New Zealanders can now experience all the thrills, excitement and energy of what it’s like to be a musician performing in our national orchestra thanks to cutting-edge 360-degree virtual reality technology.
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has released a fully immersive VR experience of the 90-member Orchestra performing at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre.
During the performance, the viewer can stand on the conductor’s podium next to NZSO Associate Conductor Hamish McKeich or move at any time among the different sections of the Orchestra as it plays, including first violins, cellos, horns and percussion.
The NZSO VR Experience, made by New Zealand content creation company Wrestler, is the one of the first in the world of an orchestra filmed in 360-degree video and sound and from five different camera positions.
NZSO Marketing Manager Thomas Drent says it will revolutionise how New Zealanders can experience their national orchestra and entice more people to see the NZSO live.
“The NZSO is always exploring new ways to expand its audience and bring the Orchestra to all New Zealanders,” says Drent. “This new VR experience allows people to immerse themselves in the Orchestra in a way that would normally only be possible if they were a player or conductor. It looks and sounds amazing and is incredibly realistic. You will believe you are actually standing among NZSO musicians as they play.”
A Holophone microphone was used to record the music in 360 degrees so that the sound of the performance also changes, depending on where the viewer places themselves.
To view the NZSO in VR, the public can download the free NZSO VR Experience app for their smartphone, which they play on smartphone-friendly VR headsets, including inexpensive cardboard models.
The VR video precisely follows the viewer’s head movements, so even if they turn their back on the Orchestra or look up or down, they always see the interior of the Michael Fowler Centre.
Drent says the potential uses of VR for the NZSO was limitless, including education. Developments in VR may also mean that one day a viewer could conduct a virtual orchestra or play a virtual instrument in a VR performance.
McKeich and NZSO players viewed the VR video and were blown away by what Wrestler captured.
“The whole project was a great success and it was fantastic for me just to be able to see the orchestra in a new way and in a contemporary way as well,” McKeich says.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to actually get on stage and go ‘I can sit next to the timpani or next to the trumpet or next to the harp’. It’s one more way to share our music-making experience. I think it’s fabulous,” says Section Principal Percussionist Laurence Reese.
Wrestler Head of VR/AR Kat Lintott says the company was stoked that the NZSO wanted to experiment with VR. “To be able to walk around the stage while many musicians play around you is just breathtaking.”
The company used an Omni camera array to film the Orchestra in 360 degrees. “It’s made up of six cameras that all shoot simultaneously and through specialised software we can stitch those six shots together and create a piece of footage mapped to the sphere,” says Wrestler VR Developer Jeff Jones.
At the same time the sound of the orchestra was captured with a special microphone shaped like a rugby ball. A Holophone H2-PRO 7.1 was embedded with eight microphones to capture the music in 360 degrees. The NZSO is one of the first orchestras in the world to include 360-degree sound in a VR video.
“The sound recording for this project was a really interesting challenge and also a little bit daunting,” says Wrestler Sound Engineer Chris Ward. “We had to come up with something that had a very small profile that was discreet, that was easy to move between set ups.”
The result is that if the viewer stands next to the first violins or moves to the conductor’s podium the sound changes in the same way it would if you moved around during a live performance.
For those without a smartphone or VR headset a version of the video will be placed on the NZSO’s Facebook page and YouTube, allowing the viewer to use their mouse to pan in 360 degrees while the NZSO performs.
Updated on 21st July 2017