Behind the Scenes: Meet the Winner for Best Short in the 360 Cinematic Category at the SHAPE AT&T Film Awards
In February, we called for groundbreaking short films from aspiring storytellers using forward-looking techniques for the 2018 SHAPE edition of the AT&T Film Awards.
Filmmakers answered the call, with more than 1,500 outstanding entrants hoping for a chance to win their share of $60,000 in prizes. We’re pleased to spotlight Anastasia Khoo, Chief Marketing Officer of Conservation International, who is an Executive Producer of the winner of the 360 Cinematic category, My Africa.
Khoo was joined in creating the film by the following partners: Director David Allen, Executive Producer Andrew Ruhemann, and Producer Gaby Bastyra, all three of London-based Passion Pictures; Executive Producers Dr. M. Sanjayan and Melina Formisano of Conservation International, based in Arlington, Virginia; and Executive Producer Adam May and Director of Photography Chris Campkin of London-based Vision3.
We spoke with Khoo to learn more about the team’s experience creating My Africa using virtual and augmented reality techniques. Across the globe, wildlife—and people—are in trouble, she said. Poaching, land degradation, and climate change threaten the long-term viability of many of the world’s most iconic animals and strain the resources people need to survive. Yet, there are signs of hope, as some communities are reknitting the bonds that have long enabled people and wildlife to live together.
My Africa transports the viewer to a remote region of Kenya, where elephants are thriving and where one young Samburu woman shows her deep love of and relationship to the land. The film is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o. Khoo discusses her and her partners’ deep commitment to telling these important stories.
Q: Why did you decide to use virtual reality (VR) in creating My Africa?
A: The VR experience creates empathy in a way not possible with other storytelling media. VR stories allow people of all backgrounds to experience our work without the time, inconvenience, or expense of traveling halfway around the world.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your short film?
A: While there are other films that speak to the plight of Africa’s wildlife and poaching wars, we wanted our VR films to remind people of what still exists and thrives and what could be lost if we are not mindful stewards.
We also want to celebrate the work of indigenous communities and local people who, in their self-interest, are working together to care for the earth and its inhabitants. Conservation International’s work, together with the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and surrounding communities, is a model worth replicating.
Q: What is the filmmaking background of your team?
A: I’m the Chief Marketing Officer at Conservation International and an Executive Producer of My Africa. I’m honored to have received several awards, including Digital Innovator of the Year.
David Allen, the Director, is a Principal at Passion Pictures in London and focuses on creating television and theatrical documentaries. He’s won four Emmys and six Wildscreen Panda Awards.
Adam May is a Director of Vision3, which has worked on several 3D Hollywood films and large-format documentaries. Vision3 focuses on entertainment uses for virtual reality and augmented reality techniques.
Dr. M. Sanjayan is a conservation scientist specializing in how nature can help preserve and enhance human life. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Conservation International.
Melina Formisano is Conservation International’s Vice President of Brand and leads the organization’s brand campaigns and creative marketing strategy.
Ami Vitale has photographed and filmed in 95 countries. She is an Ambassador for Nikon and contributes to National Geographic.
Q: Did you use a variety of filming techniques (mobile, drone, 360 video) to shoot your film?
A: Yes. To capture wild Africa in stereo 360, we brought several camera solutions onto the production. The majority of the film was shot on the INSTA360 PRO at 6K stereo. This camera was the least intrusive for filming with wildlife and was able to stand up to the challenging conditions of shooting in a remote part of Kenya.
Two key sequences, the wildebeest crossing and the nighttime elephants drinking-hole scene, required a unique camera solution. Vision3 used twin Sony A7 cameras with 180-degree lenses. Because of the proximity to wild animals, this camera rig was encased in bullet-proof glass.
For some key sequences on the Mara River crossing, the Omnicam was used. This rig had a very close encounter with a hungry lioness. Watch the video.
To create movement, Cablecam was set up in the field between trees and existing anchor points.
In post-production, every shot was treated as VFX, with camera plates and sky plates replacing tripods, shadows, and all evidence of camera equipment. It was also necessary to use stereo VFX to replace vehicles and people in order to create a true sense of wilderness immersion for the audience.
Nuke and Cara were used for VFX, and the film was completed on Mistika. Four-channel and eight-channel Ambisonic surround sound were designed in detail to create a true sense of Africa.
Q: What do AT&T SHAPE and contests like the AT&T Film Awards mean to you?
A: It’s an absolute honor to be nominated and recognized by the AT&T Film Awards. Our work is about changing hearts and minds to protect nature, so we are grateful to the AT&T Film Awards for giving us a platform to share this message.
Q: What do you think of using different filming media and technologies (AR, VR, drones, AI, etc.) to create films in the future? Is it something that interests you and if so, why?
A: Not everyone will have the opportunity to travel to Africa or other remote places of the world. VR, AR, and other technologies allow us to bring the beauty of the Earth to a wide audience and help inspire them to protect this planet through storytelling.
Q: What are your plans for My Africa?
A: Conservation International and our partners Passion Planet and Vision3 will showcase My Africa at festivals and events around the world, including AFI Docs in Washington, D.C. and the Melbourne International Film Festival, among others. We will promote the work online at www.conservation.org/myafrica and on social media channels. We will share the film in as many ways as we can—from one-on-one donor meetings to corporate events to major film festivals. We will promote the call-to-action to fundraise in support of community-led conservation as well as in support of Conservation International’s work all around the world.
Wherever possible, we will also present a live-action and tactile mixed-reality experience that puts audiences in the shoes of a Reteti Elephant Sanctuary keeper caring for the newest arrival: a baby elephant named Dudu.