Timothy Saccenti, a director and photographer that I frequently work with, called me up and told me that he was shooting a series of videos for Depeche Mode and that they wanted to do something different. They were shooting live performances with a GoPro 360 rig and Tim asked me to help out on the post work. I had to say yes.
Tim and Outpost at Radical Media shot the band performing five songs at Highline Stages. The main stage has this cool, airy warehouse feel, and they dressed the set with tons of sound equipment, as well as installed six projection screens and three televisions that displayed premade graphics and a live feed of Dave Gahan’s performance. After the shoot, Radical did the stitching, and Tim and I had a conversation about what the video would look like in the end. We wanted the video to feel cool and a little bit weird.
The track, “Going Backwards,” was going to be the first 360-video to be released, so we got to work planning the post. We watched a few 360-performance videos and found that you can get bored with them pretty quickly, even if you’re a fan of the song. A viewer really wants to be told a complete story, however abstract, and the band performing the song in what is essentially a static composition wasn’t going to take anyone on the journey we wanted. Transporting the viewer outside of the familiar confines of the warehouse space was essential for this one.
“Going Backwards” is a very political track, but the band didn’t want to use any imagery that would detract from their message, so we had to find a way to prop up the performance and let the lyrics speak for themselves. Earlier, Tim had shot some beautiful motion portraits of the band, and we had some B camera footage and a close-up of Dave’s performance, so we tried to find a way to integrate those materials into the video. Hard cutting from the warehouse performance to full frame material proved too disorienting, whether you’re watching on an Oculus or on a desktop 360 player. And, I’ll admit, I wanted to actually edit something too.
So we came up with the idea to expand on the projections in the background and have floating screens appear throughout the performance, showing alternate angles of the band and trippy imagery. It’s fortunate that Depeche Mode is a very cool, experimental band, and they were on board to try whatever we thought would make the video more engaging. We chose where those screens would be placed and I then cut together four different music videos: one with mostly portrait shots of the band; one that focused on their audio gear; one with abstract graphics and imagery; and one focusing on Dave’s performance so the viewer could watch Martin Gore play and see Dave singing on a screen right above him.
The four-video edit was the easy part – the bulk of the work happened in After Effects using Mettle’s 360/VR plug-ins to piece everything together and an Oculus Rift to view the 360 playback. But it soon became obvious that working with the full-res files was not going to be an option. Rendering previews for each frame took upwards of a minute, and setting the playback resolution to something low enough to get acceptable playback pixelated the performers so much that you couldn’t make out any of their actions, so we switched to a traditional offline/online workflow and made 2K proxy files, pre-rendered whatever we could, and hoped that “upres’ing” the effects wouldn’t be too painful.
Tim and I usually work pretty quickly, throwing different effects at the footage to see what will work, and just generally trying to mess up the image as much as possible until we’re happy with it, but 360-video does not like to be messed with. Adding a gradient overlay will warp and create an edge where the horizontal sides of the frame meet in the 360-sphere. Distortion effects have to be carefully placed so that they don’t produce a different outcome in the final. Even simple things like adding grain will create a seam. The Mettle plug-ins were a huge help in placing and visualizing the effects we used, but the bump in your workflow that is created – going in and out of different compositions to make a change, then checking it, then re-checking it – can really slow things down. And, of course, you might as well take a weekend trip when you hit render, ‘cause it won’t be done anytime soon.
Working with 360-video is an ultimately rewarding experience when you can fully immerse yourself in the world you’ve just created, but it requires much more planning for post. Whatever you capture in the 360 camera is going to be on-screen, unless you paint it out. There’s no punching in a little to get rid of a stray boom, and if you plan on using cuts in your video, the positioning of the key elements has to be carefully considered. Nothing pulls you of an experience more than watching a character’s subtle hand gestures as they speak – then cut – now you’re staring at a doorframe. We didn’t have to deal with those kinds of edit issues on this one due to the floating screens, but the next two Depeche Mode videos will take you completely outside of the performance space. Stay tuned.
Matt Posey is an Editor with PS260. The studio has offices in New York City and Venice, CA (http://ps260.com).