As VR producers in 2018, it’s exciting to be at the forefront of VR and 360 video production. VR production companies are quickly learning new techniques for shooting the best VR video and improving its recording equipment.
While creating 360 video uses similar equipment and techniques as traditional video, VR video makers must adapt them for making 360 video.
In terms of equipment, recent improvements in 360 camera rigs, surround sound microphones, and ambient lighting options have improved VR recording quality. Post production software and techniques are making it easier to format and edit VR video. Finally, production crews are perfecting tricks for shooting in 360 degrees and changing the user experience in the process.
360 video requires similar equipment to traditional video. Namely, cameras, microphones, and lighting help capture panoramic, three dimensional scenes. Recently, these tools have evolved to better capture the 360 environment.
Cameras are the most obvious tool to receive a VR makeover. Instead of a single lens pointed toward the scene, VR camera rigs hold 3 or more cameras each facing a different direction. The feed from each camera is then “stitched together” in post production to make one seamless video.
GoPro has capitalized on the VR movement by making VR camera rigs that hold up to seven GoPros. These GoPro rigs have the ability to shoot impressive VR video. Hello World, a 360 video production company, has used this type of rig in a number of its productions. One of these is HOME a 360 video following UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon confronting the refugee crisis in Africa and the Middle East.
If something more powerful than GoPros is required, similar systems for more powerful cameras have been produced for higher quality video. We use the Mooovr system equipped with five Sony a7S IIs for certain productions. In particular, we’ve found that these systems are ideal for low-light settings. We also produced 6 Degrees of Hell, a VR horror film, as well as a video for casino, Mohegan Sun. These projects would not have been possible with other camera systems.
In addition to cameras, specialized microphones have been developed to film 360 video. An important part of these microphones is the ability to record ambisonics. Ambisonics is a type of surround sound that has a vertical as well as horizontal component. This means that ambisonic soundscapes are spherical rather than circular as they are in traditional surround sound. This allows the video to change the perceived source of a sound anywhere the viewer may be oriented in a 360 video space.
A cutting edge ambisonic microphone on the market today is the Sennheiser Ambeo VR microphone which has four directional microphones that can be isolated and manipulated for incredible audio flexibility.
Lastly, lighting proves to be more challenging for VR production than it is for traditional video ones. Rather than lights behind the camera, VR shoots rely on strong ambient lighting for its scenes. This is most easily achieved by using lighting sources readily available in the scene. By using lamps and ceiling lights with high voltage bulbs, ambient light strong enough for 360 degree scenes can be achieved.
If a stronger light source is needed, lights such as soft tubes and Litemats can be placed in a variety of situations, such as behind window treatments, to add ambient light. Other lights can be placed directly beneath the camera.
In addition to specialized equipment, VR production companies also need to use different techniques for filming. In traditional video the crew simply stands behind the camera to remain out of the shot. Microphones, lighting, and other filming accessories are also hidden from view in this way.
In 360 video, everything around the camera is part of the scene. Therefore the crew and any props either need to be hidden or integrated into the scene. If the shoot is inside, this can be as simple as the crew standing in another room or integrating into the scene as ‘extras’. Lighting tends to be more ambient, coming from props in the scene such as lamps. Lastly, microphones are either attached to the actors or an ambisonic microphone is used to create a 3D soundscape.
Outdoor scenes tend to exacerbate these problems. Crew need to hide from view any way possible: behind trees or other natural scenery, in cars, etc. Microphones need to drown out ambient noise from the environment while clearly recording the scene. And lighting is virtually limited to natural lighting. There is no wrong method for overcoming any of these challenges.
Furthermore, camera placement is especially important in 360 video. This is because VR video is a wide angle shot in the center of the scene. The camera should therefore not only be placed in the center of the scene but also closer to the action than a traditional video camera.
In addition, camera height is important for the viewer’s perspective. Placing the camera low, high, or at eye level drastically changes how the scene is experienced. This is especially when viewed with a VR headset.
Finally, post production also poses unique challenges in 360 video production. In particular, stitching together all the videos from each camera to create a single 360 degree scene in a skill unique to VR productions.
Stitching is the act of editing together all the feeds from each individual camera on a 360 video system to create the 360 degree scene. Stitching proves to be a tricky and frustrating part of VR post production due to parallax concerns. Stitch lines can be a nasty side effect where actors and props disappear if one or both cameras were not stitched together properly. This is not part of traditional video production and poses a new challenges for the VR filmmaker to overcome.
Creating the desired user experience is also an important part of post production. Wearing a VR headset allows the user to look in any direction. For holistic scenes this is not a problem. But if the action of a scene is concentrated in one direction, the production team must decide whether or not to include ways to draw the viewer’s attention to the action.
Furthermore, the user may be able to virtually interact with the scene. This includes moving around the virtual space and clicking on, or interacting with, objects. The VR producers needs to decide how they want to handle the viewer’s autonomy while in the 360 degree environment.
In all, while the process for 360 video production is similar to traditional video, there are some new challenges facing filmmakers producing VR video. Equipment should be optimized for 360 degree scenes, including using specialized systems with multiple cameras, using ambisonic microphones to create 3D soundscapes, and using ambient lighting as much as possible.
Furthermore, new techniques are being developed for shooting VR such as where to hide production crew and recording equipment.
Lastly, post production, particularly stitching together VR video from all the cameras, poses new difficulties.
Check out our latest VR musings here.
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