Development project to explore immersive news and current affairs


VR technology is developing rapidly, resulting in an explosion of interest. This is being led by the emergence of new consumer cameras and cheap ways of viewing VR via smart phones (eg Google Cardboard).

Who’s filming in 360?

Ted are now streaming 360 talks, so live studio filming is possible. Vice News recently released their first VR news report, and Sun Dance 2015 has led to a surge of interest in the possibilities for VR feature films.

Development Project - 360 Filming and Journalism

360 filming has great potential for journalism - it offers new immersive ways to “bring the world to the UK”, deepening understanding of issues and different cultures. For example it could transport people to a school in China, or a Liberian village, to better understand how other people live.

Last week, we began a short development project to explore ways the ways in which virtual reality (VR) experiences, could be used journalistically by the BBC.

The team included Alia Sheikh (BBC R&D), Drew MacQuarrie (UCL) and Peter Boyd Maclean a freelance filmmaker. Graham Thomas (BBC R&D), Chris Pike (BBC R&D), Richard Taylor (BBC R&D) and Anthony Steed (UCL) also provided advice.

roof group shooting

Despite the hype, it’s still all very experimental (very like the early days of cinema…). People are still working out how to film and edit 360 footage, and how to effectively incorporate sound. And there’s a host of new problems to grapple with, such as where the crew should stand.

To create a 360 experience requires multiple cameras mounted on a ball like rig, the cameras film in all directions and then the videos created are ‘stitched’ together to form a panoramic vision which when viewed in a headset like the Oculus rift or Google cardboard makes the viewer feel an intense sensation of being in the scene.

Currently there are two very popular cameras systems - the Go Pro Hero rig system which requires post production stitching of 6 camera sources and the LadyBug system developed by Point Grey Systems. The point LadyBug stitches together the cameras automatically but only uses five cameras and does not give the full immersive experience as one of the cameras (pointing at the either ground or the sky) is missing.

We borrowed UCL’s Ladybug and we filmed an interview, cutaways of feet walking along a wall, and shots from the top of our 15 floor office block – One Euston Square. Peter then cut together a short sequence.

roof group shooting

We’ve started to understand ideal camera positions for shots, how to avoid motion sickness and how to edit the footage. We’ve also begun to consider how we could enhance the experience with 360 sound.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to unpick the technical issues, and work out how best to tell stories. We can then begin to evolve a new production vocabulary for 360 degree filming.

This article was written by Zillah Watson, Editor, BBC R&D.