While preparing to climb both Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse without the use of bottled oxygen, renowned climber Ueli Steck fell to his death in late April of 2017. VR director and alpine photographer Jonathan Griffith and mountain guide Tenji Sherpa, both friends of Steck, picked up the climber’s torch, and the result was the 8K 3D documentary Everest VR: Journey to the Top of the World, produced by Facebook’s Oculus.
Over the course of three years, Griffith shot footage following Tenji and some of the world’s most accomplished climbers in some of the world’s most extreme locations. The series also includes footage that lets viewers witness what it is like to be engulfed in a Himalayan avalanche, cross a crevasse and staring deep in its depths, take a huge rock-climbing fall, camp under the stars and soak in the view from the top of the world.
For the post part of the doc, Griffith called on veteran VR post pro Matthew DeJohn for editing and color correction, VR stitching expert Keith Kolod and Brendan Hogan for sound design.
“It really was amazing how a small crew was able to get all of this done,” says Griffith. “The collaboration between myself as the cameraman and Matt and Keith was a huge part of being able to get this series done — and done at such as a high quality.
“Matt and Keith would give suggestions on how to capture for VR, how camera wobbling impacted stitching, how to be aware of the nadir and zenith in each frame and to think about proximity issues. The efficient post process helped in letting us focus on what was needed, and I am incredibly happy with the end result.”
DeJohn was tasked with bringing together a huge amount of footage from a number of different high-end camera systems, including the Yi Halo and Z Cam V1 Pro.
DeJohn called on Blackmagic Resolve for this part of the project, saying that using one tool for all helped speed up the process.“A VR project usually has different teams of multiple people for editing, grading and stitching, but with Resolve, Keith and I handled everything,” he explains.
Within Resolve, DeJohncut the series at 2Kx2K, relinked to 8Kx8K source and then change the timeline resolution to 8Kx8K for final color and rendering. He used the Fairlight audio editing tab to make fine adjustments, manage different narration takes with audio layers, and manage varied source files such as mono-narration, stereo music and four-channel ambisonic spatial audio.
In terms of color grading, DeJohn says, “I colored the project from the very first edit so when it came to finalize the color it was just a process of touching things up.”
Fusion Studio was used for stereoscopic alignment fixes, motion graphics, rig removal, nadir patches, stabilization, stereo correction of the initial stitch, re-orienting 360 imagery, viewing the 360 scenes in a VR headset and controlling focal areas. More intense stitching work was done by Kolod using Fusion Studio.
Footage of such an extreme environment, as well as the closeness of climbers to the cameras, provided unique challenges for Kolod who had to rebuild portions of images from individual cameras. He also had to manually ramp down the stereo on the images north and south poles to ensure easy viewing, fix stereo misalignment and distance issues between the foreground and background and calm excessive movement in images.
“A regular fix I had to make was adjusting incorrect vertical alignments, which create huge problems for viewing. Even if a camera is a little bit off, the viewer can tell,” says Kolod. “The project used a lot of locked-off tripod cameras, and you would think that the images coming from them would be completely steady. But a little bit of wind or slight movement in what is usually a calm frame makes a scene unwatchable in VR. So I used Fusion for stabilization on a lot of shots.”
“High-quality VR work should always be done with manual stitching with an artist making sure there are no rough areas. The reason why this series looks so amazing is that there was an artist involved in every part of the process — shooting, editing, grading and stitching,” concludes Kolod.