Bringing VR ballet to new audiences with a dual fisheye lens

Find out how Clive Booth used the Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens on an EOS R5 C to film an immersive performance of Swan Lake in stunning virtual reality.
Canon Europe Product Marketing Specialist Mark Fensome and Clive Booth behind a Canon EOS R5 C with a Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens filming a ballerina with her arms outstretched.

The VR ballet project focused on Birmingham Royal Ballet star Regan Hutsell, who says she was excited to be able to give people a more personal, behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be a ballet dancer, specifically how virtual reality can show viewers what it's like going from studio to stage.

Ballet has long captivated audiences with its mesmerising blend of movement, music and storytelling. However, traditional theatre environments can be overwhelming or inaccessible for many neurodiverse individuals. But what if you could redefine the way ballet is experienced by harnessing the power of virtual reality?

Clive Booth, whose work focuses on atmospheric fashion, beauty and portrait imagery, loves working in the arts and is passionate about embracing the latest technological developments, so he was the ideal filmmaker for an ambitious virtual reality project with the Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens. His goal was to record an immersive performance of Swan Lake for the Freefall Dance Company, Birmingham Royal Ballet's sister company for neurodiverse dancers, which would also be shown to a thousand students across six schools. "The idea was to bring a neurodivergent audience closer to the dancers," Clive explains. "These are young people and adults who wouldn't normally be able to go and see live theatre."

Mark Fensome with a Canon EOS R5 C and a Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens stands in the wing of a stage with ballerinas in the background.

By capturing the beauty and cultural richness of ballet in VR, Clive aimed to create an unparalleled experience for viewers. "Being able to capture the essence of that world in a way that people can immerse themselves in, and in a way that's not been done before, was a dream project," he explains.

Clive Booth and Tom Rogers stand on either side of a Canon EOS R5 C with a Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens and make adjustments to the setup.

Clive worked alongside Tom Rogers (pictured right), the creative digital producer at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Tom has experience as both a dancer and producer, while Clive, as a ballet world 'outsider', brought his own perspective, capturing unique moments and outtakes to add depth to the VR experience.

Collaborating to bring the vision to life

Clive had worked with Birmingham Royal Ballet in the past, but the launch of the Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens opened up new opportunities for VR and immersive storytelling. This was an opportunity for Clive to apply his decades of experience to an exciting new technology and create something vitally important. "I immediately thought, 'Wow, what can I do with this lens?'"

Tom Rogers, the creative digital producer at Birmingham Royal Ballet, added a valuable dimension to the creative collaboration. A dancer with the company for 18 years, he could immediately recognise the creative possibilities of filming a live show in VR.

"Clive and I embraced the idea of immersive storytelling," Tom explains. "It makes complete sense because you're putting the audience in the space with us. There is so much going on behind the scenes, so being able to put someone on stage with our dancers in the wings gives the viewer unparalleled access. It's quite an emotional experience."

Canon provided Clive with the dual fisheye VR lens, a Canon EOS R5 C and the other tools he needed from its EOS VR SYSTEM to achieve what was one of his most complex shoots to date. "Like all great collaborations, the end result is kind of an amalgam of all our input into this beautiful, pure piece of storytelling," he adds.

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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The screen of a Canon EOS R5 C shows the waveform of a video being recorded with a Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens.

The Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8 DUAL FISHEYE lens enabled Clive to capture stunning stereoscopic content.

Canon's EOS VR Utility software open on two screens as a man watches on.

What was once a complex process of alignment, synchronisation and stitching with multiple camera/file systems, is made much simpler thanks to Canon's EOS VR Utility.

Getting to grips with the gear

Like many creators – and viewers – Clive is new to VR. Prior to starting the project, he spent six months working with the product team at Canon to find out what was possible, how to overcome issues such as framing shots so that the filmmaker is not in the scene, and how to edit the resulting files.

Canon's EOS VR Utility software was a key part of the process. It simplifies your workflow by automatically processing compatible RAW video files taken with, for example, a Canon EOS R5 C. After they've been processed, you can make basic adjustments, such as white balance, ISO and brightness, before exporting the files into various resolutions, ready for further editing. EOS VR Utility really is "the glue that brings everything together," adds Clive.

Learning to film in VR requires an understanding of how the human eye and brain perceive movement. "At less than 60 frames per second (fps), the human eye can see if the movement is not fluid," Clive explains. "But over 60fps, we can trick the human brain into thinking that's reality. Canon provided me with the updated EOS VR Utility, which enabled me to process RAW files shot at 60fps on my Canon EOS R5 C and create beautiful, fluid movement from the dancers."

The low-light environment in the theatre posed its own challenges. With his EOS R5 C, Clive had base ISOs of 800 and 3200. He tried to keep it at ISO 800 as much as he could, but there were times when he was filming backstage and in the wings when he had to go up to ISO 3200. However, the camera's excellent noise reduction combined with the use of a plug-in in Adobe Premiere Pro, dramatically reduced the noise in post-production, resulting in clean shots with lots of depth of field.

Clive says the EOS R5 C is undoubtedly his camera of choice for shooting VR content. "I am extracting every ounce of what that camera can do," he says. "There aren't many cameras that can shoot 12-bit 8K Cinema RAW Light at 60fps for 50 minutes non-stop. That camera is faultless.

"Before Canon launched the RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens, I would have needed to put two cameras and lenses together to get the distances between the optics exactly right to create stereoscopic VR content," Clive adds. "And that's something I wouldn't have thought about entertaining as a filmmaker. But now we have this capability from a single lens, a single camera, a single file. It has vastly simplified the process of creating video content and immersive storytelling. For the first time, I think VR has become accessible."

There was also a learning curve for Regan, who admits she had to go back to basics and learn how to adapt her movements and hand positioning for VR. "The biggest difference was that for VR, I might use front and back movements more than just side to side, because you have the ability to capture a wider range of motion," she explains. "Usually, you're dancing in large groups, but since it was about my journey, I was dancing by myself, so for that to translate properly, I had to remember to use the same depth of movement that you would typically use for a solo."

A man rides a bicycle in a snowy scene with steep, snow-covered mountains behind, wearing a helmet with a camera rigged to the front.

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Take a look behind the scenes of filming Swan Lake in virtual reality:

RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE-BRB-Main Film-H264-EM.mp4

The importance of sound

Immersive audio was crucial to the success of the story. Clive needed to "lock" the sound to the environment, so he used an ambisonic microphone made up of four directional mics to create what he calls a "bubble of sound". "If, for example, there's a grand piano over here, I can hear it through one ear," he explains. "If I move my head, I hear it through the other ear."

The sound bubble [spatial audio] recorded what was on all sides of the camera, but Regan was also interviewed wearing a microphone. When you view the film on a headset, you can see Regan and hear the ambisonic audio, but Clive also got a clean voiceover that he could lay over the scenes without Regan, to help continue the narrative.

Despite expanding into new technologically-advanced platforms and shifting terabytes worth of data in the process, Clive says there is a liberating simplicity to filming in VR. "It's one camera, one lens, a tripod and a mic, and that's pretty much it," he says. "It's quite approachable."

For Clive, though, the most enjoyable aspect of this project was being given the tools to inspire the next generation. "Working on meaningful projects is very important to me at this stage in my career," he explains. "Like many people, I want to leave a legacy, so being able to bring ballet to young and neurodiverse people is wonderful. But to go a step further, the story is about the challenges a ballerina faces, and the way that she faces those challenges. Other young people can look at their own lives and the challenges they face and hopefully learn from Regan."

Jeff Meyer
  1. Adobe and Premiere Pro are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

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