This year’s Black Box presentation zone at Mediatech Africa included a brand-new element, allowing those who couldn’t attend the show a remote – yet immersive – experience of the hugely popular exhibition space through 360-degree video content published across social media platforms.

ETECH caught up with Telmo Dos Reis, managing director of VR Capture, to learn more about the evolution of the technology, its current applications and how it might affect live entertainment industries in years to come…

TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AS A CONTENT PRODUCER

I’ve been making VR content for about four-and-a-half years – and now that’s all I do. Before that I had a music studio where I used to make radio ads and produce music; that studio lasted 12 years. Later I had a video production company that has now morphed into VR capture, specialising in 360 video and virtual reality production. I have worked on various VR projects – around 70 or so. This has ranged from corporate training modules to the tourism industry and even the nature conservation industries. There have been some really good clients along the way including South African Tourism, Amarula, Asilia, Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund and many others. I have been fortunate enough to have travel and filmed in about 10 countries, all because of VR and 360° video work. 

We can come in at any point of the production – from the video capture, spatial audio recordings, the post-production – but what we really like to do is take the client through from scripting to storyboarding, then film it, edit it – because we know how the final product is going to look and feel, so it’s helpful to be involved at every step along the way. We have a lot of experience, so it’s nice to have control of the process.

Telmo Dos Reis with the Insta 360 Pro Camera

HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT TRAINING?

I’m all self-taught. I have a degree in music technology but no formal training on video or VR production. I learned on the job. We had a client approach us and ask if we could do a 360° 3D video for the Oculus Rift. This wasn’t being done in South Africa or really even being spoken much about at the time. I researched different ways of stitching video together and I decided that I understood the process enough to go forward with the project. I like to think that it’s often better to just dive in the deep end and then learn to swim thereafter. When the day of shooting came, we didn’t have a specialised camera yet – but we made a plan by basically strapping a bunch of Go Pros together in correct alignment around a wooden block, and it worked. Not only did it work, but it was a pretty good result overall. We successfully captured, lit and recorded audio perfectly the first time around, all in 360°. Luckily, I had two months to complete the video in post and by the time we finished, we actually managed to produce South Africa’s first 3D 360-degree video. So we went right into the thick of it and we’ve been refining our workflows ever since.

HOW DID YOU RIG FOR THE BLACK BOX SHOOT?

The camera rig we had for the Black Box wasn’t actually the most ideal for the purpose. We used the Insta 360 Pro – a really good camera, it has six lenses and it shoots 8K 360º video, but it’s not perfect for indoor scenarios. So I had to work on the footage in post-production to get it looking like it does now. I think it came out pretty good in the end. Normally you would want to shoot on something like this with a custom-built DSLR rig or something like that. Most virtual reality cameras aren’t great in low-light conditions.

WHAT DEVELOPMENTS HAVE LED TO THE USE OF 360 VIDEO ACROSS SMART DEVICES?

360° video capable mobile technology has been available for a number of years now. Google pushed this a lot with Google Cardboard which could basically turn any smart phone into a VR headset, including in 3D. 360° video is also so easy to embed online these days – anyone doing website design can go online and find codes and plugins with 360° video support or just an embedded YouTube video. You can see that the major tech players know that this is the direction that content is going in: Google drove a lot of initial momentum with 360° video support on their website and apps, Samsung went in big and launched the Gear VR headset that works with their phones, while Facebook bought Oculus and is pushing to make VR a live social experience.  

ARE YOU SURPRISED TO NOT SEE MORE PENETRATION OF VR PRODUCTS AT MEDIATECH?

No, not really – I was hoping to see more of if but not totally surprised, either. I find that the crowd at Mediatech is often more geared towards staging, live productions and the broadcasting industries. VR doesn’t really fit into any of those sectors at the moment really, at least not for the end user. The use of the tech is still growing all over the world, not just South Africa or Africa, we are certainly not behind in any way. People are still amazed when they encounter this tech for the first time. There are still a lot of people for whom this technology is still new and unfamiliar.

IN YOUR OPINION, IS THIS TECHNOLOGY STILL UNDER-EXPLOITED IN SOME ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRIES?

I would have thought that a lot more music videos would have been made in 360° and more streaming of live 360° concerts – but the thing is, 360° video is still finding its feet and slotting into various industries with different use cases. Maybe the concert model is not right at the moment, but it is coming – we will watch live concerts in VR in the near future. Going forward, you’ll start to see people selling virtual tickets, which will allow anyone to ‘attend’ a live concert, in virtual reality, from anywhere in the world. Plus they are guaranteed a fully immersive experience of the concert, they can choose their seats and the audio will be placed in a ‘realistic’ spatial domain.

It opens up some completely different models and new opportunities. The TV isn’t going anywhere – your major streaming services aren’t going anywhere, either – but 360 video is slowly finding its little home in a variety of industries.

I think that when 5G is in full use we will see the mass adoption that we, as content producers, are waiting for. 360° video files, at good resolution, are really large files and to stream them needs some serious internet connectivity and bandwidth. The types of speeds required are simply not there yet and not accessible by most people.

WHEN THESE CONDITIONS ARE IN PLACE, WHAT IS THE NEXT WAVE OF THE TECHNOLOGY THAT YOU ANTICIPATE?

Volumetric video is where this is going. It is like a 3D movie, but one that you can move around in. You will be able to this in VR too. Imagine watching your favourite sports team live in VR and be able to move/fly around the stadium and view the action from any position you want.

I see the sporting broadcast industry making good use of this going forward, as well as Hollywood movie studios to get what would have been impossible shots and angles with current camera technology. When that happens, and we’re really not far from this point, then I think that side of the industry will start to take off and become broadly adopted.

We are already using a version of this technology to capture the full human body in 3D. Making them into 3D models that can be used in VR and AR applications and holographic-type projections. Through using photogrammetry techniques to create the scene and game engines to create the user interface, we will soon be able to walk around in a movie scene from any position inside the actual scene. By adding spatial computing and AI into the VFX workflow, we have a whole new type of medium growing and I think that content we watch in the future is going to look a lot different from what we are watching now. 

WHAT IS THE KEY ADVANTAGE OF 360° VIDEO CONTENT?

All content is about storytelling. And what we do brings an immersive quality to the experience – actually being able to put people in a location, it’s a tremendously powerful tool to use. When produced and crafted correctly, a 360° video can make the person watching feel like they have had an experience rather than simply watched a video. This is what we do at VR Capture – we make cinematic 360° video and take our audiences on memorable experiences.