Gratitude with Con Brio! A new way to create an on-stage 3D 360° experience.
The Sound Summit festival is a yearly musical happening at the amphitheater on top of Mt. Tamalpais in the town where I live in Marin County, California. I always help out my friend Michael Nash (the promoter of the festival) with some sort of video project and this year I requested permission to make a 360 video with one of the bands on stage using the Z CAM V1.
Michael introduced me to Casey Shafer, the manager of Con Brio, a San Francisco Bay Area seven-piece that plays energetic soul, psych-rock and R&B. Named for an Italian musical direction meaning “with spirit,” their charismatic singer Ziek McCarter brings the dance moves (splits and all) of James Brown on stage. These guys are a tight, veteran band that comes across like a party funk version of Sly and the Family Stone… they’re famous around here for converting anyone who sees their electric live show into a fan. This would be the perfect band for capturing a dynamic on-stage performance!
But I’m not making immersive videos just to capture performances… my intent is that with every video I make to bring the viewer deeper into the experience in a way that’s impossible with a traditional 16:9 video.
This is a short 9-minute experience and the best way for you to watch it is through the SamsungVR app, which is available for the Samsung GearVR and Oculus Go headsets. In the SamsungVR app you can search on my last name “Yost” to find my channel (remember to click on the Channel button) and when you do watch this in the app, PLEASE download it locally to view it without having to deal with the resolution artifacts inherent with streaming. The few extra minutes it’ll take to download the file is more than worth it, and you can delete it after watching to free up space. I sincerely recommend that you don’t watch this as a flat video… you’ll completely miss the full power of the experience. If you only have a smartphone, then at the very least please get a Google Cardboard unit, click on the Youtube title of the video in the thumbnail above to load it into your phone and then click on the little “mask” icon at the bottom of the screen to split it into stereo views and using this Youtube link put your phone in the cardboard holder… it’ll work fine.
Given that I’d just had a great success with the Acrobatic Conundrum project, which was structured in a way that combined insights from the performers with dynamic footage of the performance itself, I decided to apply that same structure to the Con Brio project to see how portable that framework is. The first hurdle was to get permission from their manager Casey Shafer to get some “interview” time with singer Ziek McCarter and guitarist Benjamin Andrews after their set. Actually that was simple because they were already familiar with 360 video. In fact Nokia had shot a project with them on the Ozo in early 2017 but the project was killed when the Ozo group was shut down later that year and the band wasn't given any access to the assets. So they were stoked to get my offer.
We chose to shoot the spoken word portion in front of Ben’s funky Ford van in the woods near a fire truck. It was a good location with decent light and far enough away from the stage that the band currently playing wasn’t overpoweringly loud. I gave the guys a specific direction to speak to the feeling that connects them with the entire band on stage... that dynamic of flow that happens within a tight musical ensemble. I wanted to get to the heart of what their motivation for playing together is and how that flow happens for them.
Their first 10 minutes of sharing was at the surface level, factual about how they got together and some history. This was not what I was looking for. I turned off the camera and spoke to them again, asking if there was anything in their history that they could point to as a motivation for their music. As it turned out, the driving force behind Ziek’s unbelievable enthusiasm on stage is that he’s grateful to be alive because when he was 17 he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. His subsequent brain hemorrhage required being resuscitated five times on the way to the hospital and a horribly close call with death. Once they got to that deeper level of motivation… about Ziek’s gratitude for being alive, I knew I had what I needed to create an edit that was emotionally moving, with the super dynamic on-stage footage as a perfect accompaniment. It’s critical to listen very carefully with headphones while your talent is speaking during any interview while holding the intention for what you want to accomplish with the video. I was very clear that I wanted to dig into their motivation for playing that high-energy music and kept rolling until I got what I needed. Of course this meant that I had 25 minutes of footage to stitch, but I do all my offline stitches in MistikaVR at 4k, which is super fast.
Once I marry the offline video to the audio I bring everything into FCPX and start the edit by favoriting the best parts of both the on-stage and spoken word portions. Once I have an edit I’m happy with I switch the FCPX timeline display to “frames” mode and write down the start/end frame numbers that I used within each specific 5-minute chunk (the V1 records sequences in 5-minute lengths). I takes those numbers, plug them into Wonderstitch and initiate online stitches (using the Scene Based Optimization tool). I then replace the offline stitches with the online ones in my timeline and finesse transitions and yaw orientation as needed.
1) On-stage camera placement: While I wanted the camera to be very close to Ziek, I did run into some issues with the “sprung” stage bouncing up and down while he was dancing. If you watch the video in a browser the bounce is noticeable, but in the headset it isn’t because Ziek is bouncing at the same amplitude and frequency as the stage, which essentially cancels the effect of the bounce. That was a relief but it’s a lesson that isolating the camera from any sort of sprung stage is important.
2) Audio: I was lucky to get a board mix and an ambient stereo mic track of the set, but board mixes meant for the sound reinforcement system are not always the best for use in videos. I used the powerful new rebalance features of iZotope’s RX7 DAW to bring Ziek and the bass up in the mix and drop the percussion track lower. I also used RX7 to eliminate as much background noise/music as possible during the spoken word portion using the dialog isolation features. Beyond that of course I used Logic Pro and AmbiPan for the spatial mix during the spoken word portion.
3) Exposure: As you can see, there’s about a 12-stop difference between the shadows on stage and the highlights in the audience area. The band went on just as the doors opened and there weren’t many people in the audience that I needed to show clearly, so I exposed for the onstage shadows and the highlights offstage were a stop overexposed. But what really impressed me about the V1 was that the portions of the stage that were in full sun (particularly on the guitarist, Ben Andrews) were beautifully exposed along with the full-shade areas. That’s amazing for such a small-sensor camera.
4) Rig removal: MochaVR is your friend. !! I removed the rig for all of the spoken word portions in the forest but because the stage was so cluttered with junction boxes and cables I just left the rig visible for the onstage portion. No problem because it just blends into the rest of the onstage gear.
5) Proximity to camera: I had forgotten to brief Ziek and Ben on making sure to stay at least 2’ from the camera, so when I saw them move right up onto it (Ben at one point during his solo getting less than 1’ away!) I was worried about how the stitcher was going to deal with that. But amazingly, Wonderstitch and the V1 proved again that it handles close proximity better than any other 3D 360 camera in the world. When you see Ben right in your face during his absolutely stunning guitar solo you’ll jump back a bit because it’s so intense. The V1 and WS are such an amazing combination of tools.
All in all it was a super fun capture and editing experience, plus I felt that I squeezed the optimal story out of what would normally be a typical on-stage capture. Thanks to Ziek McCarter, Benjamin Andrews and Casey Shafer for making this happen!