Gaining a true perspective on 360° with BT Sport for Champions League Final

On June 3 BT Sport conducted a world-first by broadcasting the UEFA Champions League Final from the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, in virtual reality 360°, writes Heather McLean. BT Sport gave away free VR Google Cardboard headsets to fans ahead of the game so they could watch the final through a number of 360° streams via YouTube and also in a new BT Sport Virtual Reality App, which allowed viewers to choose between a 360° produced programme with commentary and graphics, or select their own camera viewpoint – and all for free.

True Perspective VR, a specialist filming company, produced the 360° introduction to the main event for BT Sport. In this new interview SVG Europe talks to Daniel Everitt-Lock, co-founder and creative director at True Perspective VR, about the challenges of working in 360° and how the project progressed with BT Sport…

Firstly, let’s clarify; you work in 360° but call it virtual reality (VR). Why is that? 

Firstly, it’s a branding thing. In the marketplace, consumers don’t understand the difference between the two, although people in the industry do. Also, our company intends to move into VR and augmented reality (AR) in the future, so while all our work so far has been live action in 360°, we are definitely moving forward.

For the progression of 360° it needs to merge with VR, otherwise 360° isn’t going to last. That’s what we’re working on in R&D at the moment; bringing the interactivity of VR into 360°. 360° is a brand new medium that’s developing really quickly, and I want to be at the start of it, leading the pack.

In R&D we are working on the idea of a WebGL-based video, viewable on a website, which will allow the use of where a person is looking at a point on the screen for us to control aspects of how the film itself is triggered. For example, telling the viewer to look behind them on the 360° film, and when their eyes move across the screen the next aspect of the film begins seamlessly.

Why did you decide to start working with 360° filming?

I started out in standard filmmaking, until last year when I got hired by Samsung to work on its 360° filming demo in Rio at the Olympics. At the time it was the biggest 4D 360° experience built globally. That work snowballed to the point where I decided to start my own company in 360° filmmaking.

What was the remit with BT Sport for the Champion’s League Final 360° introduction?

BT Sport wanted a fantastic build-up of past Champion’s League matches to introduce this current Champion’s League. As to why BT Sport wanted to use 360° filming for the intro, it wanted to be at the forefront of its use in the UK. At the moment, 360° filming of sport and big events is quite popular in the US. We’ve been a little bit slow on the uptake in the UK, but BT wants to be a front runner on the latest technology.

How did you work with BT Sport on the process of what they needed and wanted? 

It was insanely hard, to be honest; over eight days I worked 148 hours to deliver the intro. The issue was talent and location; the footballers that were supposed to be in the intro, including Rio Ferdinand, fell through. In the end we had one day of filming using Jake Humphreys, and then just seven days to deliver the finished thing, and the following day was the actual match.

Also, adding to the time schedule was the problem that for BT Sport’s workflow they needed stereoscopic delivery and monoscopic delivery, for which we took the right eye. But working in stereoscopic means you need to do a lot more work than for monoscopic, almost twice as much; the problem really lies in when you’re inputting graphics as it’s got to match perfectly. However, how BT Sport’s workflow worked means they broadcast in monoscopic. The workflow was strange; they feed the content in stereoscopic, and it deletes a layer so you get monoscopic. That means we did a lot of work that no one is going to see.

Behind the scenes, what technology did you use to shoot the 360° content? 

There is no one camera that fits every job, and camera technology in this space is evolving so quickly. We used the Nokia OZO on the BT Sport job, with a Mantis rig to get the stabilisation as we moved. However, the rig created issues as the gyroscopes in it were incredibly loud when moved, so my sound guy was going a little mental, understandably. It also created a lot of problems in post, where we spent a lot of time taking out the rig sound.

We also used ambisonic mics and spot mics for the BT Sport Champion’s League intro. The ambisonic mic was attached to the rig and we used numerous spot mics around each set; in the first scene in the locker room we connected the spot mics to benches and a couple of the players that were talking, and in the second scene we had one on the presenter and others on the televisions in the set.

For other work we have used Timecode Systems’ SyncBac, which sits on the back of a GoPro, along with a GoPro 360 rig from 360RIZE. That gives us our rig, timecode and remote control, as well as a GoPro camera. That’s very useful, as we can control the system remotely from 200 metres away. However, I think Go Pro is getting a bit old fashioned.

How was the 360° content shot both in terms technique?

On technique, for 360° filming it is very location-dependent, but we had enough budget to control the set design, which is very important in post production for 360° when it comes to stitching the different camera angles together smoothly. Images need to be stitched together in post to create a 360° image, and realistically, on an OZO camera when using a presenter, you don’t want to get any closed that three foot to the camera; the ideal is three to five feet if you’ve got someone talking on camera. This is because if you’re wearing a headset it feels like a nice personal distance, not too close and not too far away. In one part of the intro, we use that feeling of proximity by getting Jake to move close and whisper to the camera before moving away.

I’m also not a fan of hard cuts in 360° and VR; it takes you out of the moment. I’m for making it feel like it’s all one movement. In the BT Sport intro, after the first scene a player throws a towel on top of you and when it’s removed, you’re in a new location but you’re still part of the moment. For the second transition you go through a clothing rack, so you get a Narnia-like feel. It’s about giving purpose to transitions.

In post, how did you have to work with the content for 360°?

In standard filming you can’t just shoot and put the footage straight into edit; there is always an extra step to be done before you can begin, for instance, colour correcting RAW footage before you can edit.

In 360° you need to do the same, but also you need to stitch it all together before you can put it into a timeline to start the edit. So we did a very rough stitch on the BT Sport footage, then a very rough edit, then once we had the picture lock we could start on the very fine stitching.

What were the main challenges of working in 360° for this intro, compared to what you would have faced if using regular methods of filming?

Planning needs to be paramount in standard filming, but in 360° it really has to be done properly, because of the lack of flexibility in post. Planning has to be absolutely bang on so your edit goes smoothly, otherwise you’re a bit stuck as there are no alternative shots to use.

Using 360° is like theatre in a way; you can’t cover a mistake up with a bit of B-roll, you have just got to go with it.

An example of a major challenge we faced in filming the BT Sport intro and the need for planning was with Jake, the presenter. We had to make sure we timed everything right as we only had him for three hours, and had a lot of set dressing to do in that time also. It was a lot of pressure and all hands on deck, but he was very professional and knew exactly what he was doing.

Where do you see VR and 360 content going in the sports area?

I think we’re just one step behind the US with 360° in the sports field. 360° in the US is already recognised by people as a necessity; people want 360° films made and they recognise it as a new media, compared to other markets that consider it a gimmick still.

In sport, live action work in 360° for sporting events, and things like behind the scenes footage of locker rooms and training work, means you get to see a world that you wouldn’t see otherwise.

I think next up is live streaming of events in 360°. If people can’t get to the game or sit in the front row, they can stick their VR headset on and be there, in the middle of it. That’s where 360° is going.

360° today is about, “here you are, you can do what you want in this space”. Next for 360° is adding more interactivity, and bringing in more VR aspects. That will give people more choice on what they want to see and do next.

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters