Constraints, Confetti, and Holiday Cheer: Producing a 360 Story

Pulling off a successful 360 shoot from pre-pro to post.

Let’s say you need to tell an immersive, visual story. You have over a dozen actors, 1 open room, and the challenge of hiding all video, audio, and lighting gear. And to top it off, you have less than 10 days to produce the shoot. These were the conditions and restraints presented to Only Today in our latest 360 video concept.

Why 360 instead of a regular video, or even virtual reality? You may have heard of virtual reality (VR) headsets like the Oculus, Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and the Vive. But these are expensive, and oftentimes require the additional cost of a compatible phone or computer. 360 video is the more accessible stopgap of the augmented and virtual reality world. Because it plays directly on your phone and computer without any additional gear, nearly anyone with a smartphone or computer can view 360 content today. Filmmakers across the board are racing to embrace this new technology.

An Oculus headset. Image: Noah Porter.

360 content may be fun to watch and engage, what does creating and filming that content involve? How can you direct talent, review shots, and ensure that your multiple cameras are all working on a shoot?

These are good questions, and they’re ones we continue to ask ourselves as we produce more 360 and VR shoots. Only Today got started with VR at last year’s Facebook F8 developer’s conference, and since then we’ve collaborated with our friends at Tremendous! Entertainment to see what we can do with VR and 360 in a live production environment. Since this is new technology, there isn’t a ton of info out there on best practices. We’ve done a lot of testing and learning along the way to see what the limits of this technology are.

Curious about what we have learned? Here’s what we did for our latest 360 ad agency campaign:

The rig

We had 2 days to prep for the shoot: a lighting day, and a rehearsal day. Since we wanted this to look and feel like an actual loft party, we wanted a rig that could accommodate a small room and handle low light well. After considering rigs like the Nokia Ozo and a custom built one using multiple Red cameras, we decided to go with a setup involving 24 GoPros.

Tommy managing the 24 GoPro rig! Image: Noah Porter.

Our friends at Tremendous! have done extensive testing and found that GoPros are great in low light situations. We’ve shot with them in various environments and harsh conditions with great results, too, so we were confident that the rig would work for a large production. Having 24 cameras also gave us a lot of room in post production to fix stitching issues that occur when a person gets too close to the rig and crosses multiple cameras at once. Plus, there’s a lot of support for GoPros that’s not exclusive to 360 and VR technology!

The rig in all its glory. Image: Noah Porter.

Designing the set

With 360 video, the viewer can look in any direction they want. That means your gear has to be hidden, including lights, cables, audio gear, and stands. We spent nearly 40 hours designing the set, hanging practicals, and creating tube lights that would not only light the room and our 30 actors, but also fit the vibe of our chic party scene. Needless to say, the design team helped us get creative!

The design team helped us get creative so our gear wouldn’t show up in the 360 footage. Images: Noah Porter.

Solutions for reviewing footage

Another big factor to 360 shoots: you have to hide your crew, too! That makes it difficult to watch what’s happening. With 30 actors in the scene, making sure that everyone hits their cues and delivers a solid performance is critical. Since live streaming isn’t available for our VR GoPro rig yet, Zac and Tommy, our VR tech and operators, came up with 2 clever solutions.

The crew in deep discussion and brainstorming before the shoot day. Image: Noah Porter.

First, Samsung has a consumer-level 360 camera called the Gear 360 which can livestream its feed to a compatible Samsung phone. Although the image quality isn’t as good as our main rig’s, it allowed us to review the scene and performances in real time. It’ll even give us a playback from previously recorded scenes! The ability to see our scene in 360 on set saved us days in post production by allowing us to choose and make note of the best takes as we went.

For a second set of live feeds, we set up 3 household surveillance cameras around the room that fed directly into large monitors behind the set. These were perfect for reviewing performances in other sections of the room. The surveillance cameras were small enough to hide in plain sight, in dark corners, and even blended in with various props like Christmas tree ornaments. This second feed also allowed the client, makeup artists, and other producers to monitor the set without hovering over the director and DP’s 360 feed.

These are just a few creative solutions, but again, 360 and VR technologies are new. Our strategies are constantly evolving so we can tell the best stories possible.

Ray and Joyce on set. Image: Noah Porter.

Why we think learning to shoot in 360 is worth your while

So why go through all of this trouble in the first place? While 360 video doesn’t offer the same immersive experience as VR, it offers a significant stepping stone for filmmakers, who can now create content in new ways. 360 is a powerful tool you can use to capture your audience’s attention, encourage them to engage with your content, and tell meaningful stories (of course).

Companies like Google, Samsung, and Facebook are investing billions of dollars into the technology, banking on the hope that it will go mainstream. While we wait for true 3D virtual reality to pick up momentum, we can continue to hone our 360 skills, many of which carry over to VR. We’re starting to rethink set lighting, figure out how to build immersive worlds, learn to direct more actors, and create more robust monitoring options. As we continue to grow our 360 and VR capabilities, our team will continue to look out for the right projects to help us push the technology and its real world applications.

Have any 360 or VR tips, or any questions? Join the conversation and reach out on Twitter or Facebook. BTS images by Noah Porter.

Zippy gets pretty intense on set while managing a ton of cables. Image: Noah Porter.
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