How to Tackle VR Filmmaking and What We Learned After Shooting Our First 360° Video

“A crowd of people cannot accomplish what a community can,” said actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt earlier this month at the CES AT&T Developer Summit in Las Vegas. The event brought together developers, innovators, and artists for a week of collaboration, competition, entertainment, and networking.

My film was featured as part of AT&T’s Entertainment Project – a contest held in conjunction with Vince Vaughn to promote AT&T’s transformation into an entertainment company. Afterwards an encapsulating showcase demonstrated practical and artistic uses of new VR/AR/ 360° video technology and provided a front row view at the way evolving technology is changing how we tell stories. Industry leaders and artists, like Gordon-Levitt, spoke with the unifying conviction that  “coming together is the fuel that allows forward-thinkers to achieve extraordinary results.” This idea happens to be passionately shared by the cutting-edge IT firm I work for in Chicago, CrossRealms Inc.

When I shared the experience with CrossRealms, they were inspired to try something new and challenging. We put our heads together, played with some ideas, and created our first 360° Video: Our Cool 360° Project 

Our experience taught us a lot about the process behind creating 360 video. We wanted to share some of the lessons with those thinking about creating a 360 video of their own or are curious about the process.

Start With the Message

360° video, at the core, is no different than traditional video, animation, or any form of storytelling. Know what you want to say before getting into all the fancy stuff. Otherwise you’ll just be left with a gimmick.

The CrossRealms marketing team believes that in divisive times, common ground can be found in technology. That is why, when we decided to dive into a VR/360° video project, the theme we gravitated toward encompassed unity through innovation which tied in well with CrossRealms’ core values.

We began the process by researching the world’s greatest innovators from Einstein to Ford, to Jobs, to Musk. Geniuses who could fill a dictionary with their messages about creativity and pushing boundaries. We gathered some of their quotes that inspired us and wrote a script to be read by the brilliant up and comer, Brian Baylor.

Fit the Idea into a 360° Space

It is important to remember that everyone watches 360° videos differently. Contrary to traditional video, you have no control over where the viewer looks. So, there must be something interesting going on in every direction.

We decided to fill our space with projectors and beamed surrounding clips of ‘innovation through the years.’ We digitally removed the ceiling so that if the viewer looked up, they’d find a starry night sky to reinforce a ‘no boundaries’ motif and create a planetarium-esque feel.

 

Guide the Viewer With Action

We felt we could keep viewers interested by creating a sense of ‘more to see’ as the video progresses and they look around. We had Brian walk around the space and turn the projectors on one at a time to act as a guide to the viewer’s eye.

A Brief Technical Overview:

Choose a Recording Method – Camera or Cameras

There are quite a few affordable cameras out there that actually shoot 360° video. The 360fly 4K and the Ricoh Theta S are two of the top products and provide the cheapest and easiest route to produce 360° video content. There is no stitching involved; simply shoot, edit, then upload. They’re great for experimenting and dipping your toes into VR. The significant downside, however, is quality. Don’t let the “4K” in “360fly 4K” fool you. The camera does shoot in 4K, however once the image is stretched into an equirectangular projection, the final resolution appears much closer to 360p when played back. 

We minimized quality loss by using a mount that holds six GoPro HERO 3+’s. Stretching six stitched images produces a far greater final resolution than stretching one image all the way around. There is still noticeable quality loss, but far less. We shot at 1280×960 at 60fps and the final resolution appears close to 480p. Shooting with six cameras definitely complicates the process and creates an extremely tedious approach, especially when you get to stitching.

 

Syncing, Effects, and Stitching

Stitching is quite literally, the combining of all your different angles into one equirectangular projection. This is, by far, the most tedious part of the process which can be ruined if one camera is out of sync. The settings on each camera must be identical and the rig must be aligned precisely on the horizon to avoid parallax issues and sloppy stitch lines later. Click here for more on that.

Prior to stitching, we used Adobe Premiere to sync up the six video clips and edit as we would a traditional video. After Effects helped us add graphics, effects, and some roto work. We used Autopano Video Pro for the initial stitch, then Autopano Giga to make adjustments and clean the stitch.

We hit a great challenge in this stage that will be a lesson for next time. The program was unable to accurately analyze each clip and stitch due to the fact that our video was shot in low light. It moved the floor up to the ceiling, and the ceiling onto the wall. It looked like one of those sliding tile puzzles. Click here for more on that.

Important lesson: if you are shooting in low light, make sure to roll a few seconds with the house lights up so the program can analyze the space more accurately.

 

Once you have a final stitch, the project should be exported as an h.264 in 4K. This is a .kavka.mp4 file and should look like an ultra-wide, warped psychedelic trip. Click here for more on that.

Sound Design and Finish

As you would a traditional video, add music and sound effects for a fully immersive experience. We used an ethereal piece composed by a talented artist called Hakan Eriksson.

If you are one of the three people to make it to the end of the blog (thanks, Mom!) and have questions, are looking for a more in-depth tech-overview, or guidance on your own 360° project, feel free to reach me at: acooper@crossrealms.com or 312-278-4445 Ext.132.

Also, like our Facebook page to stay up to date on some more sweet projects and more 360° videos!