What It's Like Shooting VR during a Pandemic

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Recently, I was contacted through ProductionHUB to shoot a VR video tour for Lima Corporate, an international, cutting edge medical device manufacturer and 3D printer. The facility is connected to NYC’s Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS). Lima’s engineers work directly with HSS surgeons to 3D print titanium medical devices, which help patients regain lost physical mobility. I was excited for the opportunity, but there was one caveat—we were in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. 

NYC had been under lockdown for several months at this point, which caused several logistic problems. The client had personnel throughout the United States, England, and Italy that needed to be at the facility prior to shooting. Since this building is attached to a hospital, our team couldn’t simply walk inside while Covid 19 hospitalizations were currently peaking.

How did we plan for a complex 360 degree VR shoot when we couldn’t meet in person or do any crucial location scouting? 

There was a serendipitous perk the lockdown revealed; companies were now comfortable with remote work and communication tools including video chat and live streaming. My cinematographer Chad Cooper and I prepared by using video chat meetings, floorplans, still photos of the facility throughout its construction, and livestreamed walkthroughs by the client’s onsite employees. Using this information, we created a thorough creative brief describing all scene direction, extras, VO, and pre-visuals (for VFX) that would occur on screen. We also remotely worked with the client to produce a detailed shot list, editing decision list, and production schedule.

Shooting in VR is completely different from shooting a standard 2D piece. With VR you must be aware of your camera’s position relative to both your actors and your location’s geometry. Improper placement of these elements will result in significant distortion in your shot after your stitching is completed. The rooms we were shooting in had their own challenges:

  • The exterior shot by the building entrance needed its doors to be cleaned and kept open before shooting. 
  • The showroom needed rearrangement so the personnel wouldn’t be distorted in VR. 
  • The engineering, conference, and EBM rooms needed to be filled with personnel on set and in turn, post production graphics had to compensate for this set up.  
  • In the CNC room personel and the building’s doorway would have been heavily distorted if the VR camera’s placement were off by less than an inch.
  • The inspection and laser printing rooms were tight and filled with personnel and graphics that were timed to the VO.  

The client also wanted several other VFX elements in each shot, and these moving images, video clips, and graphics were timed with the VO and scene action. The post elements needed consideration during prep and production, and were thoroughly discussed prior to arriving on set. The benefit of knowing everything and documenting each VFX element with the client granted us the flexibility to make last minute changes during production and in post.   

Throughout production safety was our first priority. We were attached to a hospital facility in the middle of NYC during one of the worst periods of the Covid 19 pandemic. We had strict safety measures in place to ensure there was no physical contact between the crew and client. Everyone was tested and recently vaccinated prior to arriving on set, and our production remained sanitary at all times. For the shots that required extras to be unmasked, we did so while everyone was properly socially distanced. Production ensured the HVAC system was running at all times. 

Our post team worked remotely in NYC during set hours. This team included an audio engineer, stitcher, colorist, VFX specialist, and post-production coordinator. Whenever we received feedback from the client, each team member made those changes and compiled everything in the updated deliverable. We simultaneously worked in multiple post-production programs which required considerable computing power and technical knowledge to navigate the numerous issues that appear during graphic design, editing, and exports. 

Although everyone at ProductionHUB, Lima Corporate, and our team were socially distanced prior to shooting, we utilized communication technologies in new ways to stay in step with the client and overcome numerous pandemic, logistical, and scheduling problems to successfully produce a beautiful VR video.

You can view the VR video trailer on Lima’s Youtube channel here: https://youtu.be/LrNGa5yOcNs    

For more information, visit www.BetweenPictures.co, @BetweenPictures on Instagram and Twitter, or the company’s ProductionHUB profile. 

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About the Author

David Garcia
David Garcia
David Garcia has worked in the film and media production industry for over ten years. He directs, produces, and consults on commercial, music video, narrative, and VR content through his full-service production company Between Pictures LLC. Some of his clients include Comedy Central, GREATs, New York Times, and Walmart, and his work has been seen on both major networks and streaming services.

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