Despite the excitement of its potential, the list of VR practitioners in the production industry is pretty small. Because of this, experts in the field (or, at least, people who have worked in 360/VR/AR in some capacity) are becoming the essential cogs in the machine, turning conventional narratives to full-on ‘experiences’.
One such expert is Bidu Madio, director of animation and VFX at Dogs Can Fly, whose proficiency in the field was proved whilst assisting the production of ‘Story Of Christ’, a feature-length VR project that premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
We were fascinated by the endeavour, so caught up with Bidu to chat about how to turn 2D ideas into 3D realities.
What’s your background in VR?
I've been working in Post-Production, VFX and Animation for 20 years. For the last three or four years I've been studying the technology to mix VFX and animation into VR. I owned a small animation production company and we started to do some advertising in VR, teasers for a NATGEO's Brazilian series and films for languages courses based in virtual environments. Then I worked as a VFX Supervisor for the VR movie ‘Story Of Christ’ which, according to the producers, was the first movie fully made in VR.
How did you get involved in the ‘Story Of Christ’ project?
I was contacted by a producer who was looking for a production company to work with on a VR movie. Actually, they were looking for someone to make the scene when the spikes enter Jesus Christ’s hands. After some tests, I ended up doing all the effects and ambience of the movie, as well as image stitching and color correction.
How does prep for a VR experience differ from a conventional film? What additional aspects need to be considered?
When I was going to the Tech Scout meeting in Italy I met the director of photography Francesco Zaccaria, who asked me where he could place the lighting gear. I kindly explained that he could not light the scenes with normal light equipment because it would appear on the scene… and that that would be the same with the sound crew.
Then, the director David Hansen asked me, "How will I know if the scene is good enough if I’m not going to be able to watch it?". So I had to tell him, a renowned filmmaker, that he should hide behind a bush to see what he was filming.
In the movie we can see him featured in the scenes, there's no ‘behind the camera’, no lenses, zooms or tilts. I believe that directors will have to find a new way to tell a story.
Aside from that, did you encounter many problems on the shoot?
On the first day shooting in Italy, the director asked me if was too early to do a VR movie. I got mad trying to solve questions of the sound, camera and lighting teams. That was the day I started thinking… YES! It was too early! But, really, NO! We are pioneers.
In fact we didn’t actually have ‘problems’ as every question was new, every issue had to be solved at that time and with everyone involved. It was an amazing experience for me and I believe that is was the same for everybody involved in the movie.
What sort of stories benefit from the technique? Is there anything that shouldn’t be considered for VR?
I believe that every story in VR must get benefits from technique. Otherwise, why should you use the giant goggles!? Just to look around for five minutes and then watch something you could watch on a regular monitor?
The storytelling has to be within the VR.
What’s influenced your VR work? Film? Video games? Theatre?
I like the classics. I like to go back in time to think anew. I really like silent films, old animations and musicals. George Meliés is my inspiration.
What do you think is the future for VR filmmaking?
It's hard to say. I think that VR storytelling is still in development. Everything is new. The directors have to improve their techniques. I believe that the future of this depends of what we are going to do now. We can't use VR only because it is new, we have to create a way to tell a story that is impossible to do in other technologies.
What would you like to see developed to aid the VR experience?
I believe that the VR goggles must be lighter, more comfortable and cheaper. They need to be something that you can use for more than 20 minutes.
What are you doing next?
I'm working on a VR animated series for kids.