Using GoPro Camera Arrays For A Live Bullet-Time Effect

Marc Donahue from Permagrin Films has been busy since his production of Dream Music, which got over 2 million views on YouTube. Most recently, Marc has been experimenting with GoPro camera arrays for a unique effect, most similar to bullet-time like in the Matrix. Click on to see the final video and read an interview with the man behind the lens.

You can follow more of Marc's work at his Vimeo page, where he has plenty of interesting videos, as well as behind the scenes pieces on his productions using Dynamic Perception motion timelpase rigs and other fun stuff.

Here is the final video:

Fstoppers: What GoPro models were you using, and did you use the GoPro app to control them?

Marc: GoPro sent me 15 Hero 2's that had hero 3 processors in them. My buddy Donovan at red bull got me 5 more, and my roommate let me borrow 3 of his. So I was using a combo of Hero 2's and Hero 3's. I didn't use the GoPro App because I had a SmallHD DP6 monitor to check my camera angles. I also attached an extra GoPro stacked atop the center camera in the array rig to use as a reference camera. (You can see this in the picture of the array shoulder rig my roommate is wearing) I also peppered in some canon 5d mark 3, mark 2, and 60D footage that Beau Brigham and I shot.

Fstoppers: How many GoPros were in your main array?

Marc: I used 15 GoPros. It was the most I could fit on our new array without seeing the other cameras. My friend Shea Nyquist welded the rigs and we carefully figured out all the angles we needed to use.


Fstoppers: What did you do to sync your cameras together? And what did you use to record the drummer's audio?

Marc: I used Pluraleyes to sync the audio. I recorded Navene (the drummer) with a Zoom H4N. Navene also recorded the drumming through his computer. So I used the H4N as a reference audio track, and when I had all the takes in sync I swapped out my recording with Navene's recording. The song is a live take. Navene used to be the drummer for Animals As Leaders, and is working on a solo project where he plays acoustic drums with a MIDI controller to trigger synths/baselines. He is focusing on having live performance based pieces. This is what we wanted to capture with "On Smash".

Fstoppers: Post production must have been tedious! What was the most challenging part of editing this?

Marc: Trying to match cameras both in exposure and color correction. The hero 2 cameras are auto everything so there was no way to really dial down your settings. I pretty much had to hope for the best. I used 4 takes with 15 cameras and other DSLR footage which gave me 65 layers in FCP to work with. I just organized everything down to a split second, used multiple sequences per take and stacked a final build sequence. It was actually fun to have that many options to choose from.

It took a day to convert the footage, which was 750 gigs of data. I was done with the edit in three days. It was a lot of work, over 12 hours a day, but I was so stoked when I saw the final result that I couldn't stop editing. Charging 20 GoPros was a pain too. They were all over my apartment.


Fstoppers: Has working with this GoPro array given you ideas for projects down the road?

Marc: Yeah I have a bunch of ideas and am going to sit down with GoPro to discuss them. I already shot another music video with this technique and it will be out next month. I'm also shooting another video similar to Dream Music Part 2, but incorporating in these GoPro shots so stay tuned its crazy!

Fstoppers: Thanks Marc, for taking the time to do the interview.

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Mike Wilkinson's picture

Mike Wilkinson is an award-winning video director with his company Wilkinson Visual, currently based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Mike has been working in production for over 10 years as a shooter, editor, and producer. His passion lies in outdoor adventures, documentary filmmaking, photography, and locally-sourced food and beer.

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hate it

Better not be epileptic… I think the idea is great but I'm not a fan of the final result.

You mean 'Better not be a photosensitive epileptic'

I have to agree, sick set up but the final cut is pretty repetitive and emotionless. 

me neither ! Could have a better result with a kind of circular slider !

I really don't like the final edit at all either. And I am a huge fan of the bullet-time effect AND a drummer :)  I also feel like if you're going to go to that much trouble, you want want to get some type of lighting going on. I thought the background was too distracting.

Great to see the setup tho.

