Google ATAP released the latest installment in the Spotlight Stories series, ‘HELP’, their first immersive, live action film made uniquely for mobile.
‘HELP’ drops the audience into the centre of Los Angeles where an unexpected meteor shower has left a deep scar on the streets of Chinatown. What happens next creates panic and sends a young woman scrambling to escape.
The 360-degree film works like an interactive, mobile movie theatre, creating a window into the story and giving the audience the freedom to look anywhere, set the pace and frame the shot. The Mill collaborated with director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious, Star Trek 3) on every aspect of the film, including the grade by colourist Gregory Reese.
Gregory discusses how grading a 360 film differs from a traditional film and shares his thoughts on how colour grading tools can evolve for immersive films:
The real heroes on this project are the CG artists and compositors that made my job easy. So much work went into this ahead of the grade, which is a little different from most traditional projects. It's hard to imagine that the actors were captured with four different cameras, and that virtually all of the environments and elements are fully CG.
In some ways the approach to grading in 360 is conceptually quite similar to a traditional project where I would set the overall look in way that's attractive and helps tell the story. What differs with this project is that you can see the entire 360-degree scene at once, which is very fisheye and warped, so there's a little more back and forth once you can see the grade through the intended perspective on the mobile device.
With ‘HELP’, we were able to grade during the process, working closely with the leads to split up the work, adjusting some of the elements in the grade and others in CG, and comping to make this an incredibly seamless film. We transferred flat plates, which were then stitched together and tracked, and built CG environments.
Once things got to a fairly advanced stage, we introduced grading to see how the creature, characters and environment would hold up to some pushing and pulling. From there, it was a lot of back and forth on technical and creative decisions for how to best to tackle certain things, some in CG, some in the comp, and others in the grade.
Overall, the brief was always to make ‘HELP’ a high end, live action, cinematic film. We didn’t really get too esoteric with the look of it. It was more, "Does this look badass? Yes. Okay, let’s go that way."
We didn't really have to alter things too much when grading the film as a lat-long (fisheye) image, but you always have to remember that a circle doesn't translate into a circle when it's seen through the device. Similarly, we didn’t shape the image at all with vignettes or gradients, which would only get in the way of immersing the audience into the world.
I used the same tools and approach that I use with all projects, keeping a mind toward how things would be put back together from the device’s perspective. It was all about what I could do to make the image look its best without getting in the way
What's exciting about immersive films are the tools that are being developed to live grade these images simultaneously, both on a traditional monitor and on the intended device. The best tool by far will allow you to to see the images live on the device with the proper perspective, meaning wearing a headset while grading. It might challenge your muscle memory as a colorist, as you can't see the controls, but it completely removes the guesswork of how things should look when the film goes out to the masses. I love projects that force a push in technology and make your brain to work in a new way.