An Intro to VR Post Production, Part I

Data Management & Stitching

The people in post production often work in the shadows — quite literally. You’ll often find editors hidden in their ‘caves,’ immersed in a dimly lit room blocking out distractions.

Although out of the spotlight, editors, animators, colorists and sound designers are not less valuable, or less talented, than the rest of the crew. Instead, especially in the virtual reality world, they encompass a lesser known — yet crucial — world. Most people do not completely understand the process of post production, and how many extra steps are needed in order to finish a 360 video compared to a linear, 2D video.

Nevertheless, every crew member working on a VR project should go through the process of post production. You are automatically a better director or producer if you understand how the post production works.

See below a timeline comparing the process of making a traditional documentary to the process of creating 360/VR content:

Source: Maria Lauret

With that in mind, we want to show you the steps we take to create different types of 360/VR videos.

In this week’s blog post (Part 1 of 3), we tackle the first steps of post production, including data management and stitching. In Part 2, we will cover the difference in editing a short social 360 video versus an immersive VR documentary. In Part 3, we will cover the final post production work, including title cards, shot stabilization, spatial audio and tripod removal.

1. Data Management

Rule number one in post production is organization. Creating a folder structure that helps keep all the material organized the exact same way for every project is extremely important.

When it comes to VR post production, it is even more tedious than traditional film editing. Depending on the camera, you might have several files for one shot. For example, for the GoPro Omni, which uses 6 different cameras, you will have 6 different files for the same scene. You not only have to deal with all the raw footage that comes straight out of the camera, but you also have to keep track of your rough and fine stitched files, graphics, titles, tripod removal, audio files and various exports.

At Contrast VR, we use the Adobe Suite for post production and something that we keep in mind is to create multiple project files along the way (for Premiere and After Effects) and keep them all in a separate folder. We’ve lost project files quite a few times due to Premiere/After Effects errors.

2. Stitching your footage:

Once our shooters, journalists or producers bring back 360 footage, it’s time to begin the post production process by stitching the material — if they haven’t already done it.

In order to stitch the 2016 version of the Gear 360 camera, a Samsung mobile device or Windows machine is required. If you do not have access to either option, you can download an After Effects template to stitch your files one by one (you will also need a Skybox Converter license to use this template).

If you are using the newer version of the Gear 360 (2017), you can stitch your footage on a Mac/Windows machine or iOS/Android device. To ensure your files are stitched correctly without any errors, a good tip is to stitch the footage in groups of a maximum of 5 shots, or even less, at a time. Otherwise, you might have a hard time playing your video smoothly in the editing software.

Samsung Gear 360 footage after it is stitched.

Other consumer friendly 360 cameras with quality good enough for distribution on social media have their own specific software and plugins for stitching. Examples of that are Pixpro 360 Stitch and Xiaomi Yi.

Forget the old nightmare from a couple of years ago of managing and synchronizing the footage from regular GoPro 360 rigs. The GoPro Omni rig has some advantages over the older models; all the footage is already synced. Meaning, once you plug in all of the micro SD cards into your machine at the same time, you can automatically preview and choose the shots you would like to rough stitch and render through Omni Importer.

This way you will be importing the individual files from each of the 6 GoPros that compose the Omni Rig into folders divided by scenes, plus an Autopano Video Pro file and a rendered version of your shot (optional) in 2k or 4k.

Check out how the footage looks on AVP for final tweaks during the fine stitching process:

Screenshot of AutoPano Video Pro + Giga to fine stitch GoPro Omni footage (left). The fine stitched, final shot of the file (right).

Once you know exactly what shots you are going to use in your final edit, it’s time to fine stitch the GoPro Omni footage on Autopano Video Pro and Autopano Giga. Through creating control points and adjusting the stitching lines manually on Autopano Giga, you get a chance to fix seam lines based on the exact timecode of the video that is important for you. That allows you to avoid adjusting the entire clip and wasting time on a part of the shot that you are not going to end up using. The end result should be a seamless panoramic image like the one above.

One of the greatest things about the Nokia OZO, the camera used by Contrast VR for for original documentary pieces, is the possibility to preview shots while on set/location. You can adjust light, color and can make sure that crucial elements of your shot will not be compromised by unwanted stitching lines in post production. As you can see below, this is how the footage looks after you dump the material and start stitching it on OZO Creator.

OZO Creator allows you to move these stitching lines around (the pink bars on left image) as well as adjust color, light, noise etc. From there, you can export the footage as you want: roughly stitched, very high quality render, WAV files (ambisonic 4 channel-audio) and others. Your fine stitched video file should look like the seamless image to the right.

Stay tuned for the next VR post production blog post on the difference between editing social media 360 videos and immersive VR documentaries.