360 Videos and Virtual Reality for Everyone

Geoff Peters is a 34-year-old software developer, musician, and vlogger from Vancouver Canada. He attended film school at Langara College and studied computing science and business at Simon Fraser University.

Geoff Peters (top right) showing his Zeiss VR One virtual reality headset to some friends at a dinner party in White Rock, BC, Canada. Photo taken with Ricoh Theta S 360 degree camera.

In the last few months, both Youtube and Facebook have enabled 360 degree videos on their sites. Emerging platforms also aim to become a home for 360 degree virtual reality videos. The first affordable 360 degree cameras are starting to become available for consumers, including the Ricoh Theta S and the Nikon KeyMission. And virtual reality headsets such as the Google Cardboard, Zeiss VR One, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift, are becoming more commonplace. What does this all mean for filmmakers who want to take advantage of this new medium and technology?

Geoff showing the Zeiss VR One virtual reality headset to a colleague.

What do the following experiences have in common:

  • Being at the Hong Kong student protests (Umbrella revolution)
  • Flying in a fighter jet at an airshow
  • Standing on a beach and having the singer Bjork dance around you
  • Being on stage at a performance of the musical the Lion King
  • Being on stage at a late night talk show.

What they have in common is that they are all experiences I had when using my virtual reality headset, the Zeiss VR One (pictured above).

Mobile VR is great because you use the screen and sensors inside your smart phone, in combination with a headset such as this one, to experience virtual reality. The phone senses when you move your head so that it can adjust the image accordingly, providing an immersive experience.

There are several implications for filmmakers when considering the new medium of 360 video making:

Framing vs 360 degree Choice

A 360 degree filmmaker can no longer direct exactly where the viewer will be looking.

The 360 format, allowing the user to look in any direction around an environment, means that people will be able to form their own opinions about the footage rather than being directed through carefully selected frames.

This has definite implications for news broadcasts (as explored by the BBC’s David Grossman in a video called “How might VR change news?”).

Fast cutting between different angles vs Being There

Films in 360 degrees become more experiential and realistic. While TV is all about fast cuts from different angles, the nature of VR is that it suits longer cuts from fewer viewpoints, and it’s up to the viewer to look around the room. This will make for more challenges for actors and crews, and VFX teams, because no-one can hide outside the camera angle. For example, the viewer can always look off stage or behind themselves.

Moving camera vs Stationary Observer

Camera motion in a 360 video can cause dizziness when viewed through a virtual reality headset. I learned this important fact through first-hand experience with my Zeiss VR One, but this problem is common to all the VR headsets out there right now.

The nature of virtual reality is that movement (acceleration) can easily cause motion sickness. The mind gets confused when the eyes and inner ear are receiving conflicting signals. For example, riding a camel in VR made me dizzy after a few seconds.

Conclusion

VR 360 degree film-making has the potential to give people more immersive experiences. But this new medium will need to change some fundamental assumptions of film-making. Namely, as filmmakers we can no longer be sure where viewers are looking, we can no longer do fast cuts between angles, and moving the camera can easily cause dizziness.

Watching VR films will become a commonplace activity for friends at dinner parties such as this one.