Not sure this couldn't be achieved more easily with a arced track and a ball rig.
Sorry not really showing of the technique to its best, but interesting idea and certainly a cheap camera solution.

Hi Mark There must be at least 20 Go Pros which add up to $7000 not a cheap camera solution to my mind!

It is cheap when you think of comparative rigs that use DSLRs like this video that used 52x Rebel T2i +lenses :

(at least $35,000)

This looks a million times better.

Agreed, at just 5 times the price :)

I like the concept, personally I think it would be interesting to use closer angles (with Kick, Hi-hat, etc) and some lights for best emotion

tbh it sometimes look like a timelapse. A lot of work though, credit to that!

Pretty much agree with that others have said.  Interesting concept and one a coworker of mine has been talking about playing around with.  Maybe next time light your music video.  A little lighting goes a long way in your overall video quality.

yeah, totally agree.....great concept, terrible video.....i would have rather seen the bullet time be like a feature shot, where it went around the drummer a few times, at like one point in the vid, and that's it.....the rest shot on sliders and booms and steadicams and a different environment, with better lighting........just my opinion....

look like go pro cannot get same white balance on each camera??

That's my biggest gripe and reason why I use my GoPro only for fun. There isn't any manual settings or options other than evaluative/spot metering for exposure (which is automatic anyhow).

Nice concept, poor execution. Anyone else get motion sickness from watching it??

I case anyone was wondering what kind of grips they used: ODI Longnecks :)

I have also tried his technique with multiple GoPros. It is extremely difficult to get the GoPros to behave as they obviously aren't meant for this type of application. With no manual settings the exposure and WB can be very different from one camera to the next and even the angle of the lens differs between units (even when placed on a flat surface) The end result is much better than my attempt and fair play to the guys for sharing their methods. I do agree that the final edit is a little repetitive, but so is the track. No disrespect to the musician, he's obviously very talented. 

how do you edit everything together? Do you use after effects?

Keep it up! Shoot with a bit of a better lighting set up and color grading and this could be a sweet project!

We got our rig working but still having complications with the shutter phase ( aka Jitter )

I stopped reading the comments because a lot of people feel the same as I do.

It's not an original concept and the execution just isn't very good. What makes shots like this cool is when the motion is super smooth, which this is not.

Somewhat cool, but boring compared to the better ones out there.

Wow what a let down! I wish I could have the 5 minutes back from watching this talentless video! I thought I was going to watch an amazing production as the set up is stellar. This is boring! Hate it! 

The final result turned out to be anything but inspiring. It was a nice idea but I don't know that anyone could look at the footage and say that it turned out as hoped.

Nice ideas, lots of work but... I was expecting some mind blowing, hated it :( We are used to such high standards nowadays, maybe 2 years ago we would have appreciated it more.

not as cool as i thought it would be. maybe a different subject matter would be more interesting.

It's supposed to be inspiration to do what you feel is right and to do something new in case that you haven't experimented with it....  instead all i hear is whining about the fact you have already seen (not done) this. I sure hope more constructive criticism  and better techniques are highlighted instead.

Could be better....thats a ton of editing work.

this is a similar teqnuqie using 50 gopro's 

poor and boring result for WAYYY to much trouble...

All in all. All disappointing, with what they could have done. Matrix effect? Hello? Instead, it's just crappy, jittery, quick dolly movements.

Well, the idea was interesting, but unfortunately he has no artistic ability to construct a compelling final product.

Also about 4 minutes too long.

I usually try to offer constructive criticism but everyone has already said what is on my mind. I pretty much hated it, and i don't think anyone here is being too harsh we are just used to high quality videos being posted on fstoppers. Yes the rig was a cool idea but im surprised this was even posted. 

This hurt to watch

Its such an awesome concept but the video is such a strain to watch.

Hello. How did you connect the various gopro to the smallHD DP6 display as there is only one hdmi input? Any switcher/spliter to advice?

This is great.. but, it would have been awesome if they gave us a peek on how they edited everything. I get the concept, setting up the gopros, but how do you edited everything. Anyone know of a website or video where they explain it?