Rocking out onstage with Matt Jaffe at the Sweetwater Music Hall. (And what a difference a year makes.)
Every year my friend Matt Jaffe puts on a free Christmas Eve show for his home town at our local nightclub, the legendary Sweetwater. This year was no exception (!) and Matt brought in his friends Adam Nash, Rob Dietrich, Alex Coltharp and James DePrato to rock the place. I showed up with the Z CAM V1 to see if I could capture something unique and exciting, and especially if I could do better than the capture I made at last year’s show with the Insta 360 Pro.
As it turned out, I was able to create something quite wonderful. It’s a magical experience in which you’re standing right next to Matt as he shreds the guitar and belts out the tunes on stage. I chose to capture three songs that were emblematic of the show… an original from his new album “The Spirit Catches You,” a cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” and my favorite… a cover of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man.”
These three short experiences are best viewed on a headset in the SamsungVR app, which is available for the Samsung GearVR and Oculus Go headsets. In the SamsungVR app please search on my last name “Yost” to find my channel (remember to click on the channel button) and before you watch this in the app, please download the file locally to view without having to deal with the latency and resolution artifacts inherent with streaming (unless of course you have fast wi-fi at your home). The few extra minutes it’ll take to download the file are more than worth it, and you can free up the space after watching. If you don’t have a headset you can order one here for less than $200. Until then, you can watch it in your browser by clicking on the thumbnails above and watching directly on your screen on Youtube. Alternately, if you have YoutubeVR you can save the links in this playlist to your own playlist and watch it on the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, Google Daydream or Samsung GearVR.
For this shoot I chose to put the camera about 18” from the mic stand. The Z CAM V1 is the only 3D/360° camera capable of such close proximity and I was confident that it could handle it well. My goal is that when you’re in the headset you feel Matt’s energy in a way that no other position in the club could provide. How often do you get to stand 2’ away from a performer on stage! This is the ultimate way to see a show and as you look around and see everyone in the club enjoying the show the feeling of immersiveness is palpable. Here I am checking the camera location.
Post-production on this was fairly straightforward. I did a Wonderstitch test first and saw that the optical flow algorithm was having a bit of trouble fully isolating the mic stand, most likely being confused by the specular highlights. So I brought it into MistikaVR and added two stereo edge points in the area of the stand, which worked perfectly. Having both Wonderstitch and MistikaVR stitching tools is the best of both worlds and I’m grateful for all the hard work those developers go through to make it possible for us creators to do such amazing things. After stitching, I ran the 6144x6144 master through a Neat Video pass and then through MochaVR’s sharpening tool and finally scaled it down to 4096x4096 for distribution (which helped to add that extra bit of downsampling sharpness that makes the experience extra vivid in the headset).
Connecting with the camera: I had spoken to Matt before the show about how valuable it would be if he would occasionally look directly into the camera. When the performer does this the effect is startling in the headset… it literally embodies the viewer in a way that nothing else can. But during all the excitement of the show that only happened a couple of times very quickly. In the future I’m going to put some colored eye cutouts on the camera to make it super clear to the performers that the camera represents a real person, that ought to help a lot.
Stage bounce: Luckily this club has a very solidly-built stage and I didn’t have to deal with any camera stability/bouncing issues. That said, I’m still looking for a solution to deal with this and if anyone has any ideas, please drop me a note.
House lighting: In the best of all possible worlds I would’ve preferred a bit more house light on the audience. It’s fun to watch them while in the headset but it’s hard to convince show lighting designers that it’s a good thing to do. Still working on that.
This experience was incredibly successful, is extremely intense and super fun. As a point of comparison, the show I shot with the Insta360Pro last year is still up on my Youtube channel. Comparing one of those pieces to one of these is like apples and coconuts… they are light years apart in quality, immersiveness and overall fun. The Z CAM V1 continues to prove itself as the best possible 3D/360 camera solution in the world and I look forward to every project with it.