How to tell a story in VR, using 360 filming - Location and presence


We’ve continued our storytelling experiments with filming and editing for VR.  Peter Boyd Maclean directed a short documentary called “Living the Dream” which we showed at the Munich Documentary Campus on 7 May 2014. We collaborated closely with Peter Passmore, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at Middlesex University who co-produced the film and also supplied the rig.

360 filming involves a completely new approach to shooting– we’re calling it ‘spherical thinking’. The two aspects we’ve focused on are location and presence:

  • Location – We wanted locations that would provide audiences with a fuller picture by being able to look around. This lends itself to stories where location is key to the action and where understanding the space helps make sense of the story.
  • Presence – By offering presence in the story, VR should help audiences to understand the story better by feeling a heightened sense of emotion. This would include feeling that people are talking to them, or being part of the conversation in an interview

A recent example is Chris Milk’s film in a Jordanian refugee camp ‘Clouds over Sidra’ which you can download with the VRSE app.

An obvious starting point for a VR film is a simple profile to understand someone’s life and work. 360 filming enables you to see that person in their context, and feel as though you are there with them. So we thought we’d start with an artist or musician in their studio. To allow us to focus on the filmmaking, we kept things simple, and profiled artist and print maker Martin Mossop.

The film includes Martin taking photos by the Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge, printmaking in the East London Print Makers Collective, and selling the prints at a market.

The film is intended as a demonstration to help people understand the impact of different camera angles, and different environments. We’d originally filmed a scene on a moving bus, but that made me feel sick, so we had to cut it. We also have intercut some 16 x 9 footage with 360 footage to see whether this is effective.

We also experimented with editing techniques, for example, lining up the focal point for more comfortable cuts between shots.  At the moment most films just cut to black, and our aim is to try to create a cut sequence.

We’ve deliberately left the film as a rough cut to enable people to see what 360 video looks like without post-production to cover the flaws. And next time we’ll need to work on the sound.

But through this process we are discovering far more about the possibilities and pitfalls of VR filming – you can read the slides from our talk in Munich here.

All photos courtesy of Martin Mossop

Article by Zillah Watson, Editor, R&D