M7 Virtual worked alongside The Welsh Wildlife Trust back in 2016 to create a series of wildlife VR experience for children. The films were a great success and saw viewers swimming with Dolphins and flying like Kingfishers. The films were used in schools and at tradeshows around the UK to help promote the trust.

Dolphin Dive VR Experience

M7 were delighted to be contacted once again by the Welsh Wildlife Trust to create another series of experiences for several locations in South Wales: The first - Parc Slip, a 300 acre nature reserve with a variety of different habitat types supporting many different species. As well as this, over 10km of walking and cycling tracks are on offer. Secondly, Bryngarw Country Park - A popular sanctuary for wildlife and people alike. Bryngarw has a wide range of facilities for visitors to enjoy. The third experience was based around the valleys of Bridgend including Ogmore and Blaengarw. The concept of the piece was to create the sense of soaring over the valleys as the birds of prey in those areas do.

WILD Parc Slip

This VR experience featured a wide variety of wildlife which reflected upon the thriving surroundings of the Parc Slip nature reserve. Butterflies, Foxes, Highland Cattle and even Kestrels and Foxes were captured in full 360 video providing a unique look at these species in the wild, all through virtual reality. We also flew several drone flights over the site to capture the scale of the reserve, with the low setting sun providing great colours and ambience to the shots.

One of the more technical shots in the film was the hovering Kestrel. We knew that this shot would be nearly impossible to capture live in 360, but knew that with some clever compositing, we could achieve the results we wanted. The M7 team captured a 360 'clean plate' shot of the surroundings at Parc Slip which would later form the 360 background for the shot. The Kestrel was then filmed at British Birds of Prey Centre. The team of falconers at the centre were instrumental in allowing us to capture the shot and were able to have the Kestrel hover on command - Impressive. We used a traditional video camera to film the bird close up in slow motion to give us a highly detailed close up shot which could then be composited into the background shot captured at Parc Slip.

Parc Slip Wildlife Virtual Reality Video Kestrel

The 'Yellow Meadow' at Parc Slip was an area that could not be missed out of the VR experience, and the M7 team were able to capture the meadow in full bloom. The bright colours make for a striking opening to the film and show the beauty of the reserve.

Parc Slip Wildlife Virtual Reality Video Meadow

Bryngarw - VR Experience

The VR experience for Bryngarw Country Park was made alongside that of Parc Slip. Bryngarw offers a more family orientated range of facilities and it was important to show this in the VR video. Though wildlife such as Squirrels, Rabbits and Dragonflies feature, the main focus was a family enjoying the park on a day out. This gave the video more of a structure and gives the viewer a point of interest within the scenes. Areas such as the river, playground and meadows were all captured with the family, who were great to work with and helped bring their energy to the VR experience.

Bryngarw Playground

Despite there being a large number of insects around the ponds of Bryngarw, we knew it would be a challenge to capture them live in 360 video. With a small and lightweight GoPro Max 360 camera we were able to set up a camera in the reeds. The camera was left running for several hours in the hopes that we would capture the shot we wanted. After searching through the enormous video files once back at the office, the team discovered they had captured a great close up shot of a dragonfly landing right next to the camera. This was a great addition to the film and made for a really unique shot.

Bryngarw Dragonfly

WILD Valleys

The third VR experience of the series was primarily drone based with the concept of soaring above the valleys of Bridgend as if the viewer were an Eagle, commonly seen in that area. We used the DJI Inspire 2 along with the GoPro Max camera to give us stable, high quality shots. Some of the locations we flew from involved walking for 30-45 minutes with the equipment. It was here that this setup proved beneficial as it would have been difficult to carry a larger drone and camera rig with us to some of these locations. Despite it's small size, we were still able to capture high quality 5.7K 360 video using the GoPro Max. It's excellent built in stabilisation allowed us to achieve smooth results adding to the feeling of gliding around the valleys.

