Filming 360 videos in Paris

What’s it like in Paris now?

How we created two 360 videos in a day with Matthew Price, BBC News.

Could immersive 360 video help viewers step into the shoes of a reporter and get a sense of what it was like to be in Paris four days after the terror attacks?

We helped create two short films with BBC correspondent Matthew Price to find out. The videos were filmed and uploaded on the same day.

Scenes at Place de la République

Scenes outside the Bataclan

How we filmed the 360 videos

Matthew Price filming

Filming people crowded around the memorial in Place de la Republic and outside the Bataclan required great sensitivity to the situation around us.

We used a Ricoh Theta S camera, a simple consumer product that’s only recently become available. It’s easy to use, and enabled us to film, edit and publish the footage on YouTube and Facebook within hours. When used in the right way, it can help capture the atmosphere of a situation and give a sense of the location.

The camera uses two 180 degree plus fish-eye cameras which are then stitched together by an app. The ultra wide-angle view means that you need to get the camera very close to the action, or it appears very distant. (As you’ll see, walking through the crowds around the memorial worked well. But filmed from across the road, the Bataclan appears too far away and is indistinct.)

Low light levels were an issue - a dull overcast winter day is not ideal, and shadowy streets proved troublesome. So filming in open areas such as Place de la Republique enabled us to work around these limitations.

Matthew held the camera on selfie-stick just above head height, and walked very slowly. Our tests showed that walking at a normal pace doesn’t give viewers a chance to look around. We tried a version with him speaking to the camera but it proved tricky to sync the sound later. The built in microphone on the camera is weak and there’s no microphone jack, so Matthew recorded on a Marantz as well.

Zillah Watson testing
Zillah Watson Stitching

We transferred the files to a computer and used the Theta stitching app while still on location. A two minute shot took 20–30 minutes to process, and it drained the battery power of the laptop fast. But it meant that we could review what we’d filmed quickly and see if we needed another take.

Matthew recorded simple commentaries at both locations reflecting on the scenes he’d witnessed.

Later, back in the BBC Paris Bureau, World News VJ Howard Johnson trimmed the footage and added Matthew’s voice-over.

Howard Johnson testing
Howard_Johnson_testing

We had to do some troubleshooting at this point because editing the film affected the 360 metadata. And the video does not become 360 on YouTube straight away, which can be nerve wracking.

But later that evening two 360 videos were successfully published on the BBC News YouTube Channel and on Facebook that helped give a sense of what it was like in Paris that day.

Conclusion

The video quality is low, but is fine viewed on a mobile device – providing a window on the scene.

We need to improve the work-flow from edit to upload. And we’ll continue to test more cameras as they are released. For higher quality 360 films that convey more detail, have a greater sense of depth and require synced audio, we’ll need to continue using more complex camera rigs for now. But for speed, and to capture a moment, the Ricoh Theta S will prove a great tool for immersive news reporting that puts the viewer at the heart of a story.

Zillah Watson, Editor, BBC R&D


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