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Virtual Insanity as Ian Pons Jewell Enters the World of Oculus

Behind the Work 1.3k Add to collection

The director tells LBB how he created an escapist adventure, packed with zombie invasions, a dinosaur encounter and a D-Day landing in Ukraine for the Facebook-owned VR platforms

Virtual Insanity as Ian Pons Jewell Enters the World of Oculus
As Covid continues to keep many of us stuck in our homes, the appeal of escaping into a virtual world only grows stronger. And so, Ian Pons Jewell’s recent Oculus ad, which whisks us to a galaxy far, far away and beyond couldn’t feel more relevant right now. And after a year of fairly small, Zoom-call-recorded ads, this ambitious, world-hopping point of view adventure feels pretty liberating.

The spot was created between the in-house creative team at Facebook/Oculus (Robbin Ingvarsson and Kako Mendez) and an agency team at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York. It’s an experience that Ian describes as ‘beyond perfect’, with no politics getting in the way of collaboration. And that’s not just Ian praising clients – he says that the smoothness and pleasure of the project really stood out from other direct-to-client experiences.

Oculus - First Steps from Ian Pons Jewell on Vimeo.

“It had some semblance of a traditional commercial with a client and agency, but the client is actually the creative as well. There was absolutely zero beef or problems or conflicts or anything. It was incredible. For something that massive, it was really, really smooth running in all departments,” says Ian.

The film was produced by RESET and producer Jon Adams, with service production from Radioaktive Film.  The shoot took place in Ukraine – being a consummate creative problem solver, Ian, had decided to base himself in the country over the summer in order to keep working, shoot any upcoming projects there and avoid the risk of changing border controls

“Radioaktive are like family now really; Ukraine is a second home. It was Darko who suggested I go out there for a few months. I was meant to be writing a feature last year and it all got put on ice due to some rights issues. I was left without the film to work on, so I started developing other film projects slowly. I decided to be sensible and thought I could shoot, but I didn’t really want to be travelling around all over the place,” says Ian.

From a creative and production point of view, there was plenty for Ian and the team to get stuck into, even aside from working within Covid-19 safety measures and restrictions. One of the big challenges Ian faced was translating the experience of virtual reality to film. He notes that when it comes to point of view-style filmmaking, audiences are used to either frenetic handheld cameras or the distinctively non-cinematic scale of shows like Peep Show. However, says Ian, that’s not quite how we experience the world – virtual or real.

“Handheld has kind of engrained itself in cinematic language to mean “point of view” – but you don't see things wobbly,” says Ian. “Even if you're running, your eyes are the most advanced gimbal on the planet in that they adjust constantly as you bounce up and down. Your eyesight is the most incredible bit of tech that there is. I wanted to be representative of real point of view eyesight, which is really weirdly smooth and like laser-like.”

One of the distinctive aspects of point of view filmmaking and virtual reality is to give the impression that the camera is attached to a body. That meant that Ian had to figure out how to create that illusion and place arms into the film. In order to do that, Ian turned to a surprisingly low tech solution – he cast twins to play each arm. 

“I was looking at doing CG arms, so that the camera could move. I thought I could use a proper camera on dolly or steadicam and then just put the arms in post by shooting them separately. And then after I did the choreography, I realised I’m never seeing the body apart from the arms, so I thought if I just cast two different people to play the arms then I can just stick them next to the camera. This technique avoided rigging a shitty camera to a helmet and relying on the actor as a camera operator” says Ian.

Twins, it turned out, were the ideal solution because even though we might assume one hand is pretty much like another, they’re actually pretty unique. Of course, he couldn’t just cast any twins, but twins who could handle complex choreography – so he worked with Kharmel Cochrane to find the acting, dancing Jaiy twins.

“Twins can have an interconnectedness that others don’t and it was really needed due to the strange requirements. In the casting, I just had them open up a zipped rucksack. It sounds simple, but if the two hands aren’t working together to mimic one person, it looks really odd and gives away the game. So, it needed constant teamwork between them so twins just felt like the right path to go down.”

When you watch the film, the sheer variety of scenes and styles gives the impression of a very complex production. And it was – there were multiple set ups, elaborate sets and production design, a huge cast, and a range of techniques. The team would be forgiven had the shoot dragged on – but says Ian, the upfront organisation and the efficiency of the team meant that there was no need to go into overtime. Plus, most of the set-ups were one-shot scenes that didn’t need extra coverage. Before the shoot itself, Ian together with DP Mauro Chiarello and 1st AD James Dyer created a shot-for-shot ‘crap-o-matic’ film. The gang found themselves running round a public park in Kiev with toy AK-47s, figuring out shots using a smartphone camera. Ian operated and played the right hand, whilst Mauro played the left. And it was that sort of planning and prep that allowed the team to crack on when it came to the shoot.

