Roller Derby: Female power in 360º

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Experience the Angel City Derby Girls’ in 360

Watch the 360 video above or on:

[NOTE: These are best viewed through their apps or desktop browser that supports WebGL]

We rarely see many full contact sports for women, but roller derby is one of the few female-dominant sports that encourage women to go beyond their so-called physical limitations. And what’s a better way of seeing this action than a 360 degree video?

With that in mind, one of our class’ JOVRNALISM projects was a 360 degree Roller Derby.

In fact, that was the first time that many of us know about roller derby.

This all-women contact sport is played by two teams of five that skate in a circular track. Both teams designate a “jammer” who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The team members have to hinder the opposing jammer while assisting their own jammer, playing both offense and defense simultaneously.

After reaching out to other derby leagues, the Angel City Derby Girls welcomed us onto their track with our 6-GoPro HERO 4, Freedom 360 rig.

After watching a scrimmage of the sport, we came up with some ideas of capturing the action, which included setting the camera at the center of the ring; camera at the four corners of the stadium; camera in the middle of the track for skaters to skate past. Since the roller skate advances smoothly, we also wanted to mount a camera on one of the skaters’ head to give a first person’s point of view of the sport, but with the limitation of our camera equipment, we weren’t achieve that shot.

We connected with the Hollywood Scarlets, which rank No.6 in the nation, and the Shore Shots, both teams from the Angel City Derby Girls. With the help of their team members, we filmed several scenes of their practices and scrimmages.

Originally, due to safety issues, our idea of placing the camera in the middle of the track was declined, but it wasn’t until returning a third time that they finally allowed it, which eventually led to the opening shot.

Roller Derby opening shot

This was also the biggest highlight of the piece, in my opinion. In the shot, the derby girls skate towards you and make funny faces before passing you on the track. As we experience with virtual reality, the biggest question we wanted to answer is: why does it have to be in VR when television could give a better image resolution of the sport? So we strived to make this a different experience from watching it on other medium.

“It has to be for the web, not on the web,” said our professor Robert Hernandez. This has become our slogan for the class. When experimenting with new forms of storytelling, it is important that each medium could present a different experience, even if it’s for the same story, so that it’s not simply putting a print newspaper story on the web, or in our case, a TV story in VR.

In addition, from our previous VR filming experience, we know that the batteries for the 360 rig have a short life span, and so we always make sure that the batteries and external chargers are well charged before the shoot. In spite of the preparation, we always have to take breaks during the shoot to recharge our cameras.

During post-production, we use Kolor Autopano, Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. We found that the ones with more close actions are especially hard to stitch, because we have to adjust the stitch in Autopano Giga for every few seconds. But otherwise, the process of stitching was quite smooth.

We experimented with on camera interviews, but with the limitation of our equipment, we interviewed the skaters with a wired microphone, which didn’t look good with the connected cables, so we decided to use the interviews as voice overs instead.

For this project, the biggest DON’T do for future reference of all VR project is choosing a preset of YouTube when rendering out of Adobe Premiere or After Effects.

Before when we export normal 2D videos from Premiere Pro, some of us like to set the preset as YouTube 720p, 1080p or 4K. However, this resulted in a black hole at the bottom and the top of the 360 video.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 9.12.54 PM

Because YouTube preset will condense the clip and form a gap on the top and bottom of the 2D video, so when 360 video raps the panorama into a sphere, the gap becomes a black hole that is impossible to cover with any color matte.

Image 1

So if you are exporting from Premiere, we would suggest using the preset “Match Source-High Bitrate.”

Image 2

In general, filming VR Roller Derby was a fun experience. Every team member dedicated a lot of their time outside of class to shoot this 360 video, and the resulting project was a collected effort from every team member: Nathalia Tavares, Meghan Coyle, Morgan Buckley and Melody Jiang. We would like to further enrich our skills and experience with more virtual reality projects in the future.

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On December 8, 2015
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