VR Drone Wales UK

The most unique shot in the film is without doubt the POV of a Golden Eagle flying. Similarly to the Parc Slip video, we worked with the British Bird of Prey Centre in Carmarthen. We worked with Alex and his team there to develop a custom harness for their Golden Eagle 'Midas' to wear. The harness was designed to be strong enough to carry the weight of the camera whilst being small and light enough to be comfortable for the bird, causing it no harm or discomfort. After several prototypes we had a sturdy rig which could be used to capture the shot. The bird flew with the harness and no camera attached until the falconers felt it was used to the setup, at which point the camera was mounted. In post-production we were able to remove all traces of the harness to make for a more immersive and realistic shot. The result is a unique perspective of this majestic creature and really adds to the VR experience.

Bird of Prey POV VR Video

To learn more about The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and the WILD VR experiences, click here.

M7 Virtual were contacted by Liverpool based events specialists Meet & Potato to produce a 360 video experience for Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles. The brief was to create an experience which mirrored the television commercial.  Produced a few months earlier and in keeping with the Mercedes-Benz campaign entitled 'Keeping You Moving'.

A custom-build 16m double-expanding articulated trailer was designed to house a combination of exciting immersive tech experiences. This stunning mobile venue invites visitors to explore Mercedes-Benz Van’s vision for the future of mobility in three multi-sensory zones.

 

Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles

During the pre-production phase, we worked closely with the team at M&P to create storyboards for the film. We adapted the Mercedes-Benz television commercial to make the film more suitable to 360 VR. We carried out some tests before the main shoot to experiment with transitions in order to keep the film flowing throughout. The installation was to include VR motion simulator seats, which would be coded to match the movements within the video footage. For this reason we wanted to keep the camera moving throughout the video to utilise this technology.

Meet & Potato

Jon Kelly, Founder and MD at Meet & Potato said:

“We’re delighted and excited to bring the Mercedes-Benz Vans UK brand story to life with a such an innovative immersive event. The roadshow trailer is set to welcome thousands of guests as it tours the UK and we can’t wait to see their reaction.”

Shooting took place over six days with the VR crew. We filmed at a number of pre determined locations across the North West and North Wales. Our first scene to shoot was the broken mirror featuring the Mercedes-Benz Citan Van. We used the Moza Guru Air gimbal combined with the Kandao Obsidian R to film this shot. We used a hover board to help move the camera in a smooth and stable manner. Whilst also holding the gimbal. Following this shot we filmed a number of extra shots using our Syrp Genie slider system, which allowed us to program the camera to move along at a set speed. This gave us silky smooth shots and allowed the crew to clear the scene, reducing post production work needed.

Day two saw us shooting the X-Class holiday scenes. We first shot the driveway shots of the family leaving the house, then travelled to Black Rock Sands Beach to capture the closing shots of the film. The Kandao proved to be a great camera for the X-Class interior shots.

Mercedes-Benz X Class

 

Day 3 of filming was short due to bad weather, we were able to capture the X-Class driving around the Great Orme in Llandudno, North Wales. To capture this unique chase cam perspective we mounted the camera to a body harness and used an e-bike to follow the truck along the road. We then removed the camera operator and bicycle using Mocha VR. The team stabilised the shot using Syntheyes. The images below show the removal of the bicycle and rider, comparing the original rough stitch with the final colour graded neat stitch.

Great Orme, Llandudno, North Wales

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The remaining shoot days involved the capture of the X-Class construction site scene, as well as the Vito van scenes.

After finishing post production of the film we delivered a h.265 file for Draw and Code to work their magic in programming the movements of the simulator chair. We then visited the installation prior to it's official unveiling to see a glimpse of the technology on offer. The simulator chair certainly added to the level of immersion we experienced, whilst still being subtle enough to cater for a wide audience.

The team at M7 Virtual were very excited to be commissioned to produce a 360 video experience for the International Cricket Council (ICC) and Cricket World Cup (CWC). We were also pleased to be working alongside the team at Red Sky at Night Events. The brief was to create an immersive dome experience to be displayed at the various stadiums hosting the CWC this year across the U.K.

ICC and CWC wanted viewers of the experience to feel what it would be like to 'face the pace' of a world class bowler. During the pre-production phase we brainstormed various different ways that this could be achieved. We quickly ruled out the option of filming as a live action piece as it was not be feasible to fill a stadium with fans for a fictional match. So we discussed the possibility of filming the players against an empty stadium! We would then revisit the same positions on a match day to capture crowd plates. The two images would then be composited together to create the illusion of a match day experience. After carrying out tests, we determined this would be the most suitable method to produce this experience.