Ironically, perhaps, the longest day was spent on the most deceptively ‘simple’ part of the film: the scene set outside of the Oculus world. “The apartment was a set build because most of the locations the team saw were just too small for a camera operator, with a gimbal, and two actors either side to pass through doors.”

As we jump from scene to scene, it’s clear that every set up has some creative flourish or twist that makes it special for Ian. The Jurassic World scene was shot using a blacklight effect that he and Mauro first experimented with in a never-released Kanye West video. It takes its inspiration directly from a level in the Jurassic World Aftermath game in which the player must hide from velociraptors in a lab. It was recreated in-camera, with shadows painted in black and the set lit in a flat 2D way.

“The zombie one was the best set, full build, the whole thing. The zombies are real, apart from the large zombie crows outside. Robin Brown knocked it out of the park as usual. And then the craziest one is probably where they land at Normandy. That’s just a river with sandy beaches. While we were filming, people were just suntanning on the riverbank,” recalls Ian.

These sunbathers were, of course, removed and textures and other background elements built up. Indeed, creating the fantastical virtual worlds of Oculus inevitably required a whole lot of visual effects – so Ian worked with the Mill London. He’s full of praise for the team led by CD Dan Williams, EP Alex Fitzgerald and VFX Supervisor Adam Droy – who of course had to weave their magic while also dealing with the challenges of remote working.

“They were collaborators from day one and we were constantly talking all the time. It’s all about planning, planning, planning and I’ve got a good handle on post. And they had brilliant ideas for work arounds for different problems,” says Ian. For example, during the zombie scene the team were finding timing around the movement of pulling an axe from the rucksack hard to nail, so they decided to shoot the arms separately and composite them in afterwards for that scene.

The experience of making the film has got Ian thinking about the storytelling possibilities of interactive media. “I would love to do some work in the video game world, it’s just another narrative medium and I think we’re a bit behind about the possibilities, honestly, in our industry and the production company advertising bubble. Now having seen how good the VR is, it’s definitely something in my mind,” says Ian. As a director known for his mind-bending (and occasionally mind-melting) creativity, it’s an exciting prospect.

But being a thoughtful kind of chap, Ian’s fairly ambivalent in his thoughts about the potential impact of VR. It’s got enormous creative potential and is a welcome escape, but he’s wary of the normalisation of disconnection or the promotion of human connection mediated by technology along.

“We’re headed for total immersion and much sooner than we think,” he says. And given his affinity with Ukraine, he has a surprisingly local analogy. “Coronavirus is basically the Chernobyl of today. Chernobyl marked the end of a totalitarian system… Gorbachev credits that disaster as the true reason for the Soviet Union’s collapse. I think the coronavirus pandemic is another disaster that is bringing about the rapid advance into a technocracy and a technological separation. Normalising disconnection and using technology to stay connected.”

He’s keenly aware of the irony, given he’s just completed an ad for virtual reality. VR, he figures, is an inevitability – but if we can as a society can cherish the importance of human connection, there’s hope that we can nudge the inexorable march of progress and technology to a positive place.

