360-degree video: how to make one?

More 360-degree videos are created and creators get more familiar with the medium. Because we are still learning how to use this medium, there are no real guides yet on how to make a 360-degree video. However, creators are seeing the similarities in their projects. Things like location, action, directing and camera movement are to keep in mind. So that raises the question, what do you need to take into consideration when creating a 360-degree video?

Shooting

The first, and most obvious perhaps, thing one needs to keep in mind while shooting in 360-degrees, is that you record everything around the camera. What you do not want to have in the final picture, you should hide. That includes people, equipment, props and everything else. So think of what needs to be in the shot and what doesn’t.

Positioning your subjects for a 360-degree video does need some thought. Since most 360-degree cameras use multiple lenses to capture the 360-degree video, you will see some stitching. When your subjects are placed on the stitchline, you will notice a disturbance, that is something that should be avoided. This also means to limit the action on those stitchlines. You do not want to have your subjects moving in those overlapping sections for too long.

Another thing that needs to be thought of when positioning your subjects is the focus. It is advised to keep your subjects at the same distance from the camera. This can be somewhat difficult to keep them in focus, especially when they move to close or to far from the camera. Something that could be useful is to draw a circle around the camera to act as a guide for the movement. (Evelyn Scheibli, Bold Content, 2016)

Lighting is an important part of every shoot. However, when shooting a 360-degree video it can get a little tricky. Because you can see the lights in the shot if you set them up. Of course, having the lights in the shot can be done on purpose when it fits the story or the location for example, but using natural light is also an option. This way you won’t clutter your shot with equipment, but you are dependent on the natural light source. Therefore the ideal place for shooting a 360-degree video would be outside, during noon, when there would be the least amount of shadow.

The position of the camera itself also needs to be right. Since this medium puts you in the video, you don’t want to be disconnected from it. That disconnection can happen when the camera is placed to low or to high, when this happens you take on the role of an outside observer. Having the camera on shoulder/eye height would be the ideal way, according to research in 2016 done by Vincent Smit, a freelance journalist and filmmaker. Felix Lajeunesse, co-founder of Felix & Paul (a VR production studio), explains camera positioning in an interesting way. In an interview he says not to think of VR/360-degree video as putting a 360-degree camera in a space, but to bring a person inside the scene. The viewer should be positioned in relation to the characters and environment. When done right, it feels like a better and more realistic experience. It won’t feel like you are restricted to your place in the scene and helps to take that frustration away that some people experience.

In traditional film it is very common to move your camera, only having static shots would be kind of boring. In a 360-degree video it work a little bit different. The viewer controls the angle of the video by looking around. It can be very disorientating to move the camera around. In his Ted Talk, Chris Milk says that camera movement is tricky, but when done wrong it can actually make you sick. But they found that when you move the camera in a constant speed and in a straight line, you can get a way with it.

Directing

The very first thing when you are starting a 360-degree video project is to think if the medium adds any value to the story. Jenna Pirog, VR-editor at the New York Times, says that some stories are better told with words, with a photo or a 2D-video. She thinks that the stories told best in 360-degree video and VR are stories where the presence in the scene helps the viewer to understand the story better. The viewer needs to get the feeling that he/she is there. You need to think of who the viewer is in the video. “How do you articulate the viewer’s presence inside of the piece?”, says Felix Lajeunesse. According to him, that is the essence of VR storytelling. It does not mean the viewer needs to be a character, but you need to have clarity what the point of view represents inside of the story.

In traditional film, a director is the one who comes up with the story and chooses the shots that tell the story in an engaging visual way. In 360-degree video, a director is more responsible for the construction of the story around the camera, around the viewer. They need to direct the viewers attention. This can be done with the use of action, sound or actors for example. Just like traditional film, the director is responsible for the visual storytelling that engages the audience.

Composition in film is how you visually arrange things in your shot. Which in traditional film is on a rectangular screen. In a 360-degree video you don’t look through a ‘window’ anymore, there is not a rectanglular screen when you make your composition. In 360-degree video it is “not a composition of frame, it is a composition of presence”, says Chris Milk.

Tamara Rosenfeld, content director at Bold, has some useful tips for 360-degree video creators. They sum up the basic things that need to be taken in consideration.

  • Keep in mind that the shots will last longer so you need to be prepared to work with longer takes.
  • Make sure you know where you want your audience to be looking. Even if you are not putting a specific shot on the screen, you need to know what you want your viewers to see. Be aware of what’s going on in all of the film’s sections.
  • It’s important that you take advantage of the 360 medium. Avoid having your audience looking forward the whole time because then you might as well be shooting regularly. Realising why your story must be told in 360 is key to the process.
  • Make sure that you are telling a story even if your film is a documentary. Never do your work without intention.
  • Always work with a cinematographer that you collaborate with well. If you must work on your own, make sure your rig is right for what you are aiming to do.
  • Upload a few versions to the 360 environment before choosing the final shot so you can see what that looks like in a 360 space first.
  • Pre-production is very important with 360 so make sure you plan as much as you can out beforehand.
  • With 360, there tends to be a very long depth of field, so keep that in mind as you shoot, but try to use your limitations to your advantage.

Audio

Recording sound with a 360-degree video shoot can be a little bit of an inconvenience at times. In real life you can hear where sound are coming from, it can be from the left, the right, perhaps the back. In a 360-degree video you also look around and expect that the sound is also ‘360’. Some cameras have build in microphones that record a “360-degree sound”, but the quality is not as good as when using actual microphones. There are microphones that can record ‘spatial sound’. Which is basically a 360-degree camera, but instead of recording a 360-degree image, it records 360-degree sound. In the post-production phase you can put those together and synchronize them. Usually those microphones are placed under or above the camera. The problem with this is you hear everything. When someone or something is far away, you don’t hear them that well. To solve this you could use a lavalier microphone, a clip-on microphone. You can easily hide them underneath the clothing that your actors wear. Now you can hear them clear and are more seperated from the background noise. Recording with a lavalier microphone is not spatial sound, but you can make it spatial in post-production. In software such as Reaper you are able to give your sound a location in the scene, so to say.

Post-production

Post-production is somewhat different for 360-degree video than it is for traditional films. After the director has chosen the shots he liked, the shots have to be stitched together to create a 360-degree shot. Stitching is when you are putting the edges of the shots over each other and make it look like a complete surface. With some cameras that is done automatically, with others you have to do that yourself with a special software.

Normally when editing a traditional film you put together a variety of shots in a deliberate order that fits the vision of the director. The first thing you would run into when editing a 360-degree video is that the shots usually are much longer, they are around 30 seconds long. In the edit you are still able to put several shots behind each other in a sequence. You won’t have close-up shots or wide-shots, since the subject is placed and moved away and closer to the camera during a shot. Jessica Brillhart, Virtual Reality-filmmaker at Google, says the editing process is like having a conversation with the viewer. You have to ask yourself how the viewer would watch the video.

After you have stitched and put your shots in the desired sequence, titles and music can be added, color grading can be done and possible mistakes can be removed. You could also remove people, equipment and whatnot, by filming the same shot without all those things in frame. Later in post-production you can put that over the parts you want to remove.

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Conclusion

Creating a 360-degree video is different than creating a traditional film. There are just ‘a handful’ of people creating content. The creating process is slowly getting clearer, but is yet in an experimental phase. No one is an expert yet, even the “experts” say that. However, there are some general things to keep in consideration. The main one being to see the camera not as a camera, but as a person. You need to place that person in the scene. By experimenting with the technology, using the limitations to come up with creative solutions and just create content, we learn more how this medium works and how we can use it.

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