Edgbaston, Birmingham

Our first day of filming took place at Edgbaston, capturing the player actions in the empty stadia. We worked with a team of young players from local county clubs. The players were briefed about each of the set plays we wanted them to re-enact. Each player was numbered and was to remember their specific field position in order to ensure continuity between the shots. The scenes were acted out without a ball which meant that players had to work together to create the illusion of a real match scenario. We chose to do this to ensure the camera was not damaged by a stray delivery or throw. It would also allow us greater control over the trajectory in post production. The players all revelled in the challenge and acted their movements with remarkable accuracy, matching the timings and energy of a match situation.

After capturing each of the shots, we meticulously measured each of the camera positions. By noting their exact location on the field we would then be able to revisit the stadium and capture the scene again with a full crowd. Additionally, we placed small tape markers to assist us in locating the positions. This ensured a reliable point of reference without interfering with the pitch surface.

Twenty20 Finals Day

To capture the crowd plates, we revisited Edgbaston during the Twenty20 finals day. Working with the ground staff and members of the CWC team, we gained access to the pitch during the tea breaks and intervals. We recorded at each of the positions for two minutes, capturing both video and raw stills to assist with the compositing of the shots. We captured each of the positions several times during the day to give us a variety of lighting options in post production. This also allowed us to fill in gaps in the crowd if necessary by combining the multiple shots.

Once we had filmed the players against the empty stadium, we then had the task of rotoscoping the players and umpires. This involved masking around each of the 14 bodies on the field and tracking their movements across thousands of frames for each shot. This was undoubtedly the most intensive part of the project and took many weeks of work to finish. Once this step was complete, we could then composite the rotoscoped players onto the full crowd stadium plate. At this point we could really begin to see the shots take shape.

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Cricket World Cup, 2019

We then composited a ball in post, again giving the illusion of a real game. This allowed us to really fine tune the ball position and use speed ramping to create slow mo shots during the POV sequences. Another element to be added in post production was the stadium hoarding which was scaled and positioned in Photoshop before being composited in After Effects.

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The graphic below shows some of the steps undertaken to create the appeal shot:

Lords Cricket Ground

We began to add other narrative elements such as the changing room and balcony scenes. We then visited Lords Cricket Ground to record a voiceover session with legendary cricket broadcaster Jonathan Agnew. Aggers was very enthusiastic about the project and did a brilliant job of bringing his signature touch to the soundtrack.

ICC and CWC were keen to draft in a famous cricketing personality who could a whitty twist. A number of names were suggested, with CWC ambassador Graeme Swann being the top pick . Graeme really was a pleasure to work with, bringing laughs throughout the shoot and telling many a tale. What a character.

360 VR

We spent a day filming with Graeme in the infinity cove at Galleon Studios. Located on the outskirts of Manchester, Galleon's Kris and Les made us feel very welcome. The facilities fitted our needs perfectly. We shot this scene with the Sony A7 III and Samyang 8mm. This to give us great image quality and versatility in post production.

This experience is a world first, putting the viewer in the shoes of a player mid game. Truly immersing them in a high pressure match situation. We see huge potential for this style of 360 VR for a wider range of events. This style of experience allows viewers to be transported to places they would never have access to otherwise. Rugby matches, football matches, tennis and many more sports can all be captured using this method. Furthermore, past events can be recreated such as famous music concerts. So the viewer can be transported back in time in a fully immersive experience. We are very keen to develop this style of filming further, stay tuned for more coming soon.

To see a more in-depth breakdown of the production of this film, take a look at this video below:

 

There are a growing number of applications for virtual reality (VR), particularly in areas relating to medical and healthcare. One of the latest is using VR to help children deal with their phobia of needles.

SBS News reported that the technology is being trialled in two hospitals in Melbourne, Australia, to help children who are scared of needles have a less stressful experience when they need to have an injection or have blood samples taken.

It appears to have made a significant difference for some of the children on the trial. The news provider spoke to Rachelle Stewart whose 12 year old son Kai has cystic fibrosis. As a result of his condition, he has to have blood samples taken twice a year, a procedure that both he and his mum dread.

Kai would normally kick and scream during blood tests, but with the VR technology he’s now taken for a dive in the ocean while the procedure is carried out and is much calmer.

Ms Stewart said: “There’s nothing worse than seeing your child scared, distressed or in pain, so anything that helps calm them down and minimise pain is a huge win not only for the kids, but also for us as parents.”

More than 250 children aged four to 11 took part in the trial across the two hospitals. All of those involved were having intravenous cannulation or blood taken in the emergency or pathology departments.

Using VR during these procedures was found to reduce pain by 40 to 60 per cent, as well as reducing anxiety by 35 to 45 per cent for the children involved.

There was also a big impact on parents, with the VR technology cutting parent-rated distress by 75 per cent. Many of the children who participated in the trial wanted to use it again.

Simon Cohen, paediatric pain specialist at the Monash Children’s Hospital, told the news provider that the trial demonstrates how distraction can be a beneficial technique to employ when looking for ways to manage pain for children.

“By improving these experiences, we can help both children and parents who require anxiety-provoking and painful but necessary treatments,” he asserted.

It isn’t only children who benefit from distraction as a pain management technique, as a recent article for the New York Times pointed out.

Many medical facilities are exploring its use to help people with a range of conditions. It’s even being used as a way of improving the effectiveness of treatments like physical therapy, hypnosis and cognitive behavioural therapy for those who suffer from debilitating chronic pain.

Larry Benz, a physical therapist and chief executive of Confluent Health, told the newspaper that VR alone isn’t enough in this instance. But he explained why it’s so effective when paired with other therapies that are known to work.

“If I teach you in a virtual environment, you’re more likely to retain it, engage with it and fully comply with what you’ve been taught. When you’re fully immersed in a virtual environment, it’s like a ‘brain hack’ - you can’t be engaged with anything else,” Dr Benz said.

Need help with training 360 video production? Get in touch with us today.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition that sees a part of the brain become progressively more damaged over the course of years. One of the symptoms that sufferers have to grapple with is reduced mobility, through involuntary shaking, stiff and inflexible muscles, and in some cases balance problems.

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are a number of things that people can do to improve their lives and live well with the condition. Typically, this involves physiotherapy and occupational therapy, as well as medication, the NHS notes.

One team of researchers has been looking at how new technological developments could help those who suffer from Parkinson’s.

Specifically, the team at the University of Utah have been exploring how virtual reality (VR) could be used to help people with the condition improve their mobility and balance, with the aim to reduce the likelihood of falls.

After six weeks of practicing in a specialist VR environment, the patients were better able to avoid obstacles, had improved their balance and were more confident at navigating around things in their path.

The team at the University of Utah created a safe space where people with Parkinson’s can practice walking around a room and avoiding obstacles, to help them improve their muscle control and balance.

In the specialist VR suite, the patients walk on a Treadport and are presented with a virtual environment where they have to step over and walk around obstacles. If they pass the first round, the exercise is repeated but with larger obstacles.

Over the course of six weeks, ten patients each had three, 30-minute sessions a week. As well as better balance and improvements in their ability to navigate around large and small boxes, all the patients had also developed a wider range of motion in their hips and ankles.

  1. Bo Foreman, P.T. Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Motion Capture Core Facility at the University of Utah, explained that those who participated in the study found the experience fun and “not just exercise”.

He said that they enjoyed “training and challenging themselves without the fear of falling”. This was made possible due to the specialist VR suite they utilised. Mr Foreman commented: “The primary advantage is that they can encounter multiple obstacles and terrains while a safe environment is maintained using equipment such as a fall restraint tether.”

The next step for Foreman and the team is to compare their results to those from studies where Parkinson’s patients have undertaken traditional training programmes, or none at all. They are also in talks with the University of Utah’s hospital system about introducing a Treadport to its rehabilitation facility.

They are also exploring how they can adapt their VR experience to make it suitable for use with VR headsets, the idea being that it would be easier to introduce similar systems in hospitals around the US and elsewhere.

