Last week BBC technology programme Click released the BBC’s first full-length show created entirely using 360 degree video. Click’s Stephen Beckett, who produced and filmed the episode, describes how it was made.
It’s been a fascinating experiment to work on, and I want to share a few things we’ve learned along the way here. Right now there are scant resources for technical and creative advice around 360 video - a testament to just how new 360 video is.
Below I’ve gone through the equipment and tools that we used to create Click 360, but first I want to share some of the creative and storytelling tools we learned and discovered while creating the episode.
The Rules of 360
There aren’t any (yet)! The narrative of 360 video is still being discovered, and what works and doesn’t work is all still a largely unknown quantity.
Not only do we not know what the rules are, but neither do the audience. For many people what you make may be one of their first experiences of 360 video. As such there is no shorthand rule book for them to draw upon.
If in 1895 the Lumière brothers had followed their screening of “The Arrival of a Train” with a Michael Bay film, there would probably have been a fair amount of confusion. Similarly now what we know as 360 filmmakers, and what our audience understand as viewers is still evolving.
Here are some things that I think about when filming in 360:
Where to put the camera
- If in doubt put the camera in the middle of the action.
- Make every degree count - If the viewer only has reason to look at 1/3 of the sphere then why are you filming in 360? Try to feature locations that are unique, generally inaccessible or unusual. Not every direction has to be bursting with action, but there should be a reason to look there.
- People find people fascinating - Is there a location that lets the viewer get up close with someone or something relevant to the story.
- When you enter a location take note of where are you personally are compelled to go and stand and what you want to look at. Where are the places that you physically can’t go, but would like to? Is there a way to get the camera there?
- Moving the camera - Try to make movement as smooth and slow as possible to avoid motion sickness, in Click 360 we slowed some shots down to help with this and to give viewers more time to experience the moment.
- Try to bring subjects closer to the camera - but not so close the viewer feels like their personal space is being violated.
- Remind your presenter and contributors that the camera is ‘a person,’ as such it might be nice to involve them in the conversation with occasional eye contact for example.
- Keep the camera at eye level, too low and the viewer might feel like they’re being talked down to.
Cuts & cutaways
- The ‘dip to black’ is the stalwart of 360 video right now - it is gentle and the viewer understands what it means, that’s not to say that it’s the limit.
- For Click 360 we used the ‘convention’ of crossfading into cutaways, but I’ve also seen some really nice examples of hard and quicker cuts, it’s still too soon to know what works, so experiment.
- If you have time, consider overlaying content in post - Click 360’s CERN piece in is a brilliant example of this; video, image and text pepper the environment adding close up detail and information. Remember though that the viewer might miss what you put up, so either repeat it around the sphere, or plan for each viewer to have a different journey through your piece.
- Hide or not to hide? I think this is a matter of preference and dependent on the scene, for Click 360 I liked to have the crew in shot, it’s interesting for the viewer to see behind the scenes and promotes the feeling that the viewer is seeing something live and authentic.
- Conversely seeing the crew could also make some situations feel less intimate.
- Don’t overwhelm the viewer - you’re forcing them to do the extra job of directing their own attention, in addition to having to listen, watch and understand as they normally would.
- Slow down - In Click 360 Spencer tried to present more in the style of radio, that’s to say slower and more conversational. Read more about Spencer’s experience of filming and presenting in 360
- Landing time - Each time you cut, you are teleporting the viewer, give them time (10-20 seconds) to figure out where they are and what’s going on before launching into the action.
- Signposting - Consider warning people that they’re about to be teleported so that they’re not surprised.
- Don’t make the viewer feel bad - The viewer shouldn’t feel like they have made a bad or incorrect decision by choosing to look somewhere.
- Even more important than with traditional video - good sound and atmos can tip the balance in the feeling of immersion.
- Grab an atmos recording while on shoot. Sound-led cuts coming into new shots can prepare the viewer for what they’re about to experience.
- Choose music that doesn’t overwhelm or detract from the natural atmos.
- Unless you’re working with binaural sound - mono your sound mix
Equipment & Software
- Freedom 360 rig with 6 x GoPro HERO 4 Blacks - One of the few practical ways currently to capture high quality 360 video in 4K. A bit of a faff to use though, and prone to stitching problems in some settings (objects that are close to the camera, especially if they’re moving). Camera settings were: Wide mode at 1440p, 50fps with native white balance and a flat colour profile.
- Ricoh Theta S - Very easy to use and barely any stitching problems, however only produces an HD 360 video. We used this for close-quarters internal shots, for example the internal helicopter shot in the Glacier piece, where the GoPros would have struggled.
- Tripod stands and boom poles - Used for static shots and also handheld to create movement. Also used a 45 degree tripod head mount to allow rotation of the GoPro rig. This can let you for example orient the stitching lines vertically, which might make it easier to fix a moving object in post.
- Sound recording - Primarily a TASCAM DR-70D which supports 4 channels of recording.
Stitching & post production
- Kolor Autopano for stitching the GoPro footage - A good bit of kit that does its best to soften the learning curve of what is quite a complex process. Lots of options under the hood if you’re prepared to spend some time exploring.
- After Effects - For manually combining different camera shots to fix the most distracting stitching problems.
- SkyBox plugin for After Effects or Premiere Pro - Used to re-orientate footage to allow masking out of tripod stands in Photoshop. Also used to create the titles and credit sequences and add in video and text overlays (for example in the 1st magic trick section).
- Blender (free) - Used to stabilise the Theta footage with the open source Panorama-Tracker plugin. Does the job albeit very slowly.
Edit, grade & sound mix
- Adobe Premiere - As long as your system & software can handle 4K video then any editing software will do, we used Premiere as it has better support from 360 plugins. In a pinch, use the in-built ‘Offset’ effect to quickly re-orient your 360 video horizontally.
- Kolor Eyes plugin (free) - Lets you see and interact with your footage live in 360 from your Premiere timeline without rendering.
The Future of 360
Making 360 video with the tools we have now is all about compromise. For a weekly, relatively fast turn around show like Click, there’s only so much time and manpower we could put into making a show like this ‘perfect’.
You have to choose your battles - should you spend a day fixing a stitching problem, or hope that most viewers don’t mind and concentrate on finessing the edit?
Hopefully in Click 360 we have struck a balance here and shown that it is possible to create something engaging and watchable on somewhat limited resources.
It certainly feels to me that 2016 will be ‘the year of VR’ - three major headsets are finally going on sale to the public, while simultaneously interest in creating high quality and affordable 360 filming equipment is snowballing.
When the next generation of tools do arrive it will be liberating for content creators - rather than focussing on the quirks of the technology we can direct our attention into the creative process of creating compelling 360 content.
Whatever happens it’s certainly a very exciting time to be involved in discovering and evolving 360 video.
I’d love to hear your feedback on what you think worked and what didn’t in Click 360. Follow me on twitter @StephenBeckett, or send me and email: firstname.lastname@example.org