We utilized a 360 camera not for immersive 360 video but for its other superpower: reframing.
Hi, I’m Brian. I sing and produce songs with my wife and a few friends in a band called TENTS. I also make music videos. I’m a filmmaker-musician, or a musician-filmmaker depending on how you look at it.
My band and I wrote a song called "Hutah!" that is very personal to us. I made a music video that features some unique filmmaking techniques, and am here to tell you a bit about it.
But before I get into it, check out the music video below.
And here's a BTS featurette that gives you a glimpse into our process, including how we used the Insta360 One X 360-degree camera.
Coming up with the Concept
The initial concept was unearthed in a brainstorming session in March of 2019, about 5-6 months before we shot the music video for our song "Hutah!". The Insta360 One X had just been released, and I got one. I’d never been much inclined toward the use of 360 video. Being able to look around is cool, but rather than immersing the viewer, I’d found that 360 video commonly would distract or even overwhelm them. I fell in love with the One X because its primary purpose is not to create 360 videos. It is designed to let you reframe footage the way you want after you’ve already shot. It’s an “over capture” camera, if you will.
Another filmmaking obsession of mine has been and reverse music videos. There’s such a wonderful canon of entries in this style from legendary artists like Pharcyde, Alt-J, Mutemath, Shad, Motion City Soundtrack, and probably a bunch of other bands that I’m disrespecting by not mentioning. So many great bands have done so many interesting things with reverse music videos. The problem is that it has started to feel over done. For me, the fun part is trying to find a way to make a unique entry.
I started thinking about what I could do if I used 360 footage backward. My brain exploded over the course of about two minutes. I slowly began to be able to grasp this abstract idea of positioning actors around the One X and my brain melted.
So, I had this 360 camera and I was watching all these reverse videos, and I started thinking about what I could do if I used 360 footage backward. My brain exploded over the course of about two minutes. I slowly began to be able to grasp this abstract idea of positioning actors around the One X and my brain melted. It came to me all at once.
The simplest way to explain it is to reduce it down to its basic parts.
Imagine Jenny, Erik, and I around a 360 camera, which is able to capture all 3 of us simultaneously. A cue track directs all 3 of us to begin singing at the exact same time. Erik and Jenny sing different verses right over the top of each other. At the same time, Brian sings a chorus backward.
Say each chunk of singing was exactly 10 seconds, and since they were all performed at the same time, we’ve ended up with a 10-second piece of footage. We can reframe this footage 3 different ways, first on Jenny singing a verse forward, then over to Brian singing a chorus backward, then over again to Erik singing a verse forward again. In re-presenting the same footage 3 different ways, you’ve given the viewer 3 unique 10-second experiences with different singers for each chunk.
I’m scrappy, DIY, lo-fi, and don’t pretend to be a pro at video production. I think like a minimalist, figuring out ideas that feel meaningful to me that can be executed simply. Normally I like the constraints, but when this idea surfaced, it was gloves off. It is by far the most ambitious thing I’d ever done, and figuring out the cue track turned out to be the first hurdle of many.
For starters, finding folks to help out, figuring out where to make them stand, and nailing timing. Nate Yockey, my DP, called this blocking. Neat word. I spent hours and hours between rehearsals imagining, re-imagining, experimenting, trying to figure out how to make the whole thing pop.
I’m scrappy, DIY, lo-fi, and don’t pretend to be a pro at video production. I think like a minimalist, figuring out ideas that feel meaningful to me that can be executed simply.
At times I felt confident, but after the final rehearsal, I got a pretty full picture of how the final was going to look, and it wasn’t very compelling. I had to scrap nearly everything and start over. My blocking stayed the same (guy with selfie stick) and the other singers all kept their blocking, but the 23ish others all had to learn their new jobs day of. My nerves never really settled until a week after production, when I started to see the edit come together.
The video we made was a much more complex version of this. Things were not so linear. For example, the front driveway of the house gets reframed 6 times. Verses sometimes had to be shortened, musical interludes had to be accounted for, and as such, I had an enormous amount of work to do just figuring out if there was a way to build out the whole thing.
The camera was on a Gorilla Pod, which for our purpose was essentially a camera on a selfie stick. I did this because I wanted the camera to move, and using a dolly rig presented too many logistical challenges to be a good option. The selfie-stick approach proved to be a good option, though not without challenges. I had to do strength training to get my arm strong enough to hold it up for so long. Funny, my arms are certainly back to their normal, not-buff state.
I walked around the house, camera in hand, in a clockwise motion. The easiest way to grab ahold of what’s going on in realtime is to consider that time is moving forward when we are moving clockwise, and it’s moving in reverse when we’re moving counter-clockwise.
The easiest way to grab ahold of what’s going on in realtime is to consider that time is moving forward when we are moving clockwise, and it’s moving in reverse when we’re moving counter-clockwise.
Production day itself went very well. I had a lot of support from Desiree Etzel, a producer friend here in Portland. Nate Everett Yockey was a wonderful DP. Michelle Stoyanoff was our PA and did makeup. It took us about one minute and 40 seconds to do each take. Cleaning and re-setting took maybe 10 minutes. We probably ran it 25 times. We filmed the last dozen during golden hour and called it after we began to lose light.
Since I produced the song and have experience doing audio engineering, I was able to use those skills to do a lot of troubleshooting, experimenting, and really hone in on timing. I built a very elaborate road map by isolating the drums and vocals and repositioning things until everything lined up. Here’s a visual representation of what the road map looked like in logic.
The exercise of building a road map was synonymous with building the cue track we used during production. Sorting out one was sorting out both. You can hear the cue and watch the raw, unframed 360 video below.
Solving the Stitching Problem
We were on the bleeding edge of VR/360 tech in this video. We found the Mp4 footage coming off the One X near impossible to work with, and it just didn’t look good. We decided to upgrade to the Insta360 Pro 2. It has 6 lenses, shoots in 8K ProRes, and has really great internal stabilization. The down side was that 6 lenses meant 6 stitch lines. 6 stitch lines meant warbles, artifacting, and an image that would at moments be unusable. I connected with a 360 guru down in LA named Steve Cooper through a friend. He agreed to fix the stitching issues. The problem was, to fix the stitching issues, he had to abandon the wonderful internal stabilization provided by Insta360. He ended up compositing and hand-stabilizing and re-exporting and tweaking, and it took him over 100 hours.
It’s wild when you are missing a big piece of the puzzle and you don’t realize it until the eleventh hour. The whole video would’ve looked really gross and been unusable without Steve. I rented the camera for almost 4 weeks so I could test it and make sure everything looked good. I’m glad I did. When I saw how bad the footage looked, I started scrambling, doing research, and trying desperately to save the project. Steve was my savior. I didn’t even know he existed until the final stages of pre-production!
The whole crew and cast were friends, cousins, nephews, old friends, and a few new ones. We marveled at how focused and attentive and committed everyone was. It is amazing how people are willing to gather around you and support you when you put your heart and soul into something you love.
"Hutah!" Is a song about overcoming grief, shame, and baggage. It’s about the wonder of life and the beauty of every unique person. While we didn’t really do anything direct or literal to connect with the narrative, the spirit of the whole production really seemed to draw a lot of joy out of everyone. It was a crazy and wonderful occasion, one we’ll always hold dear.