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:

 

M7Virtual embarked on another 360 VR shoot for the global marketing agency R/GA for the Siemens Future Makers project recently. We enjoyed working alongside the leading film production company RSA. This shoot would require the team to travel to Richmond, Virginia via Chicago, Illinois.

The success of this sort of project was reliant upon meticulous preparation and organisation. This was apparent when working with a company like RSA Films.

A number of problems can be encountered when travelling via multiple destinations for a 360 VR shoot. Flights can be cancelled and essential kit can be lost. Arriving in Chicago, the team faced both of these problems. A snowstorm hitting the city meant all connecting flights being cancelled and our kit going missing.

In case of this problem the team had pre-packed all 20 GoPro cameras and 6 Z-Cam cameras into hand luggage. This ensures that the most important kit stays with the team at all times. However we were still without our grip equipment which is just as integral to a 360 VR shoot.

An extra night in Chicago was required due to all flights being cancelled. We then flew to Charlotte, North Carolina for a connecting flight the following morning. Usually when this sort of problem occurs it would be up to the team to come up with a solution. By working with RSA Films, it meant the team didn't have to worry about solving this problem, which allowed us to concentrate on the job at hand.

The main protagonist of the film was Devon Tooley, a software developer for Siemens. Some of the shots included in the film captured Devon relaxing in her home playing her cello, whilst also keeping fit when running over the Belle Isle bridge. Both of these shots had different technical requirements. By bringing our VR expertise to the table we were able to use different camera rigs to achieve the best results for the client.

Devon's home had quite low lighting so we chose to use the Z-Cam E1 Z4XL rig due to it's ability to capture low light conditions. This kept the shot looking natural. When capturing the scene of Devon running over the bridge we used our Freedom 360 Broadcast rig. The MKX-19 Izugar lenses are ideal for this sort of shot. By using this rig it allowed us to shoot Devon running past the camera at close proximity, which our director, Juriaan Booij, favoured due to his intimate filming style.

This highlighted the importance of having different 360 camera rigs for different scenarios and also the value and knowing when to use them.

In contrast to these shots, we also captured Devon in her working environment in the Siemens DMDII facility in Chicago. This shot required a little more technical thinking. This was due to the shot demonstrating Devon speaking to her colleagues via webcam using a large projection screen. Due to the lighting conditions of the scene, projecting a video onto the screen during the shot caused a problem. The team overcame this by plating the projected video. Then we put it back in during the post production process.

Virtual reality is a fantastic way of immersing a viewer into another persons world. Not only where we able to allow the viewer to experience Devon’s lifestyle but we were able to capture Devon’s working environment and how she has come up with new ways of working together and sharing knowledge.

Working with RSA Films on this project showed M7Virtual the real value and importance of planning and preparation. When working abroad it's important to have a contingency plan in place for when problems out of your control occur. We look forward to our next project working with RSA Films and the next leg of our Siemens We Are Future Makers tour.

The finished film is available for download as part of the Siemens Future Makers app on the Apple App Store and Android Play Store, and can also be viewed on the Siemens website.

The second instalment for the Siemens Future Makers project saw the M7 team travel to Chengdu, China for another immersive 360 VR shoot working with agency R/GA and RSA Films.

The VR shoot saw us spending 10 days in the city, which would encompass a wide variety of Chinese culture. This  included nature parks, traditional wok houses, tai-chi sessions and night markets. We also visited the Siemens digital factory. This formed the main storyline of the film along with our talent - Zheng Shao Qu, a Siemens employee working at the factory.

After an initial rest day to refresh our body clocks, we spent a further 2 days viewing locations. This allowed us to determine potential shots and think about which 360 camera rigs would work best for each shot.

We began the 360 VR shoot in the evening of the second day, capturing the Chengdu skyline during the dusk to night transition in 360 VR timelapse. This gave us a head start on the shoot and meant that we had already ticked off a shot going into the first day's shooting.

The first shoot day saw us filming Shao Qu and his friends playing Mahjong, a traditional Chinese board game in one of Chengdu's people's parks. We filmed this shot on our Z-Cam E1 Z4XL rig which gave us great colour and plenty of overlap from the Izugar MKX-22 fisheye lenses. We used our Samsung Gear 360 camera mounted above the rig to act as a quick and simple live preview for our director Juriaan who hid out of shot close by.

From here we went to a bustling market street to set up for an evening shot of Shao Qu and his friends walking through the city looking for a place to eat. The bright colours of the Chinese lanterns and various LED signs in and around the buildings lit up the street. Being a dusk shot, we again opted for our Z-Cam rig for its low light potential given its large Micro Four-Thirds sensor.

The changing lighting conditions during dusk meant that we chose to set a given shutter speed and allow the camera to determine the optimum ISO. Setting the exposure compensation individually for each camera meant that we could balance out the exposures between the different cameras. The fisheye lenses became very useful again for the fast aperture and extensive overlap, as there was a lot of movement crossing between seams. Using the Samsung Gear 360 again we were able to provide Juriaan our director with a live preview of the scene.

The next day we moved location to the Siemens Digital Factory. Here we captured Shao Qu working in the factory with his colleagues. We had a large number of shots to film here, all within a limited time. This meant we had to split the team into 2 camera units. However this allowed us to be more efficient with our available time. We used our custom built 360 gimbal to follow our talent as he walked through the factory. This allowed us to introduce a moving shot which worked very well in that particular environment.

Our final scene of the film features Zheng Shao Qu and his colleagues enjoying a traditional Chinese banquet. This shot presented a number of technical challenges. We determined that the camera was to be positioned right in the action on the table, this then posed stitching issues due to the close proximity of the food on the table. For this reason we chose to use our GoPro rig with Izugar lenses to give us the least parallax possible for a 360 rig.

The finished film is available for download as part of the Siemens Future Makers app on the Apple App Store and Android Play Store, and can also be viewed on the Siemens website.

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