Disney and Total Cinema 360 have released a 360-degree video documenting the opening five minutes (read: “The Circle of Life”) of The Lion King musical to VR platforms, including Littlstar’s iOS and Android apps, YouTube 360, Vrideo’s app and MilkVR for Samsung Gear VR users.
The project represents the first piece that Disney has allowed VR filmmakers to produce using one of its marquee musicals. Happily, the results are entertaining, and everyone involved, from cast to crew to business people, seems pleased with the results. And it’s hard not to be: the piece, a limited taste of a larger production, will likely encourage fans to join, or rejoin, the audience at an upcoming date.
According to WIRED, Total Cinema 360 co-founders Craig Gilbert and Adrian Vasquez de Velasco used a six-camera GoPro rig to shoot the piece. To enable viewers to see the show from multiple vantage points, and perhaps also to make the piece more visually dynamic, the filmmakers moved the rig to different areas of the stage between takes, hence the cuts.
To that point, the musical was reconfigured in places to optimize the 360-degree video. Not only were certain performers moved a step or two for better capture, but here and there lighting was changed or sound mixing exploited to communicate the users place in space.
Whether one has seen The Lion King in person or not, this feature possesses a particular visual appeal. On the one hand, witnessing professionals execute complex choreography in striking costumes and in service of bringing to life an ultra-famous Hamlet modernization is its own reward. On the other, the production carries a certain voyeuristic charm: the viewer glimpses the production from backstage, an area always barred to audiences, and from atop Pride Rock, a position that very few cast members even see. Then there is the fact that the viewer can, at times, see the audience seeing and cheering for the production, of which the VR user has effectively become a part. In other words, the video allows the viewer to inhabit the disparate roles of privileged audience member, backstage voyeur and performer, all in five minutes. Indeed, the viewer cycles repeatedly through what might be called a, ahem, circle of lives.
For the all the piece’s merits—and they are numerous—the video is a reminder that artists, including those who made this piece, are continuing to develop a storytelling language suited to the unique properties and possibilities of VR. However, there are also numerous stitching artifacts, another technical issue difficult to solve with current, non Light Field 360 capture methods.
Early filmmakers looked to the stage when crafting their productions—until they didn’t, at which point they began consciously establishing and exploiting a new visual language suited to a new medium. VR has been tracing a similar contour, from imitation to inspiration, for quite some time. It can only continue to do so.