This is far from the only example of VR being used in a medical context. Earlier this year, Dr Putrino, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said that VR could have applications for pain relief among those who suffer from chronic pain.

If you need help with training 360 video production, get in touch with us today to find out how we can be of assistance.

Here at M7 Virtual, we use our drones for all sorts of business applications, whether it’s for sport 360 video production, tourism, travel, recruitment or something more commercial… but it’s always interesting to see what other applications these fun little unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have and how other people are using them. Have a look below to see just how useful drones can be!

Deliveries

All sorts of brands have been pioneering the use of drones for parcel deliveries, like Amazon Prime Air, Airbus, Zipline, UPS… they’re all in on it. You can also now even have your takeaway delivered by drone – last year, the London Evening Standard reported that some foodies in Reykjavik can now order food and beer online and have it delivered to them by drone. Amazing!

Table service

Interestingly, drones are also now being used in place of waiters and waitresses in restaurants and bars. Take a look at this Cnet article about Singapore restaurant Timbre, which is using a fleet of drones to show just how reliable they can be for delivering food. Or what about this Daily Mail piece on a pop-up drone café at the Eindhoven University of Technology where drinks were served by Blue Jay, a drone that looked rather like a small white flying saucer.

Sheep herding

Drones have also been used around the world to herd lots of sheep, with this now being seen in New Zealand to great effect.

Tracking animals

Last year, the New York Times reported that drones are being used in Africa to help tackle the growing poaching crisis, utilising them at night which is when most poachers are active. Because few parks are able to carry out proper patrols at night, drones can help to plug the gaps and keep these precious animals safe from harm.

Atmospheric research

NASA has been sending UAVs up into the stratosphere to help protect the earth from harmful UV radiation. Monitoring equipment on the drone will help facilitate studies into how changes in water vapour in the stratosphere can have an impact on the global climate.

Disaster relief

Drones have been used to great effect during disasters, whether it’s delivering much-needed medication and vaccines to remote areas and disaster zones or entering radiation zones where it would be too dangerous for humans to go.

Seaside plastic problems

According to iNews, the Plastic Tide project is now using drones to help volunteers devise a map of the UK’s seaside plastic waste problem, monitoring how it changes over time. The biggest sources of pollution have been found to be plastic bottles and tops, fishing tackle, straws, cotton buds and wet wipes.

As you can see, there’s a huge range of applications for drones and it seems that the only limit is your imagination. If you’d like to find out more about this kind of technology, get in touch with us today.

The choice of lens for a 360 video camera rig is an important step in the process of creating a quality final product. Making the correct choice for the shot can save time and money in post, making the job of stitching easier.

Fisheye lenses offer a number of significant advantages over traditional wide angle lenses for 360 video production, the details of which can be found below.

We have standardised on 2 main fisheye setups for 360 video production:

GoPro Hero 4 Black Edition cameras with Izugar MKX-19 lenses

fisheye_002

Sony A7S Mark II cameras with Samyang 8mm f/2.8 UMC II lenses

fisheye_003

The Izugar fisheye lenses are specifically designed for 360 video production and are a replacement for the standard wide angle lenses of GoPro cameras. Installation is very simple, taking around 5-10 minutes per lens.

The main advantage of fisheye lenses is the increased field of view compared to traditional lenses. The Izugar MKX-19 lenses offer 194 ° field of view (FOV) meaning they can actually see behind themselves. This gives an incredibly wide view, which has a number of benefits.

fisheye_004

Due to the increased FOV, less cameras are needed to achieve a full 360 image. As little as 2 GoPro cameras back to back fitted with Izugar lenses can be used to capture a fully spherical 360 video. This is ideal for tight spaces, where the smaller physical distance between the cameras means parallax is reduced, improving stitch quality.  Less time is required for camera setup on set and this also means less data to deal with in post which saves time and money.

Another benefit of the increased field of view is that the overlap between cameras is greatly increased compared to a traditional wide angle lens. This means that there is greater image redundancy between cameras making it easier to find common points to stitch the videos together. The overlap allows the ability to mask objects moving between cameras via rotoscoping methods, meaning they don't appear to pass through seams/tears in the footage.

