Paris Terror VR Production Insights

Ricarda Saleh
Jun 12 · 5 min read

Martin Backhaus & Ricarda Saleh

In autumn 2017 we teamed up to work on the 360° Virtual Reality animated-documentary film Paris Terror: The Hostages from Hyper Cacher which was produced by German broadcaster WDR. This article gives an insight into the post production of this VR piece.The core team of the post production consisted of Martin Backhaus in the role of consultant for technical workflows, creation of the 3D spaces and compositing; a team of 5 animation artists, with Sofiia Melnyk serving as Lead-Artist, editor Julius Krenz and sound designer Marcus Fass. At the centre of this endeavour were the Director Ricarda Saleh and the commissioning editor from the network Sophie Schulenburg in communication with all the departments. The intensive post production was finished within 2 months until the project was published as a Web-VR Video in cooperation with the German Tagesschau news show in January 2018.

What is Paris Terror: The Hostages from Hyper Cacher about?

On 7th January 2015, two terrorists attacked the magazine Charlie Hebdo. Shortly afterwards, a third terrorist attacked the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher, killing four Jews and taking numerous hostages. A few of them managed to hide in a cold room in the basement, taking a baby with them.

This virtual documentary tells an intimate story, brought to life by animated abstract sketches that convey the recollections of three hostages. The viewer meets Carole, Alain and Jean-Luc, who talk for the first time in detail about their experience and the challenge to overcome the trauma in their day-to-day life.

The Web-VR version can be watched here:

The VR film has been exhibited at film festivals and fairs worldwide including the Sheffield Doc Fest (UK) and Sunny Side of the Doc (France). At Venice Fine Art Film Festival LA it won the Best VR documentary 2018 award.

Challenges for the creation of 3D and Animation

The first challenge was to figure out how to create the spaces, as Virtual Reality is primarily a place that you can visit using a head mounted device. Several testing rounds and exchanges took place between Martin, Sofiia, who was also the Background Artist and Ricarda.

In Paris, Ricarda captured the main location of the project, the supermarket ground floor and basement, as 360° panoramic images. This included taking measurements of the scale.

These images use an “equirectangular projection” which is similar to the spherical world represented as a flat map. Those panoramic images capturing all directions (360° x 180°) in a spherical way are also called “LatLong” and it’s the main VR video format used on YouTube and Facebook.

Nuke 3D Viewport showing the 2d animation on cards in the 3d space

It was an option to use these real images as a base layer to create sets using overpaints to get the painted 2D look. However, the process of doing changes and iterations based on these photos is limited.

Instead we decided to use 3D modeling and rendering of the space as the base for the overpaintings. Using this technique the precise spatial scale, staging and camera position thus the position of the viewer could reliably get tested and transferred to a LatLong. Next this LatLong template was overpainted. Here the size and positioning of every element was already in place. Ricarda also drew simple floor plan outlines, which were used as a reference.

In addition, this method created more abstract and simplified sets. As real 360° shots are shown at the end of the film, the clean sets originating from 3D are better distinguished, and thus form a layer by themselves.

To create the overpaintings Adobe Photoshop 2018 was used, as it was able to import the 360° Panoramic 3D rendered images so that Sofiia could have a look around and paint in an undistorted way covering all angles. She added more details, irregularities, outlines and a lighting and shading that better fused with the foreground animated characters.

Sofiia tested different animation styles, speeds and level of details. This foreground 2D character animation was then positioned in the sets using the 3D tools of the software Nuke. The first goal during the edit process was the quick setup of a whole scene that can be reviewed and re-edited with VR glasses as soon as possible. It was important to regularly view the result in a VR headset to check that everything blends together. For that reason we initially relied on animation loops — we needed to focus on places and moments instead on single shots. Several iterations of space refinements, camera and character repositionings were made.

Recommendations for team collaboration

For the team collaboration adequate methods and visuals to communicate the ideas to each other were needed. Which was the right vocabulary understood within the team? A great tool were scribbled storyboards which also showed the position of the viewer in each scene. Inspiring was the article by Vincent McCurley Storyboarding in Virtual Reality.

The second step were UX graphs and charts Ricarda created. For VR it´s not enough to describe the content and the scenes in words. To avoid misunderstandings the team should talk about the elements which matter in the scenes. Which perspective has the user in this scene? Which protagonist tells his story in the audio layer at this very moment? And why so? What happens on the soundscape and how is spatial sound used effectively? All these discussions should be started before the first VR-mockups are reviewed in VR-glasses. The moment when Martin exported the first VR-mockups the discussion and decision making process reached the next level. However, the concept phase creating a VR film starts with the exchange of verbal ideas, the discussion on User Experience and the individual understanding of 360° video and VR.

Reviewing process: Sophie Schulenburg in the foreground, left Ricarda Saleh, in the background Martin Backhaus, in the right Julius Krenz

This article on Paris Terror: The Hostages from Hyper Cacher was written by Martin Backhaus and Ricarda Saleh. The VR documentary is a WDR production.

Paris Terror: The Hostages from Hyper Cacher is exhibited at VRHAM Festival from 7 to 15 June in Hamburg.

Team

Interview partner: Alain, Carole, Jean-Luc

Director: Ricarda Saleh

Animation team: Sofiia Melnyk (Concept Art & Lead-Artist), Mareike Graf, David Jansen, Alice Reily de Souza, Maité Schmitt, Sophia Schönborn

3D Sets & Compositing: Martin Backhaus

360°-Video recording: Ricarda Saleh, Stefanie Vollmann

Sound: Henriette Drüke

Editing / Stiching: Julius Krenz, Julia Heimbach

Dramaturgical Advice: Thorsten Schütte

Research & Producing: Claire Babany, Eléonore Boissinot, Monika Grassl

TV Archive Material: BBC Motion Gallery/Getty Images/INA

Sounddesign: Marcus Fass

Production Management: Margot Schimmelpfennig

Project assistant: Brit Underwood

Producer: Sophie Schulenburg

Executive Producer: Maik Bialk

Ricarda Saleh

Written by

Writer & Director for VR and Interactive Media http://www.ricardasaleh.com