Behind Scenes of a VR Shoot in the Amazon

Munduruku Cacique (Chief) Experiences VR for the first time

StoryUP VR recently returned from a 360 shoot in the village of Sawre` Muybu, Brazil. Our VR project with Empowered by Light and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation allows viewers to step inside the story of the Munduruku people and understand what it’s like to live without electricity. Our stories about solar energy which also feature park rangers in Congo will come out later this year. Here are some lessons we learned about shooting in the jungle.

Lessons Learned: 360 Shoot in Amazon Forest

Let Interview Subjects Experience VR

This was the first time the Munduruku had experienced Virtual Reality. We shared it first with the Cacique (chief) so he could better understand our odd looking cameras and how we would use this medium to create a sense of empathy for their fight against a hydro dam that could flood their sacred lands. He chose the Mizzou Football experience. After giggling through it and reaching out his arms to touch the players’ hands as they took Faurot Field, the Cacique gathered dozens of others around the Amazon village over the course of the next few days to experience Virtual Reality. Yes, the MU Tigers now have fans deep in the Amazon basin. By showing them VR first even before the cameras rolled, the Munduruku had a better understanding of why our crew hides from the camera, claps our hands and spins the tripod at the beginning and end of each shot.

Goal Zero Sherpa we used to charge gear

Procure Alternate Power

…even if you don’t think you’ll need it. Our first obstacle was power. We packed every adaptor and voltage converter known to man but those are no help if you have no power outlets. We were in a remote area without running water, bathrooms or access to reliable electricity. We had limited power for certain portions of the day with a diesel generator but out in the forest, we had no way to recharge our gear after our portable battery packs were drained. So we supplemented charges by using a Goal Zero Sherpa. It includes ports not only to charge the gear but USB ports to charge your laptops. Laptops in the field are key for VR video shoots as you need to rough stitch clips to make sure all of your cameras captured properly and you got the shot. (Sometimes, one of your cameras will take a still photo instead of a video clip and you’ll be sorry.) On a single charge with the Goal Zero, we could rough stitch and render out one 60 second 360 clip. While one sherpa would not have been enough to be a primary source of power, it was a very helpful supplement in the jungle.

Compressed Air the Ultimate Amazon Heat Antidote

Our Gear Capturing an Elephant in Africa

StoryUP took more than 25 cameras to the Amazon in a handful of rigs. Our go to rig is a Freedom 360 mount (See above. 6 cameras set up in an array). While this rig sometimes overheats because nodal point geometry requires the cameras to be close together, it’s super rugged and doesn’t have as many stitching issues as other camera arrays we’ve tried. We also took an Izugar two camera setup for tight spaces.

Air Duster Can to Cool 360 Cameras

One of the best pieces of advice about how to keep your cameras from overheating I learned from IM360 (now Digital Domain). When your camera is starting to get hot, spray a stream of compressed air directly underneath the lenses of the Hero 4 Blacks. We found that tactic gave us a few extra minutes before the cameras shut down. We also rotated rigs. When one would go down due to the heat, we swapped in another complete rig instead of having to unscrew each of the cameras and replace them one by one with fresh Hero 4 Blacks.

Cover Your Crevices:

There’s something inside a Macbook, perhaps it’s the heat, to which bugs are attracted. In Brazil and Africa, we had a problem with ants and other bugs crawling into our laptops and inside the tiniest of openings in our camera gear. So in the Amazon, we used rope to string up our laptops and gear at night to keep the bugs from crawling into the crevices. Get it off the ground. Do not hang your packs from a tree. The ants will easily crawl up it and die in your laptop motherboard.

Remote Interviewing with Translators

We thought our biggest obstacle would be the heat….but our biggest barrier was language.

StoryUP’s crew of cinematographers, producers, audio engineers & translators

When you’re interviewing indigenous people, it may require more than one translator to get the information back to you in English. In a fixed frame shot, this would not be any big deal but when you’re having to do real time translation remotely from your 100+ degree hidey hole that’s crawling with fire ants, it complicates matters. (A hidey hole is the place where your crew hides while the 360 camera is recording). In Brazil, we used one translator to translate from Munduruku to Portuguese and then another to translate from Portuguese to English. Because we needed to understand what the Cacique was saying in real time during the interview, we set up a daisy chain of translators out of sight and earshot of our 360 camera.

Team of Translators work in real time from our hidey hole

The translators had to whisper so as not to get their audio on the Cacique’s wireless microphone. Translator A was listening remotely to the Cacique via a wireless microphone receiver and transcribing his comments into Portuguese while translator B was reading that translator’s notebook and verbally translating to us in English. Remote interviews with 1 translator is tough in 360 because you can’t communicate with the interview subject unless you rig up an IFB with your Iphone. (There was no cell service where we were.) Interviews with two translators whispering in a hot hiding place… even tougher. In addition to monitoring the interview subject’s audio, it’s also a good idea to listen for the dreaded camera beeps that signal one of your cameras has just shut down. Train your crew to also listen for those beeps while in the hidey hole. Unless you’re able to clone that dead camera in post, you will have lost the entire 360 interview.

Don’t Forget your Fixed Frame Camera:

Just because you’re shooting 360, doesn’t mean you should abandon your fixed frame camera. We routinely nest fixed frame video and still photos inside the sphere. A fixed frame camera can also more quickly capture impromptu moments…like a wild boar licking your tripod. Moments after the above video clip, the boar lifted his leg and took a leak on our sticks! A commenter reminded me not to worry, his indiscretion at the nadir will be hidden by “Pee-ralax”.

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