An Inside Look: Help! VR

A collaboration between Google, The Mill, Bullitt, YOMYOMF, and Practical Magic

An Inside Look: Help! VR

Directed by Justin Lin

  Note: The video above can be moved in 360° by using your mouse, or moving your phone around.

Moving VR cameras is a difficult task, and Justin Lin really likes to move cameras.

When Practical Magic was approached by Bullitt, Justin Lin's production company, they shared Justin's vision for "Help!", a Virtual Reality project being produced in collaboration with Google, The Mill, and YOMYOMF. Justin wanted to put the VR camera anywhere he wanted, whether that be up, down, left, or right, and he wanted to do it anywhere, at any time.

Complicating matters further, the camera itself didn't exist, as it was determined that the VR cameras on the market simply weren't high enough quality to meet Justin's needs for the project.

Practical Magic was brought in to design a VR camera solution, and to figure out how to move it the way Justin needed to move it.

Over the next several months, Practical Magic Senior Engineer Bob Bristow led the research and development effort, using 3D printers to rapidly prototype models of VR rigs. Beyond the physical design, every possible consideration had to be made, from the details of the recording system, to power, to synchronization, to wireless monitoring, and countless other factors.

Ultimately, a four-camera 6K RED DRAGON solution was settled upon, acquiring a total raw image size of 24K in a 360 ring, nearly comprising a full sphere. The design was physically quite large, and required detailed and accurate CNC fabrication.

We iterated through a lot of designs, and built a few prototypes on the 3D printers. As we got closer to a final rig, we moved over to the CNC and started prototyping with aluminum, eventually using those metal parts in final rigs.

Something we spent a lot of time on was mitigating high-frequency vibration from the cablecam rig, which was shaking individual optical elements in the lenses and causing distortion.

--Bob Bristow, Senior Engineer

Of the many challenges faced on the project, vibration was particularly troublesome. The camera would be rigged onto several different motion systems, including complex remote head systems that were suspended from industrial-grade cable cams. During an in-depth research period, it was discovered that in certain situations, tiny vibrations from the cable cam and remote head would transfer vibration to individual elements inside the lenses on the VR camera.

This key to solving this issue was physically inside the lens itself. The lens was designed in such a way that the vibrations were causing certain elements to move differently than others, which manifested itself as various "oddities" in the captured image. We either needed to modify the lens, or modify the vibrations.

To solve this problem, Practical Magic turned to a unique 3D printing solution, using 3D printed nylon to create special lens mounts that would modify how the vibrations were distributed. These lens mounts helped create a clean and stable image while the camera was in motion.

After months of research, engineering, prototyping, and fabrication, the finished camera rig was secured to a Spidercam using a custom-built mounting system, and Justin was able to move his camera in his signature kinetic style.

The result was the extraordinary, best-in-class VR experience "Help!", currently available to watch everywhere VR is shown. We salute The Mill, who did an incredible job on both the visual effects and leading the overall effort alongside the talented folks at Bullitt and YOMYOMF.

Practical Magic Team