Waterloo 360 for Mamma Mia

June 14th, 2018

Universal Pictures just released a 360 music video I directed last year for the movie franchise Mamma Mia.

What an awesome challenge. When you watch a contemporary musical you will experience a lot of cuts, one every few seconds, and coverage and closeups and all that. So cast members that are not dancers don’t have to memorize an entire sequence, they’re just doing it move by move. In this case, we shot an entire two and a half minute long dance choreography around a moving camera as a one take. The piece was filmed with no cuts and the camera was recording in all directions. Absolutely nothing could go wrong anywhere at all.

Prior to shooting I met in Shepperton Studios near London with the film producers, and they introduced me to Anthony Van Laast, the film choreographer, as well as his team, and a specialized camera crew from the film. Together we designed a 360 dance number based on the original choreography from the movie, and a camera motion path in relation to the dancers, so that the camera’s vantage point felt exactly like that of a person walking on set while surrounded by everyone else. The choreographers were absolutely world class. And the dancers understood 360 staging immediately, because that’s what they do. It’s close enough to their training. For the actors, to switch from a cinematic style to a more theatrical one, staying in character and dancing the entire sequence, it was a real challenge. But as you will be able to see, they did it. They pulled it off.

Because it’s a dance piece, I felt depth and gravity were key, so we made sure to get the best stereoscopic 360 capture available today, and we made sure the floor was featured properly, because dancers’ movements are grounded in the floor. This is always a challenge in 360 stereoscopic 3D. We were fortunate enough to get a Yi Halo camera —compatible with the Google Jump automatic stitching software— had just come out, so we used it for the first time on this shoot which was obviously an additional challenge. But it’s the first camera in existence that that gives you high quality stitch-less full dome stereoscopic video In 360°. Before this camera we would have to film Panoramas with holes on top and bottom, and patch-in the floor later. You can imagine how that would be a problem when you have all these dancers’ feet all over the dance floor.

If you can, please experience this video using a Oculus Go or something similar. The desktop and mobile versions you can watch on your computer screen, tablet or phone won’t do it enough justice and I’m so proud of it. I think it’s really fun.

Black @ ArtCenter

January 18th, 2018

Jenny Rodenhouse invited me to give a talk at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena for the graduate students in the MediaDesignPractices program.

For the first time I decided to focus on me rather than what I do, and I spend a couple of hours navigating the serendipitous thread that has driven my journey across multiple media for the last twenty five years.


Photo by Filip Kostic


Photo by @lifewithBianca

A talented doodler called @Godiva generously shared on twitter these wonderful visual notes from my lecture:

Art is a Backdrop for Selfies

December 30th, 2017

A couple of days ago I finally gave in and visited the broad museum of contemporary art in downtown LA, featuring Yayoi Kusama’s popular retrospective.

The broad —as LA locals fondly call it— is the most successful manifestation I’ve encountered of the museum experience redefined as a shopping mall and amusement park for the masses. In order to keep a steady throughput, visitors were only allowed thirty seconds inside each installation, and a busy staff made sure the long lines of people kept moving at a healthy pace. In the meantime, most of the crowd was invested in finding cool spots for their selfies, both to proof they were there, and as a testament to their creativity when adding their own selves to the art (or the art to their own self image?).

Mesmerized by these behavior, I ran a quick web search on “museum selfie” and found everything from instructions on how to take the best selfie, to why you shouldn’t take any selfies at all. Online, opinions seemed to be split, but in the real world of the broad museum everybody was having the time of their lives photographing themselves against Kusama’s polka dotted infinite patterns.

An arbitrary rule allowed for picture taking everywhere except for one installation called Pumpkin Room. Why ban photos only there? Why not just ban photos altogether? It turns out the reason can be tracked to an incident where some careless visitor damaged the installation while pushing the boundaries of their own selfie-taking enterprise. Perhaps influenced by TSA safety logic, somebody decided to protect the installation from any more damage by prohibiting pictures to be taken inside it. Because once an accident had happened inside a specific installation, the TSA laws of probability dictate that future accidents will also happen at the same installation. All other installations were safe and required no protection against selfies.

