June 15

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (in 360°) in Eight Takes Flat

When Universal Studios approached us to create a 360° experience to coincide with the release of their anticipated sequel to Mama Mia, entitled Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, we knew we wanted to make something that would capture the energy and joy of the films. We also wanted to create something that could exist as a stand alone experience enjoyed by fans of the Mama Mia series, but also appeal to an audience who simply loved a combination of music and dance.

To provide a high degree of integration with the film, we made the decision to shoot the experience using, not only the actual actors and crew, but the actual set they were shooting on.  In this case, that meant a trip to historic Shepperton Studios outside of London.

As director Luis Blackaller explains, “When we were developing the idea we decided we wanted the person wearing the headset to feel like they were actually experiencing the scene like a character in the film would. In this case, that character is Young Donna player by Lily James. You begin the experience by sitting in a theater watching the movie and then suddenly you are transported into The Napoleon restaurant set with the cast for an energetic dance number set to Abba’s “Waterloo.”

Producer Anthony Batt adds, “We wanted to get the audience as close to the actors and dancers as possible, to really put them into a scene from the movie. But doing so created a production challenge for us, because the film was still being shot as we were making the experience. Because of that we only had a two hour window in which to shoot on the set with the actors. That included showing the cast their marks and practicing a fairly intricate camera move.”

Director Luis Blackaller continues, “When you see a contemporary musical most times they use a lot of cuts, one every two or three seconds. So cast members that are not dancers don’t have to memorize an entire sequence, they’re just doing it move by move. In this case, we shot an entire two and a half minute long dance choreography around a moving camera as a one take. The piece was filmed with no cuts and the camera was recording in all directions. Absolutely nothing could go wrong anywhere at all.”

“Prior to shooting we met with the film choreographer Anthony Van Laast, his team, and a dedicated camera team from the film to figure out how to set up and move the camera in relation to the dancers,” says Blackaller. “The choreographers were absolutely world class. And the dancers got it immediately, because that’s what they do. That’s their training. For the actors, to switch from a cinematic style to am more theatrical one, staying in character and dancing the entire sequence, it was a real challenge. But as you will be able to see, they did it. They pulled it off. “

“Because it’s a dance piece, I felt depth and gravity were key, so we made sure to get the best stereoscopic 360 capture available today, and we made sure the floor was featured properly, because dancers’ movements are grounded in the floor. This is always a challenge in 360 stereoscopic 3D.” Blackaller continues. “We were fortunate enough to get a Yi Halo camera —compatible with the Google Jump automatic stitching software— had just come out, so we used it for the first time on this shoot which was obviously an additional challenge. But it’s the first camera in existence that that gives you high quality stitch-less full dome stereoscopic video In 360°. Before this camera we would have to film Panoramas with holes on top and bottom, and patch-in the floor later. You can imagine how that would be a problem when you have all these dancers’ feet all over the dance floor.”

 Anthony Batt adds, “The camera move was accomplished by two crew members using a gravity pulley that used a sandbag. They were way above in the rafters, looking at the action below through a window using a mirror. When you watch the experience the camera moves and then stops and moves and then stops, like a person would do if they were dancing, that was all done by hand.”

“To pull this off we had a lot stacked against us,“ Batt continues. “A brand new 360° camera, 70 dancers, one day to rehears, a two hour window film  it with no video playback, and with all of that we did it. It worked. Universal is happy, and we think that any fan of the films, or just musicals or filmmaking or VR will do this experience and immediately be transported Into something absolutely entertaining. Everything we had to do to make it happen paid off, it’s just a really fun experience.”