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Enter the prison of a disturbed mind... Witness the haunting spasms of a guilty conscience... Experience a disintegration of sanity... Nowhere invites you to explore the boundaries of a new immersive cinematic medium. Your descent into madness awaits!
Discover how the crew made themselves invisible on set. Watch cast members discuss working with a stereoscopic camera as a fellow actor. Get an impression of the challenges and adventure involved in creating a cinematic world in which the viewer is always at the center of the action.
BEFORE THE VIRTUAL REALITY RENAISSANCE
In the summer of 2015, Nokia Technologies prepared to release the OZO, a fully integrated portable digital camera with 8 lenses, capable of recording stereographic video and audio in a 360-degree angle. To help the company communicate to directors and producers the revolutionary new possibilities of creating high-quality virtual reality film footage, Nokia’s design department approached Danny Hollander, a video producer and visual effects specialist who had worked with the company on many occasions. Recently, Danny had created a documentary chronicling the development of the OZO and now Nokia asked him to create a number of online-commercials as part of a teaser-campaign for the camera. In addition, the company also requested that Danny produce a short virtual reality film to test and demonstrate the OZO’s potential.
Danny contacted longtime collaborator Mathieu van den Berk, a director whose experience as a theatre actor made him specifically well-suited to direct a virtual reality production in which viewers would feel themselves to be at the center of a play.
“In preparation, I recorded myself in virtual reality as an actor, experiencing myself afterwards from the perspective of the audience,” Mathieu recounts. “It was instantly clear to me that the actors would need to relate to the camera as a fellow actor with as much intimacy as possible.”
As anyone knows who has explored virtual reality, the sense of immersion we experience is mostly due to the effect of spatiality; the feeling of actually being physically present in a virtual world. In this hermetically sealed space, emotions are often felt with great intensity. Aware of the power of virtual reality to engage viewers, Mathieu wrote a draft script to elicit within the audience an emotion that most human beings tend to feel with considerable urgency: fear. To create a plausible explanation for the inability of viewers to move around within the cinematic virtual environment, he situated the film in a police station in which the audience was a restrained suspect being interrogated.
When asked about the meaning of the film’s title, Danny gave the following reply:
“The experience of virtual reality is one of disembodied consciousness. In a sense, we are nowhere, but at the same time we are here and now, or nowhere.”
With a draft script, a synopsis and a detailed production plan, Danny and Mathieu presented Nokia with a 28,000 euro estimate to shoot an 8-minute virtual reality short film featuring 4 actors.
MYSTERIOUS EERINESS AND FRIENDLY EYES
To transform the draft script into an effective screenplay, Danny approached Lee Mason, a writer with whom he had collaborated on the OZO-commercials.
“The feel of Mathieu’s draft script reminded me of David Lynch’s Lost Highway,” Lee states. “So, while I was writing the screenplay, I aimed to preserve the original atmosphere of mysterious eeriness.”
Resituating the film within the context of a psychiatric hospital, Lee rewrote the dialogue to increase a sense of realism and transmute the story into a psychological thriller.
At the outset of the casting process, Mathieu decided to work with theatre actors who were skilled at improvisation and used to making their performance as relevant to the audience as possible. After all, viewers of virtual reality films can turn their heads and look away from actors any time they wish to.
Easiest to cast were the twins, Sarah and Freya Eshuijs, whose characteristic Dutch features and surrealist style of movement made them a perfect fit for the role of a former kidnapping victim suffering from dissociative identity disorder. After a series of auditions, Mathieu cast Peter More as the subpersonalities of “the man”, impressed by Peter’s ability to balance an introverted, restrained acting style with an air of volatility. Based on her sympathetic presence and friendly eyes, Mathieu cast Kiki Hohnen to portray “the woman”, a beacon of warmth and empathy amidst the story’s recurring nightmare.
To help the actors with speaking parts in the film prepare for their roles, Lee made an audio recording of the screenplay’s dialogue, voicing tone and intensity to illustrate the rise and fall of emotionality throughout the story.
THE REWARDS OF REVIEWING
To impress upon viewers the sense of being trapped in a recurring nightmare, Nowhere is designed as a loop. Also, the story is designed in such a way that the audience is rewarded for watching the film more than once.
“As a viewer,” Mathieu says, “you’re in a 360°-environment, of which you can only see 140° at a time, simply because of the limits of our human field of vision. So you literally can’t see the entirety of happening around you throughout the film all at once. Besides, it makes for an unpleasant viewing experience if you continually turn your head in all directions. This means that, if you watch Nowhere a second, a third, or even a fourth time, you’re bound to discover new sights you hadn’t noticed before.”
As a story, too, Nowhere is constructed so that the first viewing leaves the audience with a number of intriguing questions they can find the answers to by watching the film again, from a deeper, more complete perspective.
“Nowhere is designed to reward the audience,” Danny adds, “for watching the film once, but also for watching the film multiple times.”
To preserve a sense of continuity for viewers, Danny, Mathieu and Lee wanted to keep the number of edits in Nowhere to a minimum. This meant that the actors needed to rehearse the entirety of the film as a single take. To help the actors prepare as effectively as possible for the recording process, Danny, Mathieu and Lee combined their strengths during rehearsals.
“My primary focus was on directing the actors’ postures, movements, expressiveness and interactions,” says Mathieu. “For example, I wanted Kiki’s character to move slowly and gracefully. Peter’s character, on the other hand, had to move with unpredictable jolts. Meanwhile, Lee had the screenplay in front of him and coached the actors on text delivery, phrasing and emphasis. Every so often, Danny, who was observing the rehearsals from the perspective of a producer and cameraman, provided the actors with guidance on keeping enough distance between themselves and the camera, or how to interact with the set he was designing. The synergy was quite inspiring, with everyone working hard to bring out the best in each other.”
In between rehearsals, Danny and theatre designer Sabine Bezuijen were focused on developing a design language to best fit the story. Sabine opted for a strong red color code for the man, a softer yellow for the woman and an innocent pink for the young women. In designing the set, Danny integrated the storyline into the room, dividing the set into a front section with the bright feel of a hospital and a rear section that gradually degenerates into a dark and squalid den.
“Danny and I intentionally created a visual contrast between the room design and the costumes,” Sabine explains, “because we wanted to emphasize the disjointed nature of the recurring nightmare the audience finds themselves in.”
Danny approached Jurie Rotgans, with whom he had collaborated on earlier projects, to build the set according to the specifications Sabine and he had arrived at. After construction was completed, Danny introduced the props he had acquired for the film and, together with Sabine and Judith Segers, completed the set design in meticulous detail.
“Of particular importance was the door,” Danny explains. “From inside the room, it needed to suggest the existence of a beyond, a mirrored reality on the other side. From outside, the door needed to allow us to shoot into the room. I had determined the dimensions the window needed to be early on, but the size of the door and the way it opens changed a number of times throughout the pre-production process. In the draft script it opened both ways; in the screenplay it opened outward; but during rehearsal we discovered the door needed to open inward for the actors to be able to move around effectively on set.”
HIDING THE CREW
After the set had been built and all other preparations had been made, the cast and crew came together for a day of rehearsal on set. Abderrazak Moufid, a photographer with experience in theatre, filmed the footage that Danny would later condense into a making-of video as well as a series of videos to provide Nokia with feedback regarding working with the OZO-camera.
“One of the greatest challenges of creating a stereoscopic cinematic film is that you have to hide the crew,” says Danny. “We succeeded in doing this by building a sealed set and hiding camera wires under props featured in the script. But communication between the cast and crew provided something of a challenge. To be able to monitor the actors’ performance, we had two options. A stereoscopic stream from the OZO that one person at a time could watch through a head-mounted display and a flattened two-dimensional image shown on a regular monitor. Unfortunately, the delay from the live stream made it impossible to properly time lighting cues, so I made a tiny hole in the wall in a dark section of the set and attached a small camera with a wide-angle lens to the opening.”
Carlos Dalla-Fiore, sound technician and sound designer, integrated the audio recording into the set.
“I built an omnidirectional microphone into the set to monitor sound,” Carlos adds. “Also, in addition to the microphones already recording sound on the OZO, I wanted to equip Kiki and Peter with wireless lavalier microphones. Of course, the crew also needed to be able to communicate with the cast, so I built a speaker into the set too.”
Karen Schreuder, who was responsible for the actors’ make-up, collaborated closely with Carlos to hide a microphone in Peter’s hairline.
To help operate one of the early production models of the OZO, Nokia asked Greg Furber and Gregg Bond from a UK-based creative agency to facilitate the recording.