Somewhere along the tour I read on one of these walls an artist statement ——let’s call it the Kusama Paradox—— claiming that the art will push audiences to let go of their sense of self and commune with the universe through the experience of infinity inside one of those mirror rooms, but what i saw was exactly the opposite. Most people at Kusama’s exhibit were granted a mere thirty seconds inside each installation that they spent framing the art as a backdrop for the promotion of their own self image in social media.

Update May 2018: I recently stumbled upon this article covering an installation exhibit in a Museum-like facility called Rabbit Town, whose only purpose is to provide its costumers with art-like backdrops where they can photograph themselves. Here is a relevant quote:

It’s a natural evolution that reflects a change in how people find value in art: If you go to a museum to find a good backdrop for a photo, that backdrop is a product. And when a piece of art becomes a popular product, the knockoffs can’t be far behind.

Hello there, Shepperton Studios

November 29th, 2017

I’ve been hanging out at Shepperton Studios with my friends from Wevr and a world class ensemble of English actors, dancers and film people to create a VR musical number that will blow your mind when it’s finished, but I can’t tell you what it is.

We are using out Yi Halo in production for the first time and I think this project is going to really show how good this camera is. Stitch-less 8k full dome stereoscopic 360 video.

England

November 11th, 2017

I’m spending a couple of days near London figuring out the details for an upcoming job, and I booked my stay in this idyllic place in Surrey called The Great Fosters. What an amazing surprise! The gardens in the back are literally taken out of a poetry book, and the food is out of this world. Many weddings seem to happen here. I definitely recommend that you follow this place on Instagram and that you make it a plan to come visit and stay here forever. This is the view to the street from my window.

VR Halloween for Hulu

October 15th, 2017

This last month and a half has been completely crazy. Hulu reached out to us to collaborate on a Halloween special, and they gave us around five weeks to prepare, shoot and post produce two VR films for The House: A Hulu Halloween Anthology. They are called The Reckoning and The Tower, and they are both tied in to Let Us In and Seven Moons, two traditional television short episodes that can be watched in the regular Hulu streaming service.

All four stories and several others, take place in a shared narrative world where events and characters overlap, but they all stand by themselves, while offering audiences a deeper insight into a larger narrative if they happen to watch them all together. But I won’t say much more. I don want to spoil anyone the fun.

The Reckoning and The Tower are both available in the Hulu VR app on Daydream, Oculus, Playstation VR and Microsoft MR.

The team at Hulu knows how to grow the narrative scope of a television property using VR and other immersive media. As a director, I felt uniquely supported to execute my vision, and privileged to contribute in the making of an entirely new form of television storytelling. Don’t get me wrong, it was a challenging task, but I enjoyed the support of an amazing team and a great cast, and I had the time of my life directing these videos. We used a lot of campy practical special effects and electric guitars in the music score.

Futures from the Past

August 18th, 2017

I discovered a peculiar book store called Future Dreams Books during a long walk on a recent trip to Portland. There, I was met with box after box full of science fiction publications that dated all the way back to the twenties and thirties. Some of the magazines in these boxes were unaffordable, like a seven hundred dollar priced magazine featuring the first appearance of a text written by H. G. Wells, but other instances of the same publication were available for as low as eight dollars. They just didn’t feature anything written by authors of such prominence. But they still featured the same kind of amazing futuristic art in their covers —the kind that still holds a nineteenth century flair to it— and I couldn’t help but purchase a few. Here are two of my favorites.

You can browse through many more book and magazine covers here and here. A small note about this collection: I’ve acquired most of the publications featured on these collections at the basement of the Harvard Book Store, the Brattle Book Shop in Downtown Boston, Pandemonium Books and Games in Central Square (Cambridge MA), Angel City Books and Records in Santa Monica CA. Some of them I scanned after borrowing from the MIT Science Fiction Society Library, and a few more come from random news stands in the streets of Mexico City.