An immersive experience for domes, smartphones, and virtual reality headsets.

Scene from SPECIAL PLACES preview at Edmonton’s Telus World of Science planetarium

THERE ARE “songs in the land,” says Leroy Little Bear, a Blackfoot elder and guide to SPECIAL PLACES, a panoramic tour of a spirit-filled land that hugs the border between Canada and the United States.

Leroy Little Bear

It’s a landscape of eerie hoodoos, endless sky, and a starfield that’s out of this world. What’s more “it’s the sound of the wind,” producer Don Hill recalls of his first encounter with Writing-on-Stone park in southern Alberta. “A sound that is felt as much as it is heard.” The sandstone cliffs are shaped by the persistent wind blowing out from the Rockies, which makes the curves and recesses of “the hoodoos sing,” says Hill. “They whistle with every breeze.” And they’ve been singing for millennia “with news from the ancestors,” says Leroy Little Bear.

Hill, along with Ryan Jackson and Sam Brooks of Full Circle Visuals, and Adam Kidd of Limbo Editing Services, recently made an 8 minute episode of SPECIAL PLACES, the first leg in a planned series that link extraordinary locations in Canada — some familiar, others not so much — that tell of the supernatural and an extraordinary way of knowing the country. It’s a 360 video that can play in planetariums and inflatable domes, VR (virtual reality) headsets, and even smartphones and tablets.

Left to right: Adam Kidd, Ryan Jackson, Sam Brooks and Don Hill

During the summer of 2016, the team built and field-tested a custom camera rig that delivers an 8K image that looks amazing, and is designed to complement high-performance projectors installed in large format theatres and planetariums. “We believe it’s a necessary step past the GoPro,” editor Adam Kidd says speaking for the team. It makes for a cinematic 360 experience that not only looks and feels immersive, but reproduces the wonder of a landscape that’s tricky to shoot with conventional gear.

From the shoot to the rendering and editing process, organizing workflow, and how to tell the story of a SPECIAL PLACE — every step was a challenge. Yet, the decision to build a custom-built camera and go beyond the GoPro model was a risk that paid off extraordinarily well. “It’s the kind of story,” says Leroy Little Bear that’s always been told “360 degrees around you.” And it’s in this respect SPECIAL PLACES is less a traditional documentary, and more of an ‘experience’ for people to enjoy.

The land has memory, says Leroy Little Bear. “You can feel it.”

The next episode of SPECIAL PLACES is in development for winter 2017.

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