At Zumo, we will never pass up on an opportunity to get better at what we do. And lets just say that Tabaknatie VR definitely forced us to raise the bar.
You may have heard of Tabaknatie before. They are quite known as specialists in warehousing and logistics. So don’t let their name fool you. Tabaknatie asked our friends at Poppr to come up with a VR-experience that would not only make it clear that they deal with more than tabak, but also demonstrate how they cater to the expectations of their clients in order to attract new ones. Poppr had a great concept for a VR-experience in mind, but they could still use a hand with the actual execution of it. That’s where we came in. And together with Poppr, we at ZUMO created Tabaksnatie VR.
Mr. "does not know it all" Google
One of our first post-production steps was rough stitching the footage, creating a 360 reference to base our edit on. Visualising unstitched footage can be tricky after all. And because we prefer to spend our time and energy wisely, we only rough-stitch the footage rather than fine-stitching shots that won’t make it to the final cut. In order to use 360 3D camera tracking, we started using the standard workflow within Adobe. The problems with long and/or high resolution shots like ours in this scenario? The available tools and programmes did not suffice. Projects tended to crash and the standard After Effects 3D camera tracker did not allow to tweak the settings as much as we needed to.
Luckily for us, all the information and knowledge in the world is only a quick Google search and some mouse clicks away. However, every coin has a flip side. Because in the always evolving tech world, information gets outdated quickly. But Rome wasn’t built in a day either. So, we locked ourselves up in the office for about a month while exploring the world of YouTube tutorials, mixing and matching information, experimenting and putting the gathered knowledge into practice. Our persistence paid off.
Idling away? We don’t do that here
We ended up discovering CANVAS 360. This enabled us to track the 360 footage in an external dedicated tracking software, SynthEyes. Compared to After Effects, SynthEyes did not just allow for a quicker 360 camera tracking. It also permitted a more controlled tracking process, as we could refine the settings more to our liking. Using the CANVAS plugin, we could then ingest the camera data in After Effects and create a user friendly project. Which did not only enable us to easily add the graphics, but also to stabilise our footage.
Tracking and stabilising the footage were merely the first hurdles we had to clear. Sky replacements, adding 3D, motion graphics, time remapping and fixits (i.e. removing unwanted objects/people) were the next challenges on our path. We did this by projecting fixed paintings on basic 3D Geometry. Why let those puddles be an eyesore if you can easily remove them?
Using Mocha VR, we stabilised and rotoscoped the 360 scene, whilst Blender and the Element 3D plugin in After Effects were used for the 3D implementation. To boost the flying effect, we made use of the Mantra VR plugin. This plugin turned out to be quite handy, as it came with some nifty tools. For example, implementing DVE zooms, pans or tilt to shots that would have had to remain static otherwise. Which is great when you want to evoke the feeling that you are flying over the port of Antwerp.
Going above and beyond the limit
Our opening shot is a prime example of the issues we were confronted with. Because how do you turn a 30-minute 360 helicopter-shot into a 10-second one? Without the helicopter of course. But truth be told, editing that shot was not our first challenge, capturing it was. Because filming the journey from our Belgian coast to the port of Antwerp with a drone was a no go. Not only due to the battery life of a drone camera, but also because we would be filming higher than the maximum allowed altitude. And whilst we like to push the creative limits at Zumo, we do prefer to stick to the legal ones.
In short, with this project we had to go beyond the traditional way of editing and creative problem-solving. Hence why projects like Tabaknatie VR excite us. Because they keep us on our toes. And because they show that a great idea on its own does not automatically lead to success. How you execute it matters equally.