DaVinci Resolve Colour and Fusion Stitching Take ‘Everest VR’ to the Top
In April of 2017, world famous climber Ueli Steck died while preparing to climb both Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse without the use of bottled oxygen. Ueli’s close friends Jonathan Griffith and Sherpa Tenji attempted to finish off the project. Jonathan Griffith, who is an award winning VR director and alpine photographer, captured the entire story.
Over the course of three years, Jonathan shot footage following Tenji and some of the world’s most accomplished climbers on some of the world’s most extreme locations. The series also includes footage that lets viewers witness what it is like to be engulfed in a Himalayan avalanche, cross a crevasse while looking deep into its depths, take a huge rock climbing fall, camp under the stars and soak in the view from the top of the world.
Jonathan worked with VR post production artist Matthew DeJohn for editing and colour correction, VR stitching expert Keith Kolod and Brendan Hogan for sound design.
“It was impressive how a small crew was able to get all of the work done. The collaboration between myself as the cameraman and Matt and Keith played a critical part in getting this series finished, and at such a high quality,” said Jonathan.
“Matt and Keith would give suggestions on how to capture for VR, how camera wobbling impacted stitching, how to be aware of the nadir and zenith in each frame and to think about proximity issues. The efficient post production process helped us focus on what was needed. Everyone on the project worked beyond what was expected, and the results show.”
Matthew DeJohn was responsible for bringing together a huge amount of footage from several different professional camera systems.
“A VR project usually has different teams for editing, grading and stitching. Keith and I used DaVinci Resolve, and handled everything ourselves,” Matthew said. “DaVinci Resolve is a flexible tool for VR post. The fact that every tool I needed was in a single app made the entire process efficient and cost effective. A lot of time was saved just by being able to switch apps with a few mouse clicks instead of moving files from one system to another and shutting down the process.”
For editing, Mtthew used DaVinci Resolve Studio to cut the series at 2Kx2K, relinked to 8Kx8K source material, and then change the timeline resolution to 8Kx8K for final colour and rendering. He used the Fairlight audio editing tab to make fine adjustments, manage different narration takes with audio layers, and manage varied source files such as mono narration, stereo music, and 4-channel ambisonic spatial audio.
“Regarding the colour correction, I used Resolve to ensure we established an honest look throughout and to make that look consistent across various camera systems and shooting conditions.
“VR forces you to be real because the nature of it is so revealing. I just used DaVinci Resolve to keep every scene realistic – any hint of oversaturation or an unnatural grade would ruin the VR experience. I coloured the project from the very first edit, so when it came to finalise the colour it was just a process of touching up details in shots.”
Fusion Studio was used for stereoscopic alignment fixes, motion graphics, rig removal, nadir patches, stabilisation, stereo correction of the initial stitch, re-orienting 360 imagery, viewing the 360 scenes in a VR headset and controlling focal areas. Keith Kolod handled the more intense stitching work, also using Fusion Studio.
“Every shot in this type of production is a VFX shot,” he said. “It is a better, faster and more affordable approach. The render time is much faster and the integration with the rest of post makes it very efficient.”
Footage of such an extreme environment, as well as the closeness of climbers to the cameras, resulted in challenges for Keith, who had to rebuild portions of images from individual cameras. He also had to manually ease the stereo effect along the images’ top and lower edges to make viewing easier for the audience. Other jobs involved fixing stereo misalignment and distance issues between the foreground and background and calming excessive movement in images.
An Artist on Every Frame
“A regular fix I had to make was adjusting incorrect vertical alignments, which create lots of problems for viewing. Even if a camera is a little bit off, the viewer can tell,” Keith said. “The project frequently used locked off tripod cameras, and you would think that the images coming from them would be completely steady. But a little bit of wind or slight movement in what is otherwise a calm frame makes a scene unwatchable in VR. So I used Fusion for stabilisation on many shots.
“High quality VR work should always be done with manual stitching with an artist making sure there are no rough areas. The reason why this series looks so amazing is that there was an artist involved in every part of the process, shooting, editing, grading and stitching.” www.blackmagicdesign.com/