After successfully recording the scenes that would eventually become Nowhere, post- production began. Carlos created a sound design rooted as much as possible in realism. Using elements from the screenplay, such as generator sounds and door buzzers, but also adding location sounds, such as rolling chair wheels, he subtly emphasized the mysterious and eerie atmosphere of the film.
During the first phase of video editing, Danny constructed Nowhere out 8 different takes.
“Technically, editing virtual reality footage is much the same as non-destructive editing of any other digital source,” Danny says. “Only now you have much higher resolution. Mathieu and I used OZO Creator to determine which takes to use and how to time the soundscape, often using a head-mounted display to determine the distance between the actors and the camera.”
THE TECHNICALITIES OF THE MATTER
When asked to explain his approach in further technical detail, Danny was eager to oblige.
“I’m happy to help any filmmakers by sharing the insights I gained from creating Nowhere,” he nods. “Eventually I chose to export only the four horizontal camera footage as Adobe digital negative sequences, which resulted in the highest quality. I then used Adobe After Effects and Neat Video eliminating any visual noise and also to apply coloring. Finally, I used the CARA-tools in Nuke to stitch per shot.”
Danny recounts how the scene in Nowhere he had the most difficulty with in post-production was the one in which the twins emerge from both sides of the camera, because they first move slowly across the seams between the lenses of the OZO, before finally standing still in between the lenses, only a meter away from the camera.
“After stitching,” Danny explains, “I edited Nowhere in NukeStudio to generate high- quality stereo 4k and TopBottom UHD exports with as few filters and as little compression as possible.”
Because Nowhere was developed to showcase the potential of the OZO, Danny chose to utilize the entire range of the camera’s color possibilities, from darkness in the first scene to a scene in which Kiki is wearing a white lab coat against a white background.
As with the film’s visual world, the dimension of Nowhere’s sound is the result of a process of thoughtful consideration and intentional design.
“Before we started on Nowhere,” Carlos recalls, “Danny asked me along to Finland to handle the audio-recording of the OZO Making-Of interviews. During this project, I spoke to the engineers responsible for creating the camera and learned a great deal about the surround-recording capabilities of the OZO.”
When production started on Nowhere, Carlos read the script with this technical insight in mind and came to two conclusions.
“First of all,” Carlos says, “I wanted the sound-design of the film to reflect the way in which the story allows the audience to create their own personal interpretations of their VR-experience.”
To achieve this goal, Carlos created a world of sound that is almost entirely abstract in its ambience, with a minimalistic score that allows viewers the freedom to experience Nowhere on their own terms.
“Second,” Carlos continues, “I concluded that, in addition to using the OZO’s surround audio-recording capabilities, I would also equip the actors with concealed wireless microphones. My intuition was that, although the recording would take place in the controlled environment of a constructed set, the interaction between the actors as described in the script implied that the film’s audio would most likely need to be completely rebuilt during post-production.”
Carlos’ intuition would prove to be correct.
“In the end,” he adds, “we used the OZO recording for reference, but ended up re- building all of the audio. I’d recorded foley a few days before the set was torn down and, later, Danny helped with character foley and editing in Final Pro X, while I worked on composition and set up the sound mix.”
When asked about the technical aspects of the post-production process, Carlos replied:
“Based on feedback from post-production companies that had already worked on OZO- productions, we decided to use a 7.0 surround speaker setup and Pro Tools,” he recounts. “After a few sessions, Danny and I realized that, as the audience would be experiencing the sound of Nowhere on headphones, so binaurally, we could abandon the 7.0 physical intermediate. This was convenient, as the surround array was cumbersome to setup and difficult to work in with several people at once. I continued to work in Pro Tools, using a virtual surround driver- combined with the on-board sound- card in my laptop. This way Pro Tools could work with 7 channels and Danny and I could process the output to binaural in real-time and simply work with headphones. The downside was that we weren’t able to get head-tracking translated in real-time to the binaural plug-in. Eventually, we ended up mixing using a flattened 2D preview with angle-marker overlays, then exporting to OZO-viewer software, meanwhile taking notes for revisions.”
When asked whether Carlos has any advice for sound technicians involved with virtual reality productions, he said:
“Moving forward to future productions, I see little need to stick with industry standards. Personally, I’m considering moving to Reaper with the Ambisonics toolkit.”
For more information, please contact Danny Hollander via: firstname.lastname@example.org