Pro Tips, Trends

How Back-Bone Is Democratizing Virtual-Reality Production


Chances are if you’ve been online in the last year, you’ve come across James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.” The popular series, where people including Michelle Obama and Adele join The Late Late Show host to belt out tunes, has been seen by hundreds of millions of people — but what they don’t see is the tool that makes it all possible: Back-Bone Gear’s Ribcgage.

Back-Bone earned its name (and Academy Award nominations) as a 3D-scanning technology company for motion pictures, but lately, it may be getting even more attention for Ribcage. It’s an aluminum modifier that snaps onto a GoPro Hero 3/3+ or 4, and allows for almost any camera lens to be attached (with the help of adapters), all without compromising what makes GoPro cameras appealing: their small size and big technical capabilities. That’s why it’s used for “Carpool Karaoke,” says JB Lauzon, Back-Bone’s Sales and Marketing rep. The small cameras not only fit in the nooks and crannies of the car, but because of the lens interchangeability, they can use the lenses they need to create a broadcast-quality bokeh look.

But Ribcage can enable more than just big-budget late-night shows. The GoPro ease of use, the added adaptability, and the high-quality images make Ribcage especially ideal for videographers and filmmakers. “This can turn into a little production house,” Lauzon says as he holds up the rig he’s brought along for our chat. “You can produce near industry-grade footage for $1,000. From an indie level, you no longer have to go and save five grand to make a big decision on renting a Blackmagic 4K, Sony A7S, or Canon 5D.” But in 2016, what’s made the versatility of Back-Bone’s Ribcage especially exciting is how it can become that “little production house” for a rapidly expanding new medium: virtual reality.


Making VR Easier and More Accessible

The rise of virtual reality can often feel like it’s only possible in the hallways of big companies with big money, like Google and Facebook (or companies purchased by Google and Facebook). Ribcage is helping change that. “I think Back-Bone is democratizing VR,” says Lauzon. That’s because the Ribcage makes it easy to attach lenses (like iZugar lenses) for VR shooting, but also because Back-Bone offers several mounts that allow you to create the two-to-six-camera rigs needed to capture a 360 view. In that way, Back-Bone is helping make virtual reality accessible to anyone looking to experiment with the medium. It’s especially valuable for videographers looking to develop the skills needed to be a master of VR content.

New mediums require experimentation, and that means a lot of hands-on trial and error. What distinguishes Back-Bone is that its GoPro VR rigs enable what others don’t. “Each of these gets really damn hot,” Lauzon explains, pointing at a three-camera 360 VR rig set-up. Most 360 VR requires several cameras to be wedged close together, or stacked on top of each other, and that can create a convection point in the middle. But because Ribcage has aluminum faceplates, which most don’t, an active heat sink comes into play. The central convection point is removed, and you can shoot for longer.


New Medium, New Mindsets

Just because Back-Bone makes it easy for aspiring VR videographers to start shooting doesn’t mean it won’t be without its challenges. For professionals especially, looking to master the medium requires a different mindset. Lauzon often works with directors and cinematographers on projects and proofs-of-concepts, and he says he’s often asked where the camera should be pointed. “You don’t think, ‘point.’ Think, ‘everything,’” he says. “Wherever the camera is, it captures everything. For longtime film professionals, it’s a really difficult concept to work your head around, because they’re so focused on that frame and the 180 degrees in front of the camera.”

That also means you have to think more about set dressing and composition, because you’re simply shooting more things in-camera. “Because it captures everything, you really have to have a good sense for how to set up a scene properly,” Lauzon says. “What’s the composition? How can I actually put this camera in the middle of a setting where it’s compelling and not just a virtual tour?”

Figuring out the answers to those questions now is going to be very important for anyone who wants to use the Ribcage to prepare for a career in VR content. Figuring out what works with 360 VR now will help tremendously when it goes fully mainstream. In other words, it’s not just about experimenting; it’s also about developing a skill set and — maybe even more importantly — a portfolio. That’s Lauzon’s mission, and why he set up Green Lake Films for that purpose. “Because VR is so new, I’m putting my head down and I’m producing content,” he says. “I’m going through all the difficulties to get that wealth of content and experience, so that when I actually go about producing, I’ll be able to showcase some great VR.” That’s why it’s so encouraging that Back-Bone has made it so easy for both aspiring and professional videographers to dip their toes in the VR pool. They have a chance to carve a path for themselves in tomorrow’s VR revolution today.

For Good VR, Channel Godard

So, for those looking to make their VR mark, are there some approaches that will fare better than others? Lauzon has some thoughts. “I think Godard said that he really liked filming on location, because it captured a physical and actual moment in time in a real environment. I think that VR very much has that same opportunity, in that you capture everything.” That’s what will lead to the kind of immersion that not only takes full advantage of the possibilities of VR, but will also be compelling for an audience. “I like the experiential aspect of all this,” he says. “Being able to personally experience a situation you wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience.”

Which brings us back to “Carpool Karaoke,” in a way. It may not be VR, or made independently. But one reason it’s so popular is because it puts us in a space we wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise. In doing that, with the help of Back-Bone’s Ribcage, it’s lead to billions of views. Just imagine how many people could be reached with their cameras and VR, when we can actually experience being in the car.