Composition/focal lengths in VR

Nick Bicanic
Mar 13, 2016 · 4 min read


Focal lengths in VR — what are you talking about Nick? There’s no such thing — it’s just a bunch of fisheye lenses glued together to make a sphere.

Yeah, duh. Except that’s not the point.

The point (if you recall from a previous post about editing in VR) is that we’re trying to make people feel.

Because if we can’t make people feel then we’re missing a pretty significant trick.

The video shows actress Dominika Juillet doing a quick improv distance test at a number of distances from the camera.

And some hats.

Watch the video or see the compositions below.

3 inches
6 inches
12 inches
18 inches
24 inches
30 inches
3 feet
4 feet
5 feet
6 feet
7 feet
8 feet
9 feet
10 feet
15 feet
20 feet

The purpose of this is of course to calibrate blocking distances on set to approximate a primary camera composition (assuming the viewer is looking at the area of interest).

Even if your director uses Vahana or some other streaming-to-headset solution — when planning dramatic or documentary shots or camera positions, blocking (or simply visualising them as the crew) it pays to know this kind of stuff.

This was done using a Z4X camera system from Izugar — which is (in our opinion) currently the best compromise of a small form factor and high quality solution that can stitch well.

Technical note

1. The above clip is just quick stitched (and even then not particularly carefully) — the camera rig was right up against the kitchen window — so Dominika could walk back 20 feet in a straight line. Then I just quickly edited it (humor is all hers)

2. Of course she is not on a stitch line and is moving directly back from the camera. If this test was repeated with side to side movement across stitch lines the results would be quite different but the purpose was to test the emotional feel of compositions.

3. If you’re wondering why this is important — then I despair somewhat — but here you go — watch this

Of course in part emotional intensity comes across in the subtlety of an actor’s performance combined with the script (or a real-life documentary subject) but another key part is the decision by the director or cinematographer to stage the action in say, a wide shot (suggesting an emotional distance but a physiological sense of space — an establishing of a context — if you wish) or for example a close-up shot (suggesting a dramatic beat or emotional intensity where the person is more important than the physical room they are in).

Actually Dominika wrote an interesting piece about an actor’s perspective in VR — and how performer dynamics are subtly but importantly changed.

This shot selection is a part of cinematic language that is virtually non-existent thus far for VR — I assume mostly because the complexity involved in making/distributing it (requiring an understanding of cameras, parallax, post-production and software development as table stakes — prohibits 95% of film industry creatives from doing anything beyond the most basic narrated slideshows.

But it will come — as a new generation of expert storytellers arises in this space. Shot selection, performance, editing — all extremely important story-telling tools that we’re barely scratching the surface of.

Thanks to:

Actress Dominika Juillet for the improv and the hats
Director/Editor Doug Hannah for the house and the camera gear
Chris Bobotis’ Skybox for the ability to actually edit VR properly (and do titles) within Premiere Pro.

Thassit — there will be plenty more coming very very very soon from RVLVR — my new company in VR.

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