360 Video Creator Voices: Pablo Ballester (Zita Films 360)

In this episode of our 360 Video Creator Voices series we interview Blend Media creator, Pablo Ballester from Zita Films 360 who specialises in aerial and drone capture in 360 VR.

What is your background and what drove you to get into 360 VR?

I have been working in 360 video production since 1998 and have always been interested in new technology, so VR and 360 video seemed to be the obvious next step for me. Three years ago, I loved it when I experienced my first high quality virtual reality experience; I felt the power of immersive content and immediately wanted to recreate that.

So, I started focusing on 360 video production. I wanted to create the very best 360 video content, so I learnt from the best 360 video creators. First, I travelled to France to become a certified 360 video trainee at the Kolor GoPro Academy, and soon after I channeled all my efforts into 360 video production, while sharing my production skills with other 360 video creators. Also, at Zita Films 360, we shoot aerial 360 videos.

So, why do you shoot aerial 360 videos?

I love to shoot aerial 360 videos. I believe aerial shots stretch your 360 video production the extra mile and any quality 360 video production should include aerial shots if possible. I have been filming from helicopters for a long time now; from old Tyler mounts to Wescam systems, I’ve tried it all.

I highly recommend you shoot aerial 360 videos in 8K at a low altitude. It’s important to steady your shots and capture all the surrounding details from a birds eye view perspective. Enjoy capturing content in this format; it’s magical!

Watch Pablo’s stunning 8K aerial 360 video shots over Rascafría, Monasterio de El Paular, and Castillo de Argüeso in Spain, uploaded on the Blend Media platform.

What is the most amazing aerial/drone shot you have seen?

I have seen thousands of great examples, from Apocalypse Now to Black Hawk Down. There are a number of featured films that boast amazing remote, natural and unspoilt aerial shots, taken during the magical hours of the day.

In regards to 360 video, the National Geographic team and Blend Media 360 Creators, Airpano are always at the best spots on Earth, pushing the boundaries; that’s where I want to be too!

What’s the most exciting project you have worked on, and where has been your favourite location to shoot been?

Australia, Fraser Island, Double Island, Glass Mountains, Noosa, Great Barrier, French Alps, Japan, Florida Keys…the list goes on!

In Spain, Ronda is particularly breathtaking. Picos de Europa, Comillas on the North of Coast of Cantabria is an emotionally striking place too and a great location to shoot aerial 360 videos.

I’m now working on an underwater 360 video production from HMAS Brisbane, located in Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.

Have you encountered any obstacles along the way?

Yes, many, but I guess they are absolutely necessary to learn how to improve your 360 video production skill set.

Right now it’s still quite hard to get good projects at a good price. Only big brands seems to be ready to produce in 360 at a good level.

Regarding aerial 360 videos, I have hired drone companies before, but they don’t specialise in VR. After having a number of bad experiences with these companies, I decided to make my own aerial 360 videos. It has taken a lot of research, hundreds of flight and stitching tests, and time developing custom solutions to improve stabilisation to get to where I am today, with efficient and high quality delivery.

You can see one of our 360 video drone set-ups below. We now have a much better gimbal though!

Have you got any upcoming shoots that you are exciting about?

Yes, I’m almost fully booked for the next three months. I’m returning to Australia in March to shoot aerial 360 videos and to capture underwater 360 diving footage in the Great Barrier Reef. I will also be involved in the Tour España 2018 VR campaign, plus some Colombia projects too.

Do you believe you can tell a better story with 360˚ / user-controlled content, compared to more traditional formats?

I don’t like to compare formats too much, as they are different. I always say that any production can be filmed in 360 too. Stereoscopic and 6-Dof volumetric video will be a game changer too.

I believe immersive 360 video production is great for horror, thriller and mystery genres; there are no distractions from the outside world. VR works because it “hacks” your brain and triggers deep emotional responses and even the feeling of vertigo. 360 VR is also a great documentary, social and journalist tool, as it offers something that is closest to reality as possible; there are no fake scenarios or selective framing.

I was involved in a horror series last summer, operating a 360 camera for a Future Lighthouse production for Oculus. It was called Campfire Creepers and was directed by Alex Aja. I used a 12 Blackmagic stereo rig and there were some fantastic actors involved, including Robert Englund aka Freddy Krueger.

I have also been involved in filming a short documentary in Ritsona refugee camp in Greece for Cruz Roja (Red Cross). I found the 360 VR format worked particularly well here.

Anything that is different, attractive, immersive and beautiful, such as mountain climbing, paragliding or motorbike racing, should be filmed in 360.

You can view my 360 video production for Boatsetter here.

What advice have you got for other 360 VR filmmakers out there? Any pre/post-production tips?

As with any flat video production, good pre-production will deliver a nice product.

In my opinion, quality is key: smooth motion, proper camera positions, stabilised shots, live action shooting, best possible stitching, spatial audio, quality lighting, time, patience and post-production skills are essential.

In pre-production, it’s important to spend time scouting out the area you are going to shoot in. It’s also important to rehearse with a consumer 360 camera. If you do this, I’m sure you will deliver an accurate shooting plan.

It’s also important to ensure you are fully aware of project delivery times. Make sure you have a backup plan in case you encounter any post-production issues.

Some 360 cameras don’t produce good results on “not real LOG profiles”, so always pre test with the same lighting conditions.

Make sure you are organised and think outside the box!