Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Shooting Buzzfeed’s ‘Making It Big’ for 2D & VR Experience with Butcher Bird Studios

Butcher Bird Studios director Steven Calcote shares how they shot the latest season of Buzzfeed’s giant-sized food show “Making it Big” to satisfy fans of the 2D show on YouTube (21M subscribers) and new viewers of the VR edition on Meta Quest TV.

The shoot was an especially challenging project because the 2D and VR productions demanded different styles and pace, but the production schedule and massive food creations - like a 50-Pound Gummy Bear or a 30-Foot Cinnamon Roll - required simultaneous shooting. The production team worked to keep the kinetic cutting style of the original show by inserting alternate video angles, locked-off jump cuts and dynamic graphic layers into the VR experience.

In this exclusive interview, learn more about how they used Canon’s stereoscopic VR lens to shoot in 2D and VR while keeping the show’s DNA consistent.

PH: Hi there Steven! Can you share a little about your background and your role as a director at Butcher Bird Studios?

Steven Calcote: As a storyteller, I’ve always focused on the intersection of technology and humanity. I love telling stories about what happens when new innovations inspire us to look at the world differently. It’s probably no surprise that I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction, from Octavia Butler to William Gibson and Ridley Scott. Once you get into the habit of imagining what the future will bring, it makes it easy to start connecting dots in ways that will surprise and hopefully delight audiences.

I was lucky to find a group of like-minded filmmakers who wanted to collaborate on big projects, which led to the creation of Butcher Bird Studios. Over the last ten years, we’ve maintained a passion for creating intriguing productions, whether we’re deploying VR, branching narratives, augmented reality, virtual production, or positively insane marathon streaming events. As a director at Butcher Bird, I’m often on the frontline of driving technology to its limit while making sure the story remains the most important part of our mission!

PH: How did you become involved with BuzzFeed's "Making it Big"?

Steven Calcote: Butcher Bird is often the first call when clients have a really challenging story that involves a new technology. This happens so often that we launched a new tagline this year: “Always Up to Something!” In the case of BuzzFeed, we’ve jumped into several projects that require not just a new perspective but a whole new workflow for live-action branching narratives, involving actors ranging from comedians to children to cats!

Thankfully, Zee Myers, Head of Media Labs at BuzzFeed, loves a creative challenge just as much as we do. After delivering three different branching video series together–including hundreds of exciting narrative choices!–she got in touch last fall for a brand new challenge: simultaneously filming a new season of hit show “Making It Big” in both 2D and 3D for delivery to millions of fans on their YouTube channel, while at the same time releasing a VR format for viewers in the metaverse in “Mega Tasty!” on Horizon Worlds and the Meta Quest 2.

PH: Can you give a little insight into your creative process for this one?

Steven Calcote: “Making It Big” has already established a fantastic format in previous seasons. It’s a fast-paced cooking adventure that takes favorite foods and turns them into mega creations. We’re talking about a 50-pound Gummy Bear made from scratch! Robert Angelo, Show Producer for the series, gave us some great advice from the start: focus on keeping these zany challenges fun and entertaining.

So our goal for the new season was two-fold: maintain the energy and delight of the 2D format while introducing a brand new format for the show (that still feels like the show fans already love!). Key ingredients include: fast cuts, kinetic punch-ins, fun supportive graphics and animation, and dynamic angle changes. However, for anyone who’s filmed VR content, you know that these particular qualities have to be carefully adapted for immersive! As the director, here’s how I boiled it down for everyone: no matter the format, let’s give our viewers the sense that they’ve just taken a seat across the countertop from our amazing host, Twaydabae, and that she’s sharing the adventure directly with them in her very own kitchen.

PH: How did you navigate creating for both 2D and VR productions? What was your approach to dealing with these different styles and pacing?

Steven Calcote: I let our DP, Daniel Gomez, know from the start that every camera would have to serve both formats simultaneously, but that our VR camera would have a central role as “the eyes'' of our viewer. Critically, we would also need to extract a wide shot from this camera for the 2D episodes. Thankfully, I directed a few VR projects for Canon earlier last year and already knew the perfect setup to use: the Canon RF5.2mm F2.8L Dual Fisheye lens on a EOS R5C body, which delivers an 8K stereoscopic image (4K per eye) for a stunning VR180 experience. It’s the first VR configuration I’ve ever used where the fidelity of the image was so high that I felt good about using it for both our 2D and 3D shows.

