Redefining ballet with a revolutionary virtual reality lens

Multiple dancers, one camera and one game-changing lens – find out how Clive Booth filmed virtual reality ballet.
Clive Booth films a ballerina with one leg raised behind her and her arms outstretched on a Canon EOS R5 C camera with a Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens.

A creative and technical first

With a passion for being at the forefront of technological change, Canon Ambassador Clive Booth is no stranger to revolutionary kit. During a career spanning several decades, he has frequently been one of the first in Europe to shoot with the latest Canon technology. This project for Birmingham Royal Ballet, bringing dance to a neurodiverse audience through virtual reality, is no exception, as Clive was able to use a beta version of Canon's EOS VR Utility software, which enables users to shoot 8K RAW LT VR video at 60fps for the first time.

"The release of the Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens, coupled with the EOS VR Utility software, has completely streamlined the filmmaking process," says Clive. "All of a sudden, we've got a vastly simplified process for creating immersive video content."

Client: Birmingham Royal Ballet

Location: London, UK

VR filmmaker Clive Booth stands between a ballerina in a white tutu and a man in a suit with his back to the camera.

    Clive's goal was to capture the highest quality 180-degree stereoscopic VR footage of Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake for the Freefall Dance Company – Birmingham Royal Ballet's sister company for neurodiverse dancers. Clive is passionate about bringing ballet to life through immersive storytelling but, up until now, the technology for shooting VR ballet hasn't been up to the task.


    The release of the Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens and the latest version of the EOS VR Utility software enabled Clive to film in stunning virtual reality. Using just one 'dual fisheye' lens on one cinematic camera (with one sensor), meant the camera captured just one file, which is a game-changer for a simpler post-production workflow, while a single camera/lens configuration made for a simpler setup when shooting.

    "The beta version of the EOS VR Utility software – which enabled me to shoot VR video at 60fps [8K RAW LT] for the first time – meant we could shoot with Birmingham Royal Ballet and bring the project to life within a month," Clive explains.

"We were shooting with three cameras simultaneously for up to 40 minutes at a time, which is a huge amount of data"

Audience-first filming

A collaboration with Birmingham Royal Ballet and Canon, who provided Clive with the RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens, an EOS R5 C hybrid camera and other hardware he needed for the shoot, the project focused on Regan Hutsell, the ballerina who takes centre stage in the ballet company's production of Swan Lake.

"I wanted to create a piece of immersive storytelling," explains Clive. "The people who will be watching this are neurodivergent adults who can't access live theatre, so the hope is that other young people will be able to draw inspiration from the challenges that Regan has faced. It's really exciting because it's such a meaningful project."

A ballerina stretches out in front of a ballet barre and wall mirror, being filmed by Clive Booth on a Canon EOS R5 C with a Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens.
Three young men sit in chairs wearing VR headsets. The middle of the men is stretching one arm forward and the other up, in imitation of the ballet he is watching.

Bringing VR ballet to life

Once again, this project enabled Clive to add an entirely new set of skills to his repertoire. Unfamiliar with VR, he spent six months working with the team at Canon, learning everything he needed to create the film.

"It's one thing getting the lens and the camera, but then you have to build the rig around it, which took months. Then we got the beta 60fps EOS VR Utility software [compatible with high quality RAW files]," he says. "There is no point in shooting ballet in anything under 60fps, because the whole point of virtual reality is that you want it to fool the human brain. The software is incredibly clever – we couldn't have done anything without it."

When it comes to shooting in VR, there is no better camera for the job than the EOS R5 C, says Clive. "There aren't many cameras that can shoot 12-bit 8K Cinema RAW Light at 60fps for 50 minutes non-stop," he says. "That camera is absolutely faultless."

There were challenges for Regan, who had to adapt her dancing style for the shoot. "I used more front and back movements than side to side, because you can capture a wider range of motion," she explains. "The biggest thing was making sure that I used my front and back as much as I possibly could, so that the depth of the movement would travel in a really impactful way."

Immersive sound was also important to Clive, who used an Ambisonic microphone, made up of four directional mics to create what he describes as a "bubble of sound" (spatial audio). "Ambisonic audio creates a sound bubble around the camera – it's a visceral experience, as it locks the sound to the picture," he adds. "That's really important to learn."

Tom Rogers, creative digital producer at Birmingham Royal Ballet, has worked closely with Clive in the past. "There's a magic backstage in the wings and on stage that is really hard to replicate with conventional film," he explains. "I think through virtual reality we've managed to capture the essence of that intimacy and that magic."

A person looks at a viewing monitor and laptop screen, both showing dual fisheye images of ballet dancers.

The edit

Editing VR video is very different to editing conventional video, explains Clive. "In VR, you have to transport somebody to another location, so you put in very slow dissolves and slow fades to black. We kept the camera static and at a lower level, to reflect the fact that you watch ballet from a seated position."

Shooting 8K RAW generates gigabytes of data and converting that data to the equirectangular format for VR viewing and editing generates terabytes of data – fortunately, the conversion process is handled efficiently by Canon's EOS VR Utility software. "We were shooting with three cameras simultaneously for up to 40 minutes at a time, which is a huge amount of data," says Clive. "But once we got that software, the results were amazing. The amount of data we were managing, as well as editing in 8K – it's incredible how technology has moved on."

"The lens has captured a lot of people's imaginations. It's been really exciting."

RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE-BRB-Main Film-H264-EM.mp4

The final cut

The project simply wouldn't have been possible without Canon's VR lens, says Tom. "The technology is incredible, and the lens has captured a lot of people's imaginations. It's been really exciting."

An early adopter of new technology, Clive was eager to see the project through himself. "When I came into it, I thought I'm going to rig it, shoot it, edit and post-produce it," he explains.

Clive says that one of the most rewarding elements of this project was having the creative freedom to shoot the VR video how he wanted, despite having to learn a lot of new techniques along the way.

"We were using the best equipment, the best software, and the subject matter was incredible," he says. "Seeing the footage was one of those moments that I will never forget. I thought, 'this is the future'."

• Discover how filmmaker Martin Bissig shot immersive 3D VR videos with Canon's dual fisheye lens.

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