The Guide to Virtual Tours and Immersive Experiences: Part 4

Project timelines and the production process

Animation and editing lab at Seneca College (Andrew Klotz/Beyond Media).

Compared to other media projects, virtual tours generally require more time to plan, shoot and edit because they have both media and web components. In this section of the guide, we’re going to discuss project timeframes and go into detail about what you can expect in each stage of the process.

Project time frames

The time frame to create a virtual tour is unique to each and every project. A typical planning cycle can range from one or two days to a few weeks, depending on the shot list size and the number of stakeholders involved. Often places like a community centre will take a couple days to plan, whereas a post-secondary campus will take at minimum a few weeks. The chart below will give you a better sense of the steps in the planning stage.

The different steps taken during the planning stage.

Timelines for shooting and editing are more predictable. Here are some high level timelines across different venue types:

High level timeframes according to venue type.

Things to consider in the planning stage

As you plan the shoot, there are a few things to look at that will ensure the production process runs smoothly. The planning stage will include location scouting, populating shot maps and shot lists, tips on how to prepare your locations for shooting and curating multimedia content for the tour.

Location Scouting

Location scouting is when you scope out the different areas you want to include in your virtual tour. A tip is to think about what makes your organization interesting and unique. You’ll want to capture imagery that sets you apart from your competitors. If we apply this to post-secondary, it could mean showing off a newly renovated library. For a hotel, you might want to capture a fully-equipped gym and pool area if that appeals to your target profile. Showcase areas and objects that will appeal to your audience and give them a glimpse of what they can expect when they visit.

(Annie Spratt/Unsplash).

While scouting locations, think of how you would describe the area to your viewers. Are there any important details they should be aware of? Is there an interesting historical backstory? Jot down this information so when it comes to producing the final product, you can ensure the details you want to portray are front and centre.

You also want to take note of what themes or items you want emphasized in each place. Going back to the school example, if you have a brand new 3D printer in a computer lab that you want viewers to notice, make a point to call it out. Hotspots pinpoint objects and focal points, and provide viewers with greater context.

Establishing a shot map and shot list

A shot map is a floor plan of the area you’re shooting in with all the different points of interests and panoramic points highlighted on it. It defines details such as where to shoot your panoramas and how many panoramas are required for each location.

An example of a marked shot map.

A shot list outlines the places you want to include and the production details for each location, such as special instructions, actors, lighting, AV, staging, access and more. You can get started with planning and building your shot list with our template.

Preparing your locations for the shoot

Doing a walk through of the areas you’ll be shooting is usually helpful, especially if you’re filming in 360°. This is an important step to take because viewers can see anything in the room at any given time with 360° imagery. To optimize the effectiveness of your tour, here’s a handy checklist of things to look out for when preparing a space for shooting:

Checklist of things to look out for while preparing the different locations for the shoot.
  • Turn on all the screens in the room to display your logo or relevant content. This is way more impressive than dark screens.
  • Minimize the clutter in the room to make areas look clean and spacious.
  • Set up the space for how it would look on a typical day to give your audience the most realistic view of the area.
  • Take down posters with dates and times to avoid dating your content.

Finding the best time to shoot

Lighting is a vital element to consider when you shoot because it affects the overall presentation of the tour, so find a time when your space will look its best.

  • For certain indoor spaces where artificial lighting plays an important role, shoot at dawn, dusk, or night where lighting is more prominent
  • For outdoor coverage such as a water park or courtyard, shooting the tour during peak summer is recommended
  • For exteriors and interiors with large window coverage, try to film these points of interest around dusk or dawn when interior/exterior lighting is evenly balanced for brilliant photos
Appleby College campus (Andrew Klotz/Beyond Media).

Gathering content

Lastly, gather as much pre-existing content as you can. Curating content like photos, YouTube videos and audio will help make the tour more engaging. It will also help you identify missing content, prioritize upcoming shoots, save time and money and reduce duplication.

Now that you’ve finalized your goals for the project, identified your target audience and have a clear idea of what you want to include in your tour, the next step is to shoot your scenes.

Shooting the tour

With the display power, internet bandwidth and camera capabilities that we are exposed to today, it’s no surprise that we crave high quality experiences. From YouTube video to Instagram posts, our threshold of what is considered acceptable quality is incredibly high compared to a few years ago. Videos are commonly streaming in HD or better, many mobile devices can capture and display 4K photos and videos. The more life-like our content is, the more impact it has. Capturing ultra high resolution imagery, even if it can’t be fully displayed today, ensures that content can be rendered in higher resolutions down the road. Overall, investing in production quality will pay dividends.

YMCA Square One location (Andrew Klotz/Beyond Media).

What you’ll need

It’s helpful to understand the different types of equipment, tools, and documents. Here we’ve compiled a list of things to have on the day of the shoot:

  • Gear: this includes equipment such as a DSLR, tripod and lighting equipment to capture your tour.
  • Shot list: a list of the places you want to include in your tour and special production details for each location such as staging and lighting.
  • Shot map: a map that shows the different areas you’ll be shooting in and the number of panoramas to be taken in each area.
  • Extras: people to put in your scene to make your space look as realistic as possible.
  • Consent and Talent Release forms: signed documents that will give you permission to shoot in a specific area and to shoot your extras in that location, if applicable.
  • Agenda: includes details such as the different types of shots desired for each location, when each location will be shot and when extras will be needed.

You can use our pre-made agenda template here.

The client’s role during the shoot

At this point in the production process, your job is to communicate how you want things to look. Whether it be turning on screens or placing extras in specific spots, the staging of the area that’s being shot plays a significant role in how the virtual tour will turn out.

Photos are enhanced on photo editing softwares such as Lightroom.

The editing process

When all the scenes have been shot, we move onto the editing process. As shown in the timeline above, it typically needs more time than the steps before it.

Step by step process for 360° editing and photo editing.

360° Editing

When editing 360° imagery, the key is to balance the exposure across the entire image. We use bracketed exposures to help achieve this. The sets are blended together with Enfuse, then stitched in PTGui. Finally, white balance and a few minor adjustments are in Lightroom, and the panoramas are exported as high quality JPEGs. Each file is over 50MP, far too large for web viewing. Virtual tour systems like Circuit often create “renditions” of the files in order to adapt to different device resolution and bandwidth to improve loading times and site performance.

Photo Editing

For photos, RAW files are enhanced on photo editing software like Lightroom for edits like colour correction, exposure levels, sharpness and cropping. Similar to the panoramas, photos are later exported to high resolution files.

Did you know?

Each shot in a scene is taken three times in three different modes: under exposed, neutral and over exposed. This helps to balance the exposure in each panorama when they’re stitched together in the editing stage.
Photo editing sequence.

The process of creating a virtual tour from start to finish differs from other digital projects. It may take more time to plan, shoot and edit, but the end results are invaluable. A virtual tour doesn’t only show your organization to your audience, it involves them. Hotels that use virtual tours drive 48% more reservations with a virtual tour. Real estate listings with virtual tours have 40% more views than listings with static images. These types of immersive experiences are proven to generate results and boost your organization’s digital presence and audience engagement for the long run.

In the next part of our guide, we’ll go further into detail about the different strategies you can use to present your tour to your audience. We’ll also explore some of the ways you can make your tour accessible to people with different needs.