Sundance 2018 Panel: “Shooting Cinematic VR — Awavena”

Second from left is filmmaker Lynette Wallworth, director of photography Greg Downing and AC moderator and ASC associate member Jay Holben. Photos for AC by Danna Kinsky
At the Canon Creative Studio on Main St. in Park City, filmmaker Lynette Wallworth and VR expert Greg Downing discussed the difficult Amazonian production of this hallucinogenic virtual-reality experience.

Exhibited at the recent Sundance Film Festival, Awavena is a 3D virtual-reality experience featuring the first woman Shaman of the Yawanawa people, an ancient tribal culture in a deep region of the Amazon jungle.

To become a Shaman, the individual must endure extreme physical and mental challenges, including the experience of taking a heavy psychotropic hallucinogenic drug, Ayahuasca, derived from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, that provides — among other attributes — a near-death state.

Filmmaker Lynette Wallworth puts the viewer into the first-hand experience of being under the influence of the Auahuasca – complete with out-of-body feeling, exposure of extreme colors and a near-downing experience (although this is possibly more pleasant in virtual reality than it would be in real life).

The mixed-reality project was largely photographed and captured on location in the Amazonian rainforest by director of photography — and large-dome venue and veteran visual effects artist — Greg Downing.

The Canon Creative Studio panel features both Downing and Wallworth discussing their experience of shooting under extreme conditions of heat, humidity and, of course, virtually no tech support as their location was extremely isolated.

Awavena incorporates aspects of augmented reality (AR) as well as VR in three degrees of visual freedom 3D and, in certain sequences, the full six degrees of freedom — allowing the viewer can get up and walk around in the virtual environment.

The production incorporated 2D photography, 3D photography, photogrammetry, laser scanning, drone photogrammetry, microphotogrammetry and extreme low-light fluorescent photography of plants and beautiful-yet-deadly insects in the Amazon jungle.

Utilizing the highly sensitive Canon ME20F camera — with over 4,000,000 ISO — and an extremely narrow-bandwidth blue light source of only 435 nanometers, the filmmakers were able to see the naturally fluorescent properties of native insects and plant life, mimicking the extreme-color visual experience of being under the influence of Auahuasca.

This stereo image shows us the naturally fluorescent properties of Amazonian caterpillars, as shot with the Canon ME30F.
This stereo image shows us the naturally fluorescent properties of Amazonian caterpillars, as shot with the Canon ME30F.

During the panel, Wallworth and Downing discuss the tools they used and the challenges of pushing the technological envelope in a mixed-reality experience — in addition to the unique situation of shooting in the Amazon, especially when your tripods and light stands got lost somewhere in baggage handing!

It's a lively discussion that covers a lot of ground, exposing the audience to the technologically complex, emerging world of VR production — which offers so many new storytelling opportunities for adventurous filmmakers.

This panel discussion was live streamed via the AC Facebook page and can be seen here:

Go to our main Sundance page to find other discussions held at the Canon Creative Studio.


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