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.

360-degree video: how has it been used?

Allthough 360-degree video is relatively new, it has shown it’s potential quite a lot. It has been used in entertainment, journalism, the medical field and more. It is a portal to another place, you can put on a VR headset, play the video and feel like you are somewhere else. So how has this medium been used so far?

Locations

One of the main ways 360-degree videos have been used is to place someone in a location that they haven’t been to or can’t go to. To show them how it would look like if they would actually be there. Cities, landscapes, football stadiums and even space are examples of these locations. The camera is placed in the location, sometimes on different places or on moving objects, and the viewer can look around. The idea behind this is quite simple, yet effective.

“Brands and entertainment properties should be focused on experiences where a user would want to know what it’s like to be in a unique situation or location,” – Jason Stein, CEO of Laundry Service, a social media agency. They also produced a 360-degree video where the viewer is placed in Manhattan, New York City during Christmas, on the famous Rockefeller Center skating rink to be exact. A pretty tame video compared to others, but a good example nonetheless.

Below some examples can be viewed. (to look around drag with your mouse on the video while it is playing)

Entertainment

The entertainment industry is huge. Music, film, games and everything else are made for the people to be entertained, escape reality for a while and have a good time. VR and 360-degree video is another medium that expands the possibilities of how we get entertained.

Film

One way on how it is used in entertainment, is as a promotion for a film for example. For the film The Walk (2015) they build an VR experience. The film is based on a true story of Philippe Petit who walked on a wire between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. For the VR experience based on this movie they let you experience how it would be to walk on wire that high. When you put the headset on you are on top of one of the towers and are able to walk a bit on the wire. They did this for the Playstation VR, one of several VR platforms.

Another film example is for 2016’s Jungle Book live action film adaption they made two 360-degree videos. In those videos you are placed in a part of the film, looking through, the main character, Mowgli’s eyes.

Gaming

The gaming industry is also working a lot with VR. Apart from all the heavy computer and console games that are out there, mobile gaming in 360 degree is also becoming more present. Since this research is focussed on 360-degree video, the heavy VR gaming examples will be left out. The difference between VR and 360-degree videos can be found here.

Mobile VR gaming is quite similar to 360-degree video. The biggest difference is that instead of it being filmed with a camera, it is designed and created digitally. One of the first examples that gained popularity when 360-degree videos became accessible, was a rollercoaster ride. Quite a simple concept, yet very fun.

However, that was more the first stage. It lacks story. An example what has more story to it would be Chair In A Room (one of my favorite). It is a horror story set in, you guessed it, a room on a chair. The first demo that you are able to play is in a small room, the lights go out. You are sitting in the middle of the room, on a chair. You have nothing but a flashlight to use. However the battery quickly drains, but luckily recharges. Everytime you turn the flashlight back on, another clue of the story appears in the room. The story gets darker and darker. This is a great way to approach the limitations of the medium. Since in 360 degree videos you cannot move around like you can in VR gaming, the devolopers of Chair In A Room decided to bound you to the chair in the room. This motivates why you are not able to walk around. Different from videos, these games do not have a timeline. You can take as long as you would like to look around.

Of course there are more games available and there are appearing more 360-degree/VR apps and games on the mobile marketplace with the week.

Music

Another way how the medium is used in entertainment is with music performances. Since the cameras are accessable to artists around the world, it is no surprise that music artists are picking this up as well. One of the first who used 360-degree video for a concert was the english rockband MUSE for their Wembley Stadium 2010 performance. Multiple 360-degree camera rigs were placed on the stage, on a website you were able to watch part of the performance and look around from different positions. The band did another 360-degree video for on of their songs from latest album, Drones (2015).

Another great example of a music video with a story is One Republic with their song Kids. Filmed in a single take with a choreography of over a 100 people, you can decide where to look and discover the story yourself. Watching it twice might result in paying attention to something else.

The medical field

Not only is 360-degree video a great way to entertain people, it has also moving towards the medical field. An example to start with are phobias. Perhaps you are afraid of spiders, maybe heights? With the help of VR and 360-degree video you can now confront those fears and hopefully overcome them.

“Facing your fears may be the best way to extinguish a phobia – but it’s easier said than done. Some psychiatrists even claim that exposure therapy, which encourages a person to experience a steadily more frightening scenario, is unethical, given the stress and anxiety it produces. It can also be highly impractical – a person with a fear of flying can’t be expected to buy a plane ticket on a weekly basis.

