Virtual Reality Case Study: Civil War Trust Picket Post

The concept of virtual reality has been around for some time, but the recent boom in the smartphone and gaming markets has catapulted VR out the recesses of niche technology and into the platform of storytelling.

We were contacted by our friends at Civil War Trust in early 2015 about researching virtual reality for use on their website. To say we were excited is an understatement. Though unseasoned in the world of VR, we were confident that our knowledge of Civil War history and film production would be enough to help us navigate this unfamiliar territory. Learn about our VR process and how we completed this project for the Civil War Trust below.

Step One: Choose Equipment

The first step was figure out which technology we would use. After looking into many 360° camera rigs, we finally settled on the GoPro Omni. The GoPro Omni is equipped with a spherical rig to capture 8K 360° video (8K is the recent successor to the 4K phenomenon and is the highest of ultra high definition resolution). The GoPro Omni has six cameras, making it easier to capture quality, high-motion 360° video.

Step Two: Shoot Test Video

Before diving into our first VR video for the Civil War Trust, we thought it best to shoot a test video. Our goal was to take a simple subject – a snippet of history on the KC River Market – and see it through all stages of production: the difficulties/limitation of camera operating, the challenge of keeping the viewers’ eyes tethered to the action, understanding how to stitch the footage of 6 cameras into one parallel projection, and figuring out how to add 3D graphics to the footage in post-production.

In this first test shoot, we were able to check off many of our target goals: stabilizing the moving camera rig, compositing 3D graphics, and guiding the viewer’s eyes with cues from the speaker/tour guide, Keith Johnson. We toyed with a few creative ways to hide the camera operator, Brian Rose, but since the nature of the video was experimental, we decided to leave him in the shot and hope the video’s primary action would draw the viewer’s eyes away from the cameraman.

 

 

Overall, though brief, finishing the test video gave us enough confidence to move forward on our VR video with the Civil War Trust.

Step Three: Civil War Trust Picket Post VR Shoot

Our VR project with the Civil War Trust was to capture a picket post, a group of soldiers that are placed at a forward position to watch for an enemy attack.

**Keith Johnson (co-director) left, Michael Palm (camera operator) right**

On a normal film shoot, the director stands behind the camera and is able to watch actors’ performances. In the case of VR, our director, Shane Seley, had to dress up in a union soldier costume, pose as a sentry (you can barely see him off in the distance on the ridge in the images below) and attempt to watch the performances as an extra.

**Shane Seley in center dressed as union soldier directing actors**

This was no easy task. The rest of the camera crew had to hide behind a hill and hope the actors did their job. After half a day of rehearsal/choreography with the actors, we finally rolled the first take.

 

The post-production workflow was very different on this project compared to what we’re used to. Traditional video editing (sequencing one clip after another to form a story) was basically thrown out the window. We added some music and sound effects, overlaid a few graphics here and there, but beyond that, we really had to rely on the performances we captured in-camera to tell the story and direct the viewer’s eyes. We could not have pulled off this project if it weren’t for the help of our team of reenactors, whose attention to detail and knowledge of Civil War history is always an invaluable asset to us on set.

Moving forward, we intend to partner with the Civil War Trust on more VR projects. While we haven’t mastered VR video just yet, this project has sparked new ideas and we look forward to refining our VR skill set.

If you’re interested in virtual reality services, contact our friendly team. We’re excited to master this art form and would love the opportunity to work with you!

America’s First: 2016 Election Video

Posted by on Feb 24, 2017in Historical Geekdom | No Comments

Back in November, we put together this short video for George Washington’s Mount Vernon, promoting tourism to the historic estate, and providing a healthy contrast to the upcoming election.  Having just finished shooting for A More Perfect Union, we were eager to profile the uncommon story of George Washington’s election.  Our video made quite a splash on Mount Vernon’s FB page, reaching well over one hundred thousand views in just a few days.

America’s FirstWe’re with George Washington. He made America great.

Posted by George Washington’s Mount Vernon on Monday, November 7, 2016

LINE-Seperator_v02Winning by unanimous decision in both 1789 and 1792, George Washington defined the role of Commander-in-Chief, establishing a precedent that remains influential today.  His two-term philosophy would inspire the 22nd Amendment, limiting the length of time a president can serve.  He begrudgingly accepted a presidential salary, only to ensure that future executives need not be independently wealthy.  He established the title, “Mr. President,” resisting some of the more pompous monikers suggested by the Senate.  Perhaps the most relevant aspect of Washington’s presidency comes from his Farewell Address.  He warns that political parties are “potent engines” that people may use to “usurp the reins of government” for special interests, and encourages all of us to look beyond party affiliation in service of the common good.