This also allowed us to intercut seamlessly with other members of the Canon EOS family: two C-300 Mark III’s for coverage and a C70 mounted overhead for insert shots. For our VR episodes, the 2D cameras provided us with ample material for "picture-in-picture" shots, which we could float in as additional views on top of the base VR image. And for 2D, we simply used the extracted 16x9 image from the Dual Fisheye lens as our wide shot and then freely cut that in with our other 2D cameras. Next we applied a lot of fun stylistic approaches during the 3D editorial process to further match the VR episodes to the 2D show.

PH: How would you describe your production schedule?

Steven Calcote: When you’re cooking gigantic foods, multiple takes just aren’t an option! For instance, our giant Cinnamon Roll weighed in at 30 pounds! We didn’t have time to prep food doubles, and each step of the process—from mixing a vat of icing to hefting this masterpiece into the oven–was a one-way trip! With a full day of shooting required for each recipe, our post-production requirements, and hard release dates for both the 2D and the 3D episodes, filming the formats simultaneously was our only option for staying on schedule.

I’m super-proud of the fact that despite the challenging pace we were able to create unique and highly entertaining viewing experiences for each episode’s two different versions. Anyone who watches the 2D and then the 3D cuts will be rewarded with additional views, asides, recipe moments, and even more comedic bits.

PH: How important was collaboration? What was that experience like?

Steven Calcote: I marvel at the number of incredible creators who came together for this project—easily over a hundred people. The Tasty culinary team is an army of cooking geniuses who create extraordinary recipe experiments that have no precedent. BuzzFeed’s production and content team ranges from animators to designers to gaffers to brilliant writers who have learned how to speak Internet like no one else. Meta’s immersive team has created some of the world’s biggest VR productions and they treated our production like a member of the family. And of course we had the Butcher Bird special operations team shooting and editing hours of footage with gusto and glee.

Positive collaboration for a project like this isn’t just important; it’s essential when this many artists work together. Here’s where I have to give a major shout-out to BuzzFeed’s Senior Creative Producer, Brent Bennett, with whom I worked side-by-side during every aspect of prep, production, and post. He not only made sure that we captured the spirit of past seasons of the show, but that we created something entirely new for our VR work while still sharing the same creative soul. And he did it with compassion, grace, and unwavering positive support. If I could clone him and distribute him to all the studios in Hollywood I would!

PH: Can you share how the production team used alternate video angles, locked-off jump cuts, and more into the VR experience?

Steven Calcote: While our 2D edits for this season have the same fun frenetic pace as usual, fans of VR know that an average cutting pace of 2.5 seconds per shot simply doesn’t work for the immersive format! We solved the style challenge by embracing jump cuts within shot lock-offs to deliver a kinetic feel to the action without disorienting the viewer. I was pleasantly surprised during our first tests by how comfortable time jumps feel in immersive. And given that viewers are used to “accelerating” cooking steps, this editing technique felt totally organic in VR. Our lead 3D editor, Mason Ross, varied this technique in the 50-pound Gummy Bear episode by overlaying a full screen spinning clock graphic as the action quick-dissolved through Tway squeezing a mountain of limes.

Overall, we brought far more graphics into the VR experience than normally used in the 2D show to keep the energy moving and help clarify the story by orienting the viewers within the VR space (as opposed to simply cutting away to another angle as in traditional framed content). For instance, recipe “cards” pop up over relevant ingredients, like our host’s special “Tway Ploy Sauce” in the 15-pound Egg Roll episode. An animated “Tiny Tway” appears throughout the episodes, as in her special dance with a tamale in the 3-Foot Takis episode. And I have to say it makes me laugh out loud every time I watch the 2-Foot Korean Cheese Dog episode and the “Meat Paste Cam” pops up as an “alternate angle.”

PH: What was your experience like working with Canon's stereoscopic VR lens?

Steven Calcote: In a word? Seamless. I was able to shoot with Canon’s VR lens like it was just another part of my multi-cam broadcast shoot. And thanks to Canon’s EOS VR Plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro, we were able to process and work with our footage as part of our normal 2D workflow—which was crucial given that we had to freely share footage between our two formats.

Unexpected bonus: the lens has a wonderful kawaii design that makes it really easy to treat it like a person! When I ask actors to share something with "their VR buddy,” they have no problem leaning in and making eye contact with those cute dual lenses.

PH: What other projects is Butcher Bird working on (that you can discuss)?

Steven Calcote: We’re living up to our tagline! Right now we’re prepping some cool new stories for live multi-cam virtual production, where we’ll be featuring real-time game engines and AI for virtual props integration. On the narrative front, we’re currently in post on a true crime story using Canon’s Dual Fisheye lens, and we’re excited to begin prep on some new productions for Twitch, Netflix and many more great clients.