You Shall Go to The Ball: The Fifty Shades Darker Experience in VR

Alice Bonasio
4 min readFeb 17, 2017

We’ve seen a lot of folks jumping onto the 360 video bandwagon in the past year as commercial platforms like YouTube have started to support the format natively. What’s interesting about the Fifty Shades Darker experience that was release this week, however, is that — unlike most film-based “companion pieces,” which come across very much as an afterthought — Universal dedicated some impressive resources to it, involving over 200 actors and incorporating the VR element into the film’s production.

To do this, they partnered up with 5th Wall, a creative studio and agency specializing in the production of Virtual and Augmented reality videos. 360 videos are generally created by recording footage with multiple cameras simultaneously and then “stitching” it in post production to create that familiar “surround” effect where the viewer is free to look anywhere inside that scene, as opposed to having their gaze guided by the director’s choice of shot.

Chris Olimpo, Creative Director at 5th Wall explains that they were keen to bring the mythology of the Fifty Shades trilogy to life so that fans could literally step into that world. What initially inspired them to do the ballroom scene was the moment in the film’s teaser trailer where Christian Grey puts on a mask for the ball: “We thought: “Wait a second! That kind of looks like someone putting on a VR headset. What if we invited all the fans of this film franchise to “put on their mask,” in the form of a VR headset, and step into the film?”

Shooting in VR is inherently different, he explains. Whereas in a regular film shoot looking directly at the camera is a big no-no, with a 360 setup the camera becomes just another person in the room, and the actors were instructed to not be afraid to look at it, acknowledge its presence, and engage directly with it. They coordinated the ball’s choreography with the crew, filmmakers, the full principal cast and over 200 extras. In a bit to minimize the already challenging post-production demands, they looked for ways of crafting the sequence movements along the stitchlines.

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Alice Bonasio

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications