CODEX TAKES THE VR STRAIN

Virtual Reality (VR) has opened up a wide range of opportunities for innovation and storytelling, both for manufacturers and for those brave early adopters that are rewriting the book on how to use this new toolset.

 



HEADCASE 


Codex is excited to be working with one of these innovators, cinematographer Andrew Shulkind.

As well as being a successful DP, Andrew has always enjoyed experimenting with new and unique movie-making technologies, whether it’s lighting, cameras, lenses or workflows. 

Can you give us an overview of Headcase and what you do?
Headcase is a collaboration of filmmakers and storytellers. We have varied backgrounds – writing, producing, directing, shooting for movies, commercials and sports – but we share the common goal of bringing a cinematic approach to the burgeoning world of 360˚ content. One of the partners is Lucas Foster, a producer known for action movies like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Crimson Tide, another is Jim Langois, who came up as an editor with Michael Kahn. Other partners have backgrounds in visual effects, the world of sports, and sports marketing and we are working in close partnership with John Fragomeni and Andy Cochrane at Mirada. So Headcase brings a wide range of experience to this new frontier.


Tell us a bit about your background.
I’m a commercials and features cinematographer for a range of big brands and established and up-and-coming directors. These days visual effects play a substantial role in most projects and I get most excited about ambitious projects that push some boundary. I got started in this business as a camera assistant, working for great cinematographers like Darius Khondji ASC AFC, Janusz Kaminski, and Don Burgess ASC. I was always inspired by the way that these cameramen would use technical tools to create high art. That template continues to inform how I approach every job.

Why are you so interested in new technologies and what sparked your interest in VR?
I’m not necessarily a techhead, but I’m always looking for technical and creative solutions to the range of challenges that present themselves on-set when stakes are high, but not just for the sake of using something flashy. You might say that I am a circumspect early adopter; there are always fun and fresh ways to approach the work and the intersection of technology and creativity is what has always drawn me to cinematography. I was fortunate to learn from the best, working my way up right out of art school for the top cinematographers in the business. These days we are faced with new technologies that are constantly eating themselves and we get to employ a lot of these in commercials. So prior experiences with tiny cameras, 3D, shooting some of Apple’s earliest material for the iPad and similar experiences primed me perfectly for thinking in this immersive way. When we joined forces to create Headcase, it was a natural fit and a welcome challenge. Virtual Reality is a unique parallel medium that forces us to think anew about the way that people are engaging with content and with each other. The future is now.

What are some of the challenges in shooting for VR?
Because this is such a new arena, and because many in the space are coming from an engineering background (as opposed to filmmaking), we are constantly modifying and overcoming challenges – some can be solved by technology, some are more to do with shooting in a 360˚ environment. For example, on a recent job, we had to dress my camera operator in wardrobe because it was impossible to avoid them being featured in the shot. From a technological standpoint, it was important to find small cameras that produce high quality images – that was a challenge we’ve overcome. Monitoring is definitely still a challenge. You can look at all the multiple video streams individually or on quad-split monitors but that obviously is missing the immersive piece. So we are finalising a live stitch for on-set viewing which we call our semi-stitch and working with two different partners to customise a solution here. That’s a big step forward.



Why did you decide to work with Codex on a camera solution?
I was already very familiar with Codex and their range of recording, media and workflow products and I knew that their gear was not only always cutting edge but also very reliable and my favourite tool for recording RAW out of the ALEXA. When I first heard about Codex Action Cam, I was very excited. I immediately saw that it could be a great fit for VR projects because it combines three factors that are critical for this kind of work – small size, high quality images, and a robust workflow. We were able to build a 17-camera rig and have all the cameras sync together with matching timecode while encoding metadata. This is very useful for us in the post production flow. And the quality of the image certainly makes the stitching process a lot easier. We call the rig the Headcase Cinema Camera.

Can you talk about some of the projects you’ve been involved in?
There has already been a wide variety, some of which I can’t discuss yet. One that I can talk about is a live-action VR project for FX Networks that was revealed at Comic-Con in July. It’s a two and a half minute piece for Guillermo Del Toro’s The Strain, which makes the participants feel like they are trapped in a warehouse within the story. Interestingly, the experience included a group of six people with synchronised goggles. For shooting, we used the 17-camera rig with Codex Action Cams.

 


“CODEX ACTION CAM IS AN ESSENTIAL BUILDING BLOCK IN OUR SYSTEM.”


Is the Headcase Cinema Camera available for rental?
Yes, it’s available for rental through Radiant Images in Los Angeles. Along with Codex, they’ve been a critical partner in this venture. We do a lot of consulting on these early projects, whether or not I’m the DP.

And finally, what do you think the future holds?
The cinema experience of the future will certainly change – more people today are consuming content on smaller screens and the worlds of cinema and gaming are continuing to merge. No one who puts on the headset thinks that VR is a fad – it’s undoubtedly a part of the future entertainment experience. I think many years down the line we’ll think that the idea of ever having composed for a rectangular screen was cute.

 






 
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