Blog Post_ALINE-Seperator_v02Today the political climate has changed.  Elections seem destined to polarize voters rather than foster healthy debate, resulting in a political system which is frustratingly complex.  Thankfully, we can look to the example set by George Washington in measuring, for better or worse, all future presidents.

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Storytelling Through Animation

Posted by on Aug 27, 2015in Animation | No Comments

CMA: FARM Story from Wide Awake Films on Vimeo.

Growing up, many of us cut our teeth on a steady stream of animation. From a very young age, animation caught our attention with after-school and Saturday morning cartoons and full-length movies from Disney. As we become adults, animation continues to find a place in our hearts through comic book adaptations, Japanese anime and Pixar movies.
With roots going back to the late 1800s, animation remains a favored media. Armed with its stills, storyboards and catchy music, animation has the ability to not only tell a story but also to soften the viewer with a hint of childhood nostalgia. Recently, Wide Awake Films had the opportunity to work with CMA and the National Dairy Farm Program to create a short animated film called The FARM Story.

Making Serious Things a Little More Fun
The recent animation project teamed up animators and film producers from WAF with Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM). Created by the National Milk Producers Federation with support from Dairy Management, Inc., the FARM project demonstrates the commitment of U.S. milk producers to create quality dairy products from healthy cows.
FARM looks to build trust and transparency into the production of milk and milk products. While the topic of animal welfare and quality food is certainly on the minds of many Americans, it is a topic that often leads with the serious side of the issue. Rather than make an already-heavy topic more intense, animation lends a note of lightheartedness and whimsy to an otherwise weighty matter. So how do we do that?

Bringing It Together Through Animation
1. Start with art direction – Ever wonder where the BIG ideas come from? These happen in the brainstorming sessions where we create the concepts of what the art will represent and communicate. Art direction helps decide if the direction will be light or dark, happy or sad, comic or tragic.
2. Create black and white storyboards – This sequence of drawings allows animators to sketch out the scene, directions and dialogue for each portion of the story. Typically one storyboard “frame” is dedicated to every scene.
3. Build an animatic – In order to establish timing, black and white storyboards are put to music. When complete, this becomes the first “animation” of the story.
4. Enhance with full color stills – Once the scene, direction and accompanying music are set, full color is added to the storyboards, literally drawing the scene to life.
5. Bring it all together – From the artist’s pen, the composer’s ear and the client’s vision, the entire animation is brought together to tell a story.

Keep it Collaborative, Keep it Fun
At WAF we are always looking for the creative and inspirational side of every story. We believe collaborations such as the one with CMA and FARM not only help to get the word out about a serious topic in a fun and creative way, but also gives us the benefit of learning about something new along the way!

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The Souvenir of Historical Travel

Posted by on Jul 22, 2015in Uncategorized | No Comments

What does travel mean to you? For some, the mere mention of traveling invokes feelings of excitement
and anticipation for the opportunity to visit somewhere new. For the less-adventurous, travel might
mean staying in the comfort of home watching a travelogue or documentary about a place they’ve
always longed to go or reading a book set in an unfamiliar area.

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George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Thankfully, it matters little if you are the outgoing type or you see yourself as an armchair traveler. At its
heart, the best travel contains the experiential pleasure of creating or invoking a memory. Perhaps
that’s why the original definition of souvenir as a memory or recollection feels so right. While many of
us look for a souvenir to commemorate our experience or journey, it’s often the attached memories
that remain with us after the tangible item fades and cracks. With a bit of prompting these memories
can be brought to the forefront of the mind through the look or touch of item or travel to a place that’s
so powerful it can feel like time traveling.

Creating a New Story

These memories often become the basis of the individual stories of our own history and a gathering of
experiences. For those who love history, there is a strong emotional need to remember and
commemorate those who have passed before us. This might done through the act of visiting the
battlegrounds and cemeteries of our fallen soldiers, trying on the costume of a long-ago era, or retracing
the steps of a famous individual or battle.

With historical travel, new generations have the opportunity to see and experience the areas once
accessible only through the reading of a book. This could be something as extraordinary as walking the
Freedom Trail in Boston, standing at the foot of Lady Liberty, or traveling to a well-known Civil War
battle site such as Gettysburg. With each travel experience we not only have the opportunity to step
back in time but to also assimilate the visit with our own life experiences, stories and education.

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Places to take a Historical Field Trip

Lincoln’s Last Days

Civil War Trust War Department – Lincoln’s Last Days from Civil War Trust on Vimeo.

In this War Department episode, Civil War Trust Director of History and Education Garry Adelman travels the country to find artifacts and stories related to Abraham Lincoln’s last days.

History as many of us think of it is a culmination of stories and facts collected between the pages of a dusty book. But for living historians and historical reenactors the story never has a chance to grow old. With each reenactment, the stories are given new life and as a result, their impact spreads each time they’re introduced to modern audiences. In that juxtaposition of the old and new, the Wide Awake Filmmakers and a group of historical reenactors recently gathered at the historic Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm in Olathe, Kansas, to recreate scenes from the final days of Abraham Lincoln.

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The day-long filming took place on a chilly morning at the end of March at the 1865 farmhouse and working farm, one of the last public stagecoach stops along the Westport Route. As the group exited their modern transportation, they carried with them the remnants of living history in the form of clothing, hats, shoes and accessories from 150 years ago, all while the outside traffic sped by unaware.

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Reawakening the Past

As preparations for shooting began, Abe Lincoln sat quietly as his beard was dyed and trimmed and contour was applied to create deep hollows under his eyes and cheeks. In the next room, his wife, Mary, made final preparations to her costume by consulting a book with pictures of Mary Lincoln during the last days of her husband’s life.

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For the reenactors, this was business as usual, but to the casual observer the scene felt a little like stepping into a time warp. In one corner lay a modern guitar next to a spinning wheel and in the next, a reenactor in a wide-brimmed hat passed the time between scenes by checking out his smartphone. Throughout the room, there were conversations regarding the historical accuracy of a costume or scene with debates about everything from the proper length of a Civil War-era ladies fan to the importance of having historically correct pomade-smoothed hair. Minus the high-tech camera recording the action, it really felt like a small peek into a portal of time.

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Educating a New Generation

That day, the actors and crew captured Lincoln’s melancholy last moments including the carriage ride taken with his wife the day before the fateful visit to Ford’s Theatre and the final deathbed moments surrounded by his wife and several of the nation’s senators. The culmination of the daylong filming will become part of a joint webisode project between Wide Awake Films and Civil War Trust commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s April 15th death. The Civil War Trust is a charitable organization focused on preserving Civil War battlefields, promoting historical education for the next generation, and heritage tourism.

View The Civil War Trust’s Lincoln’s Last Days here.

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Filming Re-enactments: Get Your History Right

Posted by on Feb 16, 2015in About Us, Historical Geekdom | One Comment

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From George Washington’s Mount Vernon to the battlefields of the Civil War, Vietnam and World War II, Wide Awake Films is constantly on the lookout for ways to enhance our creative work with historical accuracy, and believe us, that kind of initiative can take us in some pretty interesting directions!

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Thankfully, there is always a starting point of looking through our in-house library and on the Internet for vintage photographs, period illustrations and other historical references, but we also know that’s it’s important to cast a wide inspiration net because you never know where a good idea might come from to create the most authentic backdrop, set or costume possible.  We always first look to the historical documentation itself. Too often, filmmakers believe they can heighten history with their own narrative twist, when in most instances a little digging reveals that the actual history is far more compelling. When it comes to creating a historical re-enactment for a specific time period, there are a number of considerations that can help elevate the look from a simple costume to a historically accurate re-enactment ensemble.

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The first differentiator begins with the person in the clothing. Whether a principal or an extra, the visual record of the era you’re trying to recreate should be your guide. If casting for an industrial scene in the early part of the 20th Century, study pictures from the era and know the history. European immigration was especially at a peak at the time. The faces and body styles should reflect this. And don’t forget the personal hygiene habits of the era you’re recreating.  A daily shower or bath is still a fairly modern luxury.

Next, it’s important to create the right silhouette. For the ladies, that means having the proper foundation garments (petticoats, stays and corsets) under the clothing to create the right form and drape. Fabrics, trim and textiles chosen for the clothing should rely on choices that include quilting cotton, handkerchief linen and quality silk. Modern fabrics, especially when not used in large enough quantity, cannot produce the right historical profile and the clothes will lack the necessary presence. Even something as basic as seam lines can throw off the historical accuracy of a look. Seam lines that are placed on the shoulder are a dead giveaway for a modern costume.

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For the men, in any recreation pre-1960’s, it’s the hat that makes the silhouette. Spend your money on getting the right headgear and the rest of the re-creation costume will fall into place. Also, look to the tailoring of the time. For example, if your actor is thin, then accent it with close-fitting clothing versus putting them into oversized baggy duds.

Historical re-enactments are not only about getting the clothing right but also the hair, accessories, facial hair and probably most important, the attitude of the era. Even with all the right clothing you can’t fake character and swagger. Another thing that’s hard to fake is clothing that has the age, character and wear and tear that can only be earned over time, creating an outfit that not only looks like you’ve worn it out but also possibly died in it, too.

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And, most importantly, always have experts on set. We always involve people with decades of study and interest in the material culture, household goods and history of the time we’re trying to depict.  Our true secret is hiring the best re-enactors of the history we’re portraying. These are the people that come on set ready to shoot with thousands of dollars of their own equipment and a brain full of knowledge about their historic era. Wide Awake is really lucky to have some amazing folks in this regard who like to come out and “play” with us on our historic recreations!

Recommendations for Adding Legitimacy to a Re-enactment Costume

  • Work, exercise and sleep in it so it looks like it’s yours
  • Use sandpaper on the elbows, knees and cuffs to give the stress points a worn-in look
  • If called for, stain your outfit with mud, oil, dirt, grease or tea
  • Leave clothes out in the sun to fade the color – this can take months
  • Replicate the hairstyles and facial hair of the time period
  • Avoid wearing cosmetic make up, fingernail polish, non-period wrist watches, modern glasses, etc.
  • Leave your cell phone at home

Check out these before and after shots showing how we aged and distressed a World War II uniform for an episode we directed for National Geographic TV, Day Under Fire: Saipan:

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One of our favorite reenactments is one we did we did with a wardrobe budget of $100 and about a weeks’ notice. We created a Negro Leagues Baseball dugout (circa 1940s) in honor of the All Star Game held in 2013 in Kansas City. To read more about our baseball re-enactment, click here.

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Amon Carter Museum: First Stop on the Bingham Exhibit Tour

Posted by on Feb 9, 2015in Things we like | No Comments

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From the beginning of time, water has attracted humans for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s obtained for transportation, industry, eating and drinking, or as a keystone of community development, water in its many forms continues to inspire. The 19th century Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham dedicated a number of his works to the depiction of the life and lore of the rivers and byways of Missouri, following in the tradition of artistic illustrations of water recorded over hundreds of years.

Right now, 16 river paintings and 50 drawings from George Caleb Bingham’s collection are on exhibit in Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Bingham’s major river works showcase the role that water played in the 19th century as a means of transportation and trade as well as how the river shaped the lives of those who lived around it including the Osage Indians, French traders and the early settlers of the American West.

The art exhibit will feature interactive elements as well as an opportunity for museum visitors to craft their own Bingham River painting by tracing the artist’s iconic figures onto canvas. Modern context on the influence of water on a community will be showcased in a joint exhibition called Meet Me at the Trinity, a photography presentation by Chicago-based landscape photographer Terry Evans. The photographs depict how the community of Fort Worth interacts with and plays on the Trinity River, an urban stream in Fort Worth. For a sneak preview of the exhibit, see Amon Carter’s video, below:

Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art from Amon Carter Museum on Vimeo.

Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, opened Oct. 2 and will run through Jan. 15, 2015. The traveling exhibit of Bingham’s works can then be viewed at the St. Louis Art Museum Feb. 22-May 17 before its run wraps up at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art June 15-Sept. 20, 2015.

As you can tell, the subject of George Caleb Bingham continues to be an important one at the Wide Awake Films office as we dig into the historical research about the life and times of the famous Missouri artist in preparation for a 2016 PBS documentary on George Caleb Bingham. The George Caleb Bingham documentary is a joint initiative between Wide Awake Films and the Friends of Arrow Rock.

The Streetcar on Delaware

Posted by on Jan 26, 2015in Around the Office | No Comments

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Streetcar construction is well under way on Delaware! For the last few months, we’ve walked through the daily progress, stepping between machines and over gaping holes in the road. Needless to say, we’re excited to see a streetcar coming down completed trolley tracks this fall! The completed starter line will include a two-mile round trip streetcar route (four miles of track) along Main Street, connecting Kansas City’s River Market area to Crown Center and Union Station, like this handy map shows:

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According to the KC Streetcar Project folks,

“The Downtown KC Streetcar starter line is the first step in a longer-range plan to create a regional, integrated transit system to uniquely connect the Greater Kansas City area like never before. Streetcar systems attract new residents, businesses and workforce and provide an improved and more efficient travel option. It is envisioned that the downtown KC Streetcar starter line will bring new investment and increased property values to downtown along with an increased economic impact during construction and after.”

We appreciate that these folks keep us updated with the latest construction news and we’re excited to see what the streetcar brings to the City Market!

WAF’s Upcoming Documentary: George Caleb Bingham

Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

In July, we announced our partnership with the Friends of Arrow Rock, a preservation group dedicated to saving the treasures and structures of the 19th century. Our newest announcement? Wide Awake Films is teaming up with these fine folks to chronicle the life and times of Missouri native and self-taught painter George Caleb Bingham. As we continue to dive into the research process, we’ve been pleased to discover so many interesting connections that this notable artist and notorious politician had on our home state of Missouri.

Although Bingham was not born in the Show Me State, he spent much of his life in Missouri, and artistically recorded the daily culture of the people who lived along the Missouri River in a newly minted state (circa 1820). During his 45-year career, Bingham became known throughout the United States as “The Missouri Artist” for his portrait depictions of fur-traders sailing the Missouri River, Osage Indians of the territory and well-known Missourians of the 19th century.

Bingham’s paintings and drawings offer a genuine and first-hand account of an artist who lived and observed daily life in one of the newly settled territories of the West. In his later years, Bingham moved beyond merely recording life and began directly affecting it through numerous appointments in state and local political seats. Today, Bingham’s realistic paintings continue to allow the public at large to catch a storied glimpse of the 19th century in our area of the world.

The Many Ways George Caleb Bingham Made His Mark on Missouri

  • First regional Missouri Artist
  • Resident of Franklin, Arrow Rock and Boonville, Missouri
  • Unintentional archivist and historian of well-known 19th century Missourians (portraiture)
  • President of the Kansas City, Missouri Board of Police
  • First Kansas City, Missouri police chief
  • Elected to the Missouri State Legislature from Saline County, Missouri
  • Missouri State Treasurer
  • Adjunct General of Missouri
  • Public servant of the Independence Public School District Board of Education in Independence, Missouri
  • First professor of Art at the University of Missouri, Columbia
  • Namesake of the George Caleb Bingham Middle School in Independence, Missouri
  • Buried in Kansas City, Missouri’s Union Cemetery

This life well-lived was summed up by George Caleb Bingham’s third wife, Mattie Livingston Lykins, with a quote inscribed on his memorial monument that read, “Eminently gifted, almost unaided he won such distinction in his profession that he is known as The Missouri Artist.”

A touring exhibition of Bingham’s paintings, entitled “Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River,” featuring 16 paintings and 50 preparatory drawings, is currently on display at Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

The exhibition travels next to the Saint Louis Art Museum (February 22nd through May 17th) and finally to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (June 15th through September 20th). At Wide Awake Films, we are proud to play a role in bringing the storied history of this native Missouri son to life.

WAF Tours Arrow Rock, Missouri, in Search of Bingham

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Wide Awake Films is honored to be working with the Friends of Arrow Rock in developing a script for a forthcoming documentary on the life of Missouri painter George Caleb Bingham(1811-1879). An important pioneer of Western art and Luminist painting, Bingham is thought by many to be the first regional Missouri artist, and one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century.

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WAF at Arrow Rock, learning about the history of the Missouri River’s course and its impact on the surrounding community.

As filmmakers with a long track record of producing historical documentaries, we jumped at the opportunity to shed some light on an artist so closely tied to Missouri, especially one with roots near our home. Bingham was one of the many notable residents of Arrow Rock, MO, located just a few short hours away from Kansas City, and home to the state’s first recognized historic site. While living in Arrow Rock, Bingham created his most iconic works. The George Caleb Bingham House, built in 1837, still stands in the historic village and has its own separate designation as a National Historic Landmark.

As excited as we are to bring the history of George Caleb Bingham to others, we were equally thrilled to get to spend a day touring this historic frontier town, preserved in toto as a National Historic Landmark. Nestled near the bank of the Missouri River, and the edge of the Arrow Rock State Park, Arrow Rock retains much of its original 19th century character and charm.  It is commonly regarded as the birthplace of historic preservation in Missouri, so it’s near and dear to our hearts here at Wide Awake Films.

As filmmakers and historians, it’s our goal to make history come alive for our viewers, and it’s a rare pleasure to work in a place where history seems as close to the surface as it does in Arrow Rock.