Building the concert in a phonebox

Through the wonders of virtual reality, we’ve squeezed a packed Snape Maltings Concert Hall and the BBC Symphony Orchestra into a phonebox. Visitors can step inside and use the goggles to look at the different sections of the orchestra, and even at the audience and the beautiful interior of Snape Maltings Concert Hall, from a position about 3 feet above Martyn Brabbins as he conducts.

As well as the phonebox, you can experience video using Youtube’s 360 video viewer below – just click play and use the arrow keys to look around (needs Google Chrome, I think). Even better is if you look at the video using the Youtube app on a smart phone – you can move the phone around you to see different angles of the concert. Please do let me know what you think in the comments! And read on for how I filmed the video.

I filmed the performance of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s concert at this year’s Aldeburgh Festival. Having played with the cameras before, with no cutting between cameras or b-roll, it’s straightforward (but still time-consuming!) to put something together which is still relatively new and a lot of people haven’t seen before. Capturing a video that points every direction at once – forwards, backwards, left, right, up AND down – has been fascinating.
I’m very grateful to three companies for their help in this project. The first is Bruizer, who lent me their 360 camera rig. It’s made of 7 GoPros in a frame to capture video in every direction. Here it is, on Aldeburgh Beach.

Filming in all directions on Aldeburgh Beach

The GoPro camera prides itself on being a handy little automatic box to capture whatever you put in front of it, so the first step of making 7 videos all exposed at the same level was to go into the menu and turn off all the automatic functions. And then do it again, and again, until all 7 cameras had matching settings. As the cameras are so small, they also have tiny batteries, which mean you’re lucky if they last a full hour. So plugging in 7 charging cables at every available opportunity became a necessity.

The second company I’d like to thank is the BBC Symphony Orchestra, who let me film their performance at the Aldeburgh Festival. I suspect some orchestras might balk at the prospect of no editing allowed, but as their performances are almost all broadcast on Radio 3 live, they didn’t mind at all. Here they are in rehearsal with Martyn Brabbins, working on Britten’s Sea Interludes with video projections by Tal Rosner. You can just about see the 360 rig high above above Martyn’s head.

Martyn Brabbins conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra

Once it was filmed, the next task is to get the footage from the cameras. This has to be done in order so as not to confuse the software. And, with 7 cameras filming greater-than-HD-resolution footage for 40 minutes, the files are huge. The 360 folder on my computer, with the concert and a few other clips in, currently stands at 295.7GB. Here’s 7 cards waiting to be copied.

Another 7 cards to copy...

The repetitiveness of doing every task 7 times was starting to get to me by now – can you tell? But there was more to come…

Stitching these 7 files together into one all-encompassing video is quite tough for a computer to do. The Mac Pro I was using at work was struggling, with 12 minutes of rendering time for every one minute of video, even before any colour correction:

Here I am grateful for the third person, Rich at Hammerhead VR, who gave me some tips on processing the footage. It all seemed to be working though, and some of the musicians that pop in seemed to enjoy the footage too:

Finally, after a lot of tweaks, we have it up and running – our very own Concert in a Phonebox at Aldeburgh Music, where you can walk in and watch the BBC Symphony Orchestra, hovering above Martyn Brabbins’ head, whenever you want. These are the first happy virtual concertgoers:

First users of the Concert in a Phonebox