I had a ‘crack’ at Virtual Reality and this is what I learnt…

I’ve been wanting to experiment with virtual reality for a while now but have always seemed to use the excuse that I can’t find an easy, inexpensive way to get started.

I decided recently to just bite the bullet and start, somewhere.

So — I set some time aside to do a little research, bought a fancy 360º camera, set it up and recorded an entire d.School Design thinking workshop.

This is what came out:

360º d.School Design Thinking Workshop Time-lapse from Syfte on Vimeo.

Alright, alright, I hear all you tech-nerds out there shouting at me:

“Errm…360º video is not the same as virtual reality!”

You’re right. Its not, but that doesn’t matter. At least not for the purposes of this post.

We are going to ignore all the complicated techy details and avoid splitting hairs over what defines 360º, virtual reality, mixed reality — and any other number of realities.

Rather, I want to focus on what is a little more relevant to you and I today:

Guys, virtual reality is coming — you’ve gotta start prototyping now.

Now, if ‘prototyping’ means just playing around with 360º camera content to learn more about immersive virtual environments — I say go for it. You don’t need to know how to model 3D or code game systems to get started.

Today I’m going to share the top four VR literacy lessons I’ve learnt just by simply ‘having a crack’ at VR with 360º video.

360º FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Being immersed into a 360º environment can feel magical. In an instant you’re whisked away to far off lands or places that only exist in the imagination.

It’s only natural for curiosity to take over. The viewer will start to twist and turn; looking up, down and all over the place to check out their new virtual digs.

As creators we assume its our responsibility to fill up every inch of space with interesting things to keep our viewer engaged. But this can become problematic when you want to capture the viewers attention or direct a narrative.

Curiosity killed the cat…and the storyline. Don’t let unnecessary visuals distract from the core narrative.

VR Literacy Lesson 1:

Less is more in the case of directed VR story telling. When you cut the ‘visual fat’ it will subtly steer your viewers focus towards the main area of action and reduce any feelings that they might be missing out on parts of the story behind, above, below or beside them. The caveat to this depends on what your motives are for the viewer. If your goal is for your VR adventurer to be evoked with a sense of overwhelm by the environment then go with it — bamboozle away. Just be aware and ensure the experiences you create are intentional.

Don’t Make me feel small!

Think back to this…

When was the last time you crawled under the dining room table, cut a hole in the middle, poked your head out and started to have a casual chat with your dinner buddies?

Now, unless you were pretending to be a severed head for a Halloween prank then I’m guessing the answer is never.

Be mindful of where you position your 360º camera when filming — as it will impact how your viewers will experience your VR/360 world.

Eg: Low view points might make them feel small, subservient, claustrophobic. Whilst higher points of view might make them feel taller, more powerful — too high and they’ll probably start to get vertigo.

VR Literacy Lesson 2:

This depends on your intentions but as a general rule aim to keep the point of view of your camera at eye level with the actors in your virtual scene. If you anticipate your viewer will be standing, set the height of the camera to that of someone standing — likewise if they are sitting. Alternatively, If you’re going for a ‘honey I shrunk the kids’ or an ‘iron giant’ experience then messing with the camera height could be the right thing to do.

Being the centre of attention can be…awkward

I really dislike being the centre of attention. Its probably why I don’t like having birthday parties. I get all frazzled and feel compelled to make sure everyone is having a good time; rushing around to speak to everyone, trying to give each person enough time — but not so much that the other guest feel neglected. Its overwhelming, hard work and it can get awkward.

The same can be true in VR/360º. When you place the viewer in the centre of the action you’re potentially making it hard for them to know where they should focus their attention. Causing disorientation, confusion and awkward turtles.

Keep all the important action within a single view

VR Literacy Lesson 3:

Standing in the centre of the action doesn’t feel natural. As spectators we are usually standing off to the side. If you are filming a group of people, make sure the camera is positioned next to the group — not in the middle. Likewise, if you are wanting to direct your viewers attention to an activity, position them so they are most comfortable to view the majority of the experience from one view. If you observe your test participant doing some odd yoga moves while they’re checking out your VR prototype it might be time to re-think your camera placement.

Please, don’t make me hurl…

Be kind to your viewer. Don’t push or shake them unnecessarily. Unexpected movements in VR that are not triggered by the viewer can be disorientating and cause motion sickness.

VR Literacy Lesson 4:

If you are planning on adding movement you can get around motion sickness by panning the camera at a constant pace and by having an object for the viewer to focus on thats travelling at their same trajectory. Some studies have shown that a virtual nose placed in the viewers peripheral can also significantly reduce motion sickness caused by virtual reality. (Source: Purdy University) To be safe — try to keep the camera stationary and aim to limit movement. Otherwise, just make sure a bucket isn’t too far out of reach.

Now its your turn…

That’s it for now! You’ve successfully endured my first ever blog post.

I hope I’ve encouraged and inspired you to create, fail and learn more about VR by prototyping your own experiences with 360º videos.

Don’t wait for VR to become democratised. Get stuck into in and grow your VR literacy now to get ahead of your competitors.

I will continue to explore and push the limits of 360º video as an immersive VR prototyping tool. If you have any questions, want to get involved or hear more about my learnings please get in touch. Always happy to chat.

Get in touch if you’d like us to help to have a crack at VR too!!