The entertainment space has always served as a breeding ground for technological experimentation. Over the past several years, such experimentation has taken flight with the rise of creative, emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR). No longer must you, the audience, simply sit back and watch within a static frame the filmmaker has set for you. Now you can explore a given space from every angle – 360 degrees around, to be exact.
Since the dawn of consumer-accessible VR content, creators around the world have fully embraced the medium and fine-tuned its ever-changing methodology, accepting 360 media as an undeniable force in the present and future of storytelling. Music video directors in particular took quickly to the medium as a new, exciting way of connecting artists to their fans.
As is the nature of technology, there’s always a next step. Whether viewing VR content by way of a traditional headset, such as the Samsung Gear VR, or through a smartphone or tablet, you’re engaging in an immersive, visual experience. But what about harnessing and manipulating other senses, such as sound?
Following the launch of YouTube 360, which hosts immersive content on the YouTube website and mobile app, the company decided to introduce ambisonic sound capabilities to its platform – meaning that users with the appropriate software would also be fully immersed in sound just as they were with visuals. With ambisonic capabilities embedded into the experience, the sound is spatialized around you and reacts to where your ears are in relation to where the sounds are, resulting in a sense of immersion in a sonic environment as you move your head around.
With the impending launch of this new capability, YouTube sought out fresh content to demonstrate it. It was then that Mill+ entered the conversation: the team began to brainstorm how to demonstrate the capabilities of ambisonic sound on YouTube in a unique, visually engaging way.
Around the same time, Mill+ consulted with the audio specialists at Aurelia Soundworks who were on their own mission to showcase their expertise in ambisonics. The resulting idea was an atmospherically- and and musically-driven video for UK beatboxing champion Reeps One (a.k.a Harry Yeff), which would utilize an original track specifically written for composing in 360 sound.
Once the team knew they wanted to create an original music piece with the talent of Reeps One attached, it was decided that each location featured throughout would be effectively used as an instrument. Mill+ Director Gawain Liddiard and his team of artists and technologists scouted accessible locations around Southern California that provided stunning visual and sonic palettes.
“We assigned a different sonic effect to each location,” Gawain recalls. “For the shack, it was an overdriven speaker; for the concrete warehouse, it was a slap echo; and so on. We built a catalogue of sounds to use as instruments, around which the track itself would later be formulated.”
The team knew what they needed to capture from each environment before they arrived on-set. Gawain continues, “We captured everything in a quick manner with one camera rather than using a full VR rig. That generated great visual chunks, and as we developed the song and the visuals, we massaged them together so the cuts, jumps and beat all worked together in unison.”
Behind the Scenes
The end product, ‘Does Not Exist’, is full audience immersion in the center of a musical experience, exploring locations that are both sonically and visually impressive in a convergence of sound and picture.
The piece was met with an overwhelmingly positive response at its premiere at the YouTube Beach in Cannes in 2016, and went on to gain recognition against top sound companies at multiple award shows, including UKMVA, Raindance and the Proto Awards. It has also toured over two dozen festivals and exhibitions around the globe, and served as the inspiration for presentations at the likes of SXSW and beyond. Since its launch, the experience has been made available on Facebook 360 with an upgraded, state-of-the-art sound mix.
‘Does Not Exist’ serves as a prime example of what can be done in 360, in a limited time frame and with lean resources, without sacrificing quality of any kind. With contributions from our talented collaborators, Mill+ drove the production from concept to finish while advising on technical solutions that would allow the team to set the highest possible standard.