Until Jesse 360

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Until Jesse 360 is a 360-degree short cinematic film that is best experienced in VR headsets such as the Vive, Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear.

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The film emerged from the similarly titled Until Jesse 3D that was filmed as the final project in Victoria University of Wellington’s 2016 3D cinema course. The course, taught by me and Paul Wolffram, asked students to create a stereoscopic 3D film that could be shot over one weekend. The result was Until Jesse 3D that was scripted by Henry Bennison and directed by Henry and the other students in the class: Morgan Fowler, Aaron Lewis, Steph Miller and Bex Stuart. It received an international premiere at the LA 3D Film Festival in November.

 

As the students were working on the project it occurred to me that the script would be perfect for a 360-degree short. The Colliding Worlds project that I am involved in at Victoria University had been bringing together a range of people working on VR content, including experienced visual artists such as Raqi Syed and Kevin Romond. They not only shared their expertise and thinking on how to film in 360-degrees but also helped me get together Samsung 360 cameras. With most of the Until Jesse crew and some of the original actors on board, we put together a plan to film a 360-degree version over one weekend in November. I was also helped by my Summer Scholar research assistant Joseph Hendren and PhD student Dor Fadlon who brought different technical and visualisation skills, as well as sound designer/recorder Dan Fraser who had to deal with complicated mic set ups.

The logistics in shooting this type of content threw up an array of challenges, most significantly how to change our cinematic mindsets to film content that, for the first time in the history of screen media, doesn’t have a frame. The weekend shoot was experimental in nature, realising that we wouldn’t know until after the cutting floor what works and what doesn’t work. Although there are an increasing number of 360-degree films available (including an explosion of content in late 2016) there are still few ground rules in place and no one has quite worked out what the cinematic language should look like for this new form. Can hard cuts be used or should you only ever fade to black? Should cuts always be ellipses in time or can you use them to move across space? Does the camera always have to be in the centre of space? Can you incorporate multiple takes or will continuity be a problem? Does the camera position have to represent a POV perspective or can the viewer have an omniscient gaze? How do you wrangle your crew and equipment when there is no off-camera space in which to hide things? How do you mix sound to reflect the 360-degree visual space?

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Most of these questions have been answered in one form or another in Until Jesse 360 although it is clear that this is really just the beginning of a long journey to work out what are the aesthetic and storytelling possibilities in this new filming mode. I hope it is the first of many projects and one that will link in to diverse experimentation across the globe.

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