To overcome these issues, psychologists and therapists are starting to turn to virtual reality exposure therapy. Instead of boarding a real plane, a person can simply put on a headset and a pair of headphones that, together, simulate the experience.” – Jessica Hamzelou, from New Scientist, 12 March 2014

Similiar to previous examples mentioned in this post, during such a VR experience you are placed in a location. Only this time based on your fear. A room full of spiders for example, you look around and see nothing but spiders. Only these spiders cannot hurt you. Perhaps you have social anxiety, in VR you can be placed in a room full of people who all look at you and give you various reactions. Or you are afraid of heights, so in VR you are placed on top of a large building and after a while you fall down. Cristian Sirbu at the University of West Virginia in Charleston, is working on these programs. In an unpublished study, Sirbu’s team have found that exposure to a virtual reality environment does help subjects to overcome their fears. (New Scientist, 2014)

360-degree video is also used to teach and train doctors. Medical Realities is a group who is developing medical training products with the use of VR (among other techniques). The idea behind this is to reduce the cost of training and create a safe learning enviornment for medical students. A product that they are working on is called The Virtual Surgeon, which lets you oversee an operation through the eyes of a consultant surgeon.

Journalism

Journalism covers a lot of stories everyday. From politcal debates, economics to human right problems. Some of the journalism stories are positve and fun to read, others not so much. Most of those stories we read in newspapers or nowadays mostly online, others watch the news. But since a couple of years, those stories are being told in 360-degree videos. It puts the viewer inside those stories, you are there.

A war zone is never a place you want to be in. We hear and read the stories of the ongoing wars in Syria for example, terrible news. We cannot imagine what these people go through. But with 360-degree video you can. You can look around and see how those people live. This video below shows the situation in Aleppo, the first ever war zone captured in 360-degrees.

Another great example, which I mentioned earlier in my blog, is Clouds Over Sidra. Where a 12-year old girl tells about her life in a refugee camp. The video is co-created by Chris Milk, who I talked about before, and in colaboration with the United Nations.

There are many more examples of how it is used in journalism, but they key here is that instead of seeing these stories on tv or reading about them online, you can be there. Writing and describing how life is in a refugee camp and getting the reader to understand what it is like, is almost impossible. But showing them, putting them in there, having a refugee tell the story, you almost cannot get any closer than that.

Conclusion

As you can see, a lot has already been done. These examples above are just a few of many. The exploration on how to use this medium and in what way we can tell stories with it continues. The content that is being created grows rapidly, escpecially in the entertainment. More and more artists are experimenting with this medium and share their stories with the world. The next step is to see how the “regular consumer” will receive this medium.

360-degree video: what is it?

Film has been around for over a 100 years, starting with the famous first motion picture of a horse running from 1878. Over the decades this medium as evolved and developed itself to what it is nowadays. From The Great Train Robbery to Charlie Chaplin, from silent films to talkies, from 2D to 3D. We learned how to tell stories with this medium that capture the attention of the audience. For all those years of growth in film, one thing has stayed the same from its brith to now. A series of rectangles (projected) on a screen. So what is the next step in visual storytelling?

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360-degree video

Over the last couple of years a new medium has been developing regarding the next step in visual storytelling, it is called Virtual Reality (VR). Which can be seperated in two categories, “True” VR and 360-degree video. To learn more about the difference, click here. It is a medium that we are still discovering and learning how to use. But what is it exactly?

360-degree video is basically a video that records in all directions at the same time and when viewing the video you are able to look around in all those directions. These videos are recorded with special cameras with multiple lenses or a rig with multiple cameras. The footage of that camera is later “stitched” together, which is combining the recorded images to one whole image. Some cameras already do that themselves otherwise there are editting softwares that do that for you.

Once the video is recorded and edited, it can be viewed several ways. One could watch it on the computer and look around in the video by click and dragging with the mouse or by using the W, A, S and D keys or arrow keys (depending on what platform you are watching). The next step in watching the video is on your phone through the “magic window”, which is when you hold your phone horizontally and move it around to see different parts of the video. The most exciting way to experience a 360-degree video is by using a VR headset. Which is like a pair of glasses, it has two lenses where you stick your phone infront of. Now when looking around you it feels like you are standing in the video. And it is getting easier to share these 360-degree videos, with platforms like YouTube and Facebook that are supporting 360-degree videos now.

