output
• Gig-E port (video stream & setting control)
• WonderStich optical-flow based stitching
• Live Streaming to Facebook, YouTube or a private server, including text overlays and green/composite layers for a virtual set
• Scratch VR Z single, a streamlined, end-to-end, integrated VR post workflow

“We’ve already developed a few VR projects with the S1 Pro VR camera and the entire Neotopy team is awed by its image quality and performance,” says Alex Regeffe, VR post production manager at Neotopy Studio in Paris. “Together with the Scratch VR Z tools, we see this integrated workflow as a game changer in creating VR experiences, because our focus is now all on the creativity and storytelling rather than configuring multiple, costly tools and workflows.”

The Z Cam S1 Pro/Scratch VR Z bundle is available within 30 days of ordering. Priced at $11,999 (US), the bundle includes the following:
– Z CamS1 Pro Camera main unit, Z Cam S1 Pro battery unit (w/o battery cells), AC/DC power adapter unit and power connection cables (US, UK, EU).
– A Z Cam WonderStitch license, which is an optical flow-based stitching feature that performs offline stitching of files from Z Cam S1 Pro. Z Cam WonderStitch requires a valid software license associated with a designated Z Cam S1 Pro, and is nontransferable.
– A Scratch VR Z permanent license: a pro VR end-to-end, post workflow with an all-inclusive, realtime toolset for data management, dailies, conform, color grading, compositing, multichannel and ambisonic sound, and finishing, all integrated within the Z Cam S1 Pro camera. Includes one-year of support/updates.

The companies are offering a tutorial about the bundle.