7 Tips for Making Your Narrative 360 Video

My team and I created our first 360º virtual reality video for InfoComm 2016. The event gave attendees the opportunity to experience one of our coolest new solutions, the Polycom RealPresence Centro. We found it to be a great way to immerse people in the experience with the use of Google Cardboard VR viewers.

In the fictional scenario, a captain and her space crew are in dire trouble and are communicating with central command back on earth on how to solve the life-threatening problem with their spacecraft. Grab your favorite VR viewer and experience the video here!

In the spirit of sharing what we learned during our creative process, here are some tips for how to make 360º virtual videos that give your audience the experience you want.

  1. Plan carefully. Before you dive in, it’s important to know that filming 360º video is pretty different from traditional filmmaking. In traditional filmmaking, a typical video or film allows you to make any edits or corrections during post-production. With a narrative 360º video, you don’t really have that luxury. It needs to be done correctly in one continuous take, so plan carefully upfront and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! This is more like live theater than film.
Our “Space Commander” aboard her damaged vessel.

2. Know what you want your audience to experience. This is critical. Are they a participant or an observer in the story? Think through how you want them to react, move, and direct their focus. You won’t have editing options to direct the audience’s attention, so it’s critical to know what you want them to experience.

3. Get the camera placement right. Camera placement is crucial, obviously, and it took a lot of testing of various positions to get it just right. The new VR cameras that enable live stitching and monitoring hadn’t hit the rental market yet, so instead we used a 10-GoPro rig from 360Heros and stitched the videos together with Kolor’s APV software.

Our camera system for the shoot. Labeled for keeping the footage organized!

Be careful of camera movement, too. We found out during testing that moving forward or backward is okay, but side-to-side leads to motion sickness!

Camera placement will dictate the viewer’s point of view, so if you want them to be a participant in the scenario, you need to place the camera at the natural eye level they would have in real life. If you are doing the stitching in post-production, watch out for your stitching points–the places where one camera’s field of view ends and the next camera’s begins. You need to be able to stitch them together so it appears as one seamless 360º view without awkward distortion or broken lines.

4. Rethink lighting. You have to be careful about the placement of your lighting. If you use film lights, you’ll need to disguise them as decorative, practical fixtures or otherwise hide them in the scene or spend copious amounts of time rotoscoping them out later. In our film, I designed a lightweight 4’x4’ soft box and rigged it to the ceiling to hide it in plain sight, and it provided a controlled soft light for the scene. It lent itself to the nature of our set–a space command center.

5. Watch that set design. This is tricky. 360º video is still a novelty and people who are first to experience it will be looking around at every pixel of the video they can see. We wanted to make sure it was still visually interesting if they were distracted from the story, so we used various background monitors with data on them to keep people engaged no matter where they focused.
 Keep an eye out for complicated patterns–in carpeting, wallpaper, ceiling tiles, etc. These can be a nightmare to stitch together! The less patterns and lines in your set, the better. Same goes for artwork on walls. Keep it simple or make sure it’s not going to be in an area that overlaps in the final stitch.

Our actors rehearsing their lines and going over the scene’s blocking.

6. Stress the importance of blocking your talent. Blocking is the movement of the actors within a scene. This is critical because you will be filming in one long continuous shot. Actors have to lead the pace, timing, and direction. Block out the story very carefully to give the viewer the experience you want them to have. The actors will be directing the viewer’s focus with their dialogue and actions in lieu of editing.

7. Keep distribution and delivery top of mind. You need to know ahead of time how the audience will consume it. The type of devices they use to view it will influence camera placement, etc. You want it to seem as natural to the viewer as possible. We faced the dilemma of needing to deliver it without fast broadband at a convention, so we scoured the internet for apps and found optimal ones for Android devices and iPhones to use in our Google Cardboard viewers. Think through how people will view it and try to maximize the ways they can access it.

8. Remember, this is new territory. We are just in the infancy of this type of filmmaking, so don’t stress if your video isn’t perfect (ours certainly isn't). Take comfort in the fact that, at this point, people are so excited about this new format that they will forgive many imperfections. There are no real hard and fast rules so don’t be afraid to try new things, stretch what’s been done, improve on your process, and take your findings to the web and share so we can all improve the medium.

We’d love to hear about your experiences making virtual 360º videos, so please comment and share. It’s an exciting time to be creating new experiences for audiences and we look forward to seeing how VR continues to evolve.

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