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Google Cardboard, one of the cheapest VR headsets

However, one thing that needs to be taken into consideradtion is that the quality is not as good yet as traditional film. Some 360-degree cameras might say that they can shoot at flat RAW or 4K, but once those images are rendered and viewed with a headset it doesn’t look that sharp, escpecially when moving around. Also when uploading to the internet (like YouTube or Facebook), the video file will be compressed. Which means you will lose quality compared to when exported directly to the playback device. So when watching 360-degree videos online, make sure to click on the maximum resolultion option.

Storytelling

360-degree video gives us the opportunity to tell stories in a different way. This medium opens a new world in storytelling, literally. You can step into another place, view the world with someone elses eyes and see things you normally wouldn’t be able to see. It is an immersive medium, you can actually feel like you are there. Someone who explains this really well is Chris Milk, a director and artist. He is a storyteller who is looking at the newest technology to get the audience more involved in the story. Now he is working a lot with Virtual Reality. He calls VR the “ultimate empathy machine”, because you feel like you are there, you are present in that world.

In his TED Talk The birth of virtual reality as an art form (July 2016), Chris Milk talks about how VR the last medium is of storytelling because it closes the gap between audience and storyteller. He says that VR fundamentally, moving past the spectacle and the hype, is a medium of human experience. “If cinema is this thing on a screen, literature is this thing on a page, VR is human experience in your consiousness”, says when talking about what kind of impact this medium has in this interview. Meaning that this is more than watching a film, it is the feeling of reality created by the input of your senses. This medium is allowing anyone, anywhere to let them experience something that they might never experience in their own life.

One of the current state of events is that the content is somewhat limited. According to Chris Milk, billions of dollars are invested in the hardware, but the content is not there yet. Some people mentioned that they could go through the content that was available to them and be done in a week. However, the “floodgates” are slowly being opened and content is dripping out with each day, escpecially since there are 360-degree cameras for the consumer on the market.

“We are at year one of the medium […] we are more learning grammar, than learning language” continues Chris Milk when talking about storytelling in VR. Right now you are standing/sitting still in the video, using only two senses, sight and hearing. But hopefully in the future you will be able to stand up, walk around and perhaps interact and speak. Not only does the language of storytelling evolve, but also the technical format is developing, allowing to develop the way of storytelling.

Conclusion

VR and 360-degree video are a new and promising way of telling stories. We are still learning the language of storytelling for the medium, but have already come a long way. The equipment is out there for consumers to use and content is being created everyday. With still quite some limitations, we are learning how to close the gap between audience and storyteller. One thing that is quite certain, is that VR is the next step in visual storytelling.

“We can only experiment, keep creating new canvases, keep painting new things on them”  – Chris Milk, 2013

Difference between Virtual Reality and 360-degree video

First thing that needs to be clear: 360-degree video is not Virtual Reality (VR). So what is the difference?

The difference is not really that difficult. Sarah Ullman created a simple infographic that explains the biggest differences.

Infographic of difference between VR and 360-degree video (Sarah Ullman, 2015)

In general

In a VR experience, there is a environment where you can move around. Usually these world are created in digital world, like most video games are. Moving physically around will also move you around in the VR experience, as long as you are not connected to a computer with your headset that restricts your movement. And maybe the most important part is that the storyteller does not have control over where you are going. You are free to discover the world that is created for you.

In a 360-degree video you are bound to the location that the camera is placed, but you can look freely around. 360-degree video experiences are created with cameras, 360-degree cameras. It is a film you are watching in an immersive experience. Different from a VR experience, is that there is a timeline in the 360-degree video, just like any other film. Because in a VR experience you can move around, take as much time as you like in the environment, the story goes on when you go on.

If you take the point of photography for example, you see a clear diffrence. Since in VR the world are created digitally, the photograph will be a still of a digital world. Where as a 360-degree camera can capture a photograph of the real world.

The point that they both have in common is that the storyteller has to capture the viewers attention. The user should be directed and motivated to look at a certain thing in the story. This can be done with sound or visual clues for example.

Platform

Since they are different, they are also on different platforms. With VR you have to buy the VR headset to support the VR experience, you need it to run the program/game. One could compare this to buying a new video game console, nowadays they have about they same price tag on them. 360-degree videos are almost all accessible online. Websites such as YouTube and Facebook support 360-degree videos and can be accessed on almost any device. You could also buy a special glasses/headsets to watch 360-degree videos. They are very similar to VR headsets. But with these you put your phone in the headset horizontally and watch a 360-degree video. When you move your head around, you will also look around in the video. Where as if you would watch this on a computer, you would have to drag around with you mouse to look around.

So to put it bluntly, the biggest difference comes down to this: In VR you are in control of the experience and in a 360-degree video you are an observer.