Small SA crew produce virtual reality short

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FLIGHT FROM EARTH: Still from Atmos

Atmos is a two and a half minute virtual reality (VR) film which tells the story of humanity’s flight from earth. The film was directed by Matthew Nefdt and produced by Rose Lovell, with audio by Andrew Sutherland.

Nefdt’s curiosity about 360-degree video and virtual reality began when he purchased an Oculus Rift Developer Kit and it is currently his main creative focus. He previously studied Video Technology at Durban University of Technology and has directed numerous short films, music videos and commercials as well as designed mobile games.

Atmos was originally developed as an entry into Samsung’s 60 second VR film competition, ‘There in 60 Seconds’, which ran at the end of 2015. But after reading the fine print and realising international entries were accepted but not eligible to win the competition, Nefdt withdrew from the competition but continued with production. “In hindsight we realised this enabled us to make a better product as we could make the film with a long enough duration to actually tell a story rather than show just an immersive experience,” he remarked.

Atmos was shot over a few days in November 2015 in Port St Johns, a town on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape which offered suitable landscapes to match the film’s sci-fi based narrative. “I have always been intrigued about the dramatic rock formations on the beach there; they always felt alien-like to me,” says Nefdt.

A small team worked on the production, partly due to necessity as Atmos was a self-funded project, but also due to the nature of virtual reality production. “Making a VR film is completely different to traditional filmmaking. Because you are shooting full 360 degrees, everything is visible and recorded in the shot. All crew, lighting and equipment on set must be removed in post. That is why we chose to shoot under natural lighting with minimal crew,” explains Nefdt.

The film was shot with six 4K cameras mounted to a Freedom360 rig. Audio was recorded with a Mitra binaural microphone and the footage was stitched together and processed into a 4K panoramic image. From there the team was able to edit and composite CGI with some additional VR plugins with the post workflow. Much of the CGI was rendered out of game engine Unity 3D. Nefdt was also responsible for stitching, editing, compositing and grading on the project. “I started the post while we were still in the Wild Coast. Our edit suite was my MacBook Pro in a round mud hut in a rural village,” he said.

Atmos is available as a free download on www.africard.tv and is best viewed using a VR device.

The film is compatible with Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and Google Cardboard. It can be streamed online via YouTube and Facebook, which now support 360 video.

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