The minimum working distance can also be reduced when using fisheye lenses, meaning objects can be closer to the camera without the risk of being in a stitch line, however parallax can still a major issue here.

There are however several tradeoffs to using fisheye lenses. Firstly, fisheye optics are inherently difficult to design and manufacture meaning that sharpness and chromatic aberrations are often worse than traditional lenses, particularly in the corners of the image.

Another disadvantage is the reduction in final output resolution. This is due to the wider field of view, where 1 camera covers the same area as multiple cameras. For example, 1x4K with a fisheye vs 4x4K with normal lenses:

fisheye_001

All the factors above should be taken into consideration before deciding upon which lens will be suitable for a shoot. Here at M7Virtual we carry a mixture of rigs with us on set allowing us to choose the best rig on a shot by shot basis.

M7Virtual are at the cutting edge of 360 video production and no more so when it comes to capturing stabilised smooth 360 video footage. The M7 team have an array of custom built kit enabling super smooth filming. Without these customised rigs the footage would be difficult to stitch resulting in tears and wobbles in the footage, which would be distracting and unnatural for the viewer. Moving 360 video footage has become one of M7Virtual's specialties, where many others are still on locked tripod shots

Camera, lens and rig configurations are a very important factor in the creation of 360 video. We have standardised on GoPro, Z-camera and Sony A7S II cameras for all our shoots, often changing lens and camera rigs as a shoot progresses. We will often opt to use  GoPro rigs with modified 194° fisheye lenses when we shoot in confined spaces and for moving shots . The final resolution drops slightly but we are still able to offer 6K output using these lenses. The tradeoff of reduced resolution is outweighed by the benefits of the increased overlap for super stitched virtual reality 360 footage.

GoPro 360 video rig

For shots that require high detail and clarity in low light situations we will opt for the Z-camera or Sony A7S II rigs. Our wealth of knowledge on 360 shoots allows us to determine the best rig for a particular situation, minimising the time spent in post to fix unwanted issues and giving our clients the best results possible.

Sony A7S II 360 video rig

We offer a number of rigs capable of capturing moving shots, each with a specific purpose. These include:

Drone Aerial 360 Virtual Reality

Through our sister company M7Aerial we have a number of years experience of legal, safe and professional drone operation across my countries. We have been able to create highly efficient ways of capturing stunning 360 aerial vr video footage from our fleet of drones.  At the heart of all our aerial 360 work is slow and steady stabilised capture. We have multiple dampening systems fitted to our drones to ensure no micro vibrations are passed to the cameras.

Aerial Drone 360 Capture

We use two types of drones to capture our aerial 360 video footage - our heavy lift DJI S1000 octocopter and smaller quadcopter, the DJI Inspire. Both drones offer different characteristics giving us options on all our shoots. The smaller drone we use is ideal for travel and global projects, and can be transported on aircraft without any restrictions.

Cable Cam 36o VR

We have recently introduced cable cam technology with a heavy duty motorised remote controlled unit capable of 150-200m on highly tensioned rope, as well as a smaller system better suited to shorter movements. Having two options allows us to deploy the best solution on set for the best possible shot. The cable is a great addition to our equipment for a number of reasons. Firstly it offers the ability to dial in a constant speed of movement through a scene and is a safe way of capture, an with some clever post production the cable can be removed from the shot, giving the viewer the impression that the camera is floating through the scene.

360 video cable cam

3 Axis Gimbal

Motorised gimbals have been around in the film industry for a number of years, and work to isolate the camera rig from movements and shakes. These motors are often quite large in size and sit around the back of the camera. However with 360, as the rig captures footage of all angles, these motors would block large portions of the footage being captured. We have been able to create our own custom gimbal rigs, one of only a few in the world at the time of creation, and by placing the motors inside the camera arrangement, we have been able to hide the motors from the camera's view, allowing us to capture seamless stabilised 360 footage.

360 Video Gimbal

Many 360 video virtual reality experts refer to ' The Magic Circle', an imaginary sphere surrounding the camera that works as a guide to how close objects can be to the camera before parallax becomes a major issue for stitching. We typically work to a 1.5m rule, and any object closer than this will result in the need for extensive post production work for fixing tears and seams in footage.

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