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Director - Ian Pons Jewell
Director of Photography - Mauro Chiarello
Production company - Reset Content
Managing Director - Dave Morrison
Executive Producer - Deannie O'Neil
Producer - Jon Adams
Production Manager - Marketa Husecka
Director’s Assistant - Emmanuelle Le Chat
Production Designer - Robin Brown
Costume Designer - Ameena Callender
Gimbal - Florian Hatwagner
Choreographer - Charlie Mayhew
Choreographer Assist - Ryan Perkins
1st AD - James Dyer
Casting Director - Kharmel Cochrane
Editorial - The Assembly Rooms
Editor - Gaia Boretti
Assistant Editor - Andre Rodrigues
Executive Producer - Daniel Breheny
Sound Design and Mix - String and Tins
Sound Designer - Lawrence Kendrick
Audio Producer - Laura-Leigh Smith
Music - KOM
Composer - Phil Kay
Director/Head of Production - Andy Oskwarek
Service Company - Radioaktive Film
Executive Producer - Sasha Bevko
Producer - Olya Kosenko
1st AD - Val Semko
2nd AD - Vadim Yuzba
Production Manager - Yulia Sotnikova
Production Coordinators - Val Petyshkin +Max Golubenko
PAs - Vova Altsybeev + Anna Refel
Chaperones - Roksolana Mudryk, Yura Korotun, Andrew Birch
Photo BTS - Artem Nadezhyn
Video BTS - Artur Byzhenko
1st AC - Sergey Kolesnik
Focuspuller - Peter Chetverykov
AC cam A - Vadim Dubas
AC cam B - Segrey Trush
AC cam C - Yarik Braiko
Gaffer - Leonid Sidorenko
Key Grip - Andrey Gorovoy
Chief Electric - Andrey Gorovoy
Sparks - Firas Al Rikabi, Dmitry Remez, Artem Tischenko, Aleksandr Kasyanchuk, Evgeny Sherbak, Vova Tsukalo, Sasha Getman, Vova Akulov
DITs - Jan Wachowski + Dima Samus
Sound - Denis Ryskal + Bogdan Zynkevich
Art Director - Vlad Ryzhikov
Brigader - Vitaly Karpenko
Stylist - Kostya Goncharuk
Stylist - Scarlett Wallis
Stylist Assistants - Maksimenko Andrey, Bondarenko Igor, Snesar Valeria
MUA - Marta Skalska
Pyro - Alexander Suvorov
Prosthetics - Logos Anton, Alexander Antonyk, Alexander Ludanik, Kostya Zadorozhniy, Eugene Shtein, Kyryll Zhuravel
VFX/Post - The Mill
Executive Producer - Alex Fitzgerald, Heath Raymond
Producer - Dan Crozier
Associate Producer - Kevin Liu
Production Supervisor - Colin Blaney, Noan John Vinod
Line Producer - Rima Mondal, Bhawesh Upadhyay
Creative Director - Dan Williams
VFX Supervisor - Adam Droy
2D Lead - Gianluca Di Marco, Antoine Douadi, Vinod Gopinathan
CG Lead - Justin Kurtz
Matte Painting - Cedric Mernard
Color - Damien Vandercruyssen
Compositing - Declan Andrews, Jonny Freeman, Malligeswaran K, Richard McKeand, Luke Midgley, Gangadharam Raja, Rich Roberts, Jyoti Tiwari, Giacomo Verri, Rafael Vormittag
3D Supervisor - Gaurav Mathur
Asset Lead - Dhanesh Sudhakaran
CG - Kartik Arora, Joe Besagni, Kalpesh Bhikhabhai Patel, Harsh Borah, Yong Chan Kim, Maxime Cronier, Joshua Curtis, Amit Das, C Dinesh Reddy, Paul Donnellan, Laurie Estampes, Nicola Gilbert, Ujasgiri Goswami, Girish GR, Andreas Graichen, Shahid Hussain, Doug Johnson, Kieran Jordan, Dinesh Kanakaraj, Pradeep Katta, Fazal Khan, Sparsh Kumar, Alberto Lara, Tatjana Ljubimtseva, Mahesh M S, Keith McMenamy, Vijay Mohan, Robert Moore, Sriram Namana, Umesh Namdev, Melanie Okamura, Loganathan P, Kiran Prabhu, Guru Prasad, Nikhat Praween, Rijo R, Krushna Ramrao Kulsange, Vudatha Sai Krishna, Anil Sarki, Vikas Shinde, Navdeep Singh, Kuldeep Singh Waldia, Sudakshina Sridharan, Renato Suetake, Adem Suleyman, Akshay Suresh Lanjewar, Jadheer T P, Paul Tempelman, Somesh Tiwari, Alek Vacura, Dongili Varaprasad, Roman Vrbovsky
Matchmove Lead - Murali Krishna Reddy
Design - Wendy Eduarte, Fionna Mariani, Tetsuro Mise, Laura Nash, David Nelson, Sam Singleton
Finishing - Michael Almodovar
Shoot Supervisor - Aleksandar Djordjevic, Jim Radford, Dan Williams
Agency - TBWA/Chiat/Day NY
Executive Producer - Tina Lam
Business Director - Nora Chivelly
Operations Manager - Olivia Scala
Business Manager - Nico Rodriguez
Chief Strategy Officer - James Sowden
Senior Strategists - Katelyn Saks, Sophie Engelstien, Mani Schlisser, Kayla Sredni
Chief Creative Officer - Chris Beresford-Hill
Creative Directors - Jexy Holman and Nuno Teixeira
Senior Copywriter - Athanasia Efthimiu
Senior Art Director - Alyssa Cavanaugh
Director of Integrated Production - John Doris
Client - Oculus / Facebook
Creative Directors - Robbin Ingvarsson + Kako Mendez
Executive Producer - Angela Fung
Producer - Brian Coate
Hero Twins + Kaylee + Taitlyn Jaiy
POP One Friend - Ryan Perkins
POP One Friend - Malcolm Atobrah
Beatsaber - Dreya Mac
MoH Player - Jack Morris
Walking Dead NPC - Vadim Pavlenko
Zombies -
Misha Makarov
Tonya Romanenko
Michael Anyim
Sveta Оnopa
Pavel Evchin
POP One - Akeem Bello
Chair Zombie/MoH Stunt/POP One stunt - Andrey Kaba
Zombie/MoH Stunt/POP One stunt - Roman Korzhuk
MoH / POP One stunt -
Ivan Strizhakov
Roman Stankevich
Evgeniy Poliakov
Nikolay Zavarygin
Andrey Bezverkhniy
Vadim Bezverkhniy
Anton Zubchenko

Genres: In-camera effects, Action

Categories: Consumer Electronics, Gaming Consoles

LBB Editorial, Fri, 05 Feb 2021 16:00:00 GMT