BBC Blue Room: Behind the scenes of BBC Breakfast’s 360 Video

Back in November, the Deputy Editor of BBC Breakfast, Kelly Crawford, approached the Blue Room, to assist them in the making of a behind the scenes clip of the BBC Breakfast studios to be filmed in 360. Ahmed Razek describes how it was made.

We wanted to create full end-to-end 360 video workflow using just a single device, the Ricoh Theta S 360 camera, which features two hemi-spherical lenses placed back-to-back, in order to shoot a full 360 degree image. The Breakfast technical team provided additional graphics and sync audio for the edit.

Prior to the shoot, we had access to the Breakfast studios, which gave adequate time to test the Ricoh Theta S under different lighting conditions. This allowed us to assess how the camera’s auto-exposure would react to the various background screens and the studio lighting. More importantly, this also allowed to us to experiment in finding the optimum camera position in terms of distance and angle when ‘facing’ the presenters. We discovered that the camera does actually have an optimum front position despite being able to see in all directions at once! Resolution was always going to be the biggest issue with 360-video on a single camera. The current technology is only just able to cram the full 360 image into one final 1920x1080 raster, and at an automatic 30 FPS; therefore optimising the shooting conditions in these other areas was crucial in overcoming the restriction on resolution.

For the shoot itself, we attached the camera to a very thin monopod, which was secured to the end of the breakfast studio desk. To the purist, it wasn’t the most elegant of solutions, however it worked really well with the slim design of the Theta S and meant that no additional time was needed in post to edit out the monopod from view.

Just before the actual recording, I created a 10 second test clip and previewed it on the Ricoh Theta S app. This allowed me to check that position and lighting matched up to what we wanted from our tests. I would suggest creating as short a clip as possible when testing, as transferring the footage from the camera to the phone, over Wi-Fi Direct, can take some time.

Kelly Crawford choreographed and scripted the piece, which was designed as a piece of action that had to be done in a single-take. We were keen to make the content as ‘360 worthy’ as possible, which was why we had plate spinners, make up artists and other extras in various locations around the studio, so that there would be some action in every direction, and so as to provide a reason to watch the clip more than once so as to catch everything.

The Theta S allows around 65 minutes of total video recording time, so we decided to shoot the piece several times and pick the best recording.

It must be said that editing the audio did take more time in post than anticipated, as there was some clever thinking that had to go into syncing the normal studio audio bitrate with the 30 fps video format of the Theta S file.

With regard to the graphics, initially we wanted to use a plugin for Adobe After Effects (Skybox Studio by Mettle), which with more time would have allowed us to create quite compelling graphics. However, in keeping with the fast-turnarounds required in journalism, and the notion of our simple all-in-one camera workflow, Video Editor, Phillip Smith, was able to quickly create a wrap around graphic using FCP that was used in the final piece.

Once we were happy with the edit, we exported the file as an MP4, applied the 360 metadata to the exported clip, and then finally uploaded to both YouTube and Facebook.

Tips using the Ricoh Theta S

  • Ricoh Theta S works well if you need a quick turnaround. However the resolution is still very poor once the 360 final video is exported, and so you may find that you are unhappy with the resolution. This should change very soon though with the proliferation of 4K 360 cams expected to come to market in 2016.

  • Always record audio from an external source to sync later in your edit; the in built microphone will not work well, particularly if there is background noise or the subject is far away.

  • If possible, keep the camera in a fixed position; it makes for a better viewing experience.

  • Work out where “front” is and where the stitches happen! For the Theta S, using the rear lens (right hemisphere) or offsetting the front-lens slightly by pointing the camera’s “11 or 1 o’clock” point at our presenters helped us avoid creating a stitch across their faces! Instinctively, you will want to point your camera’s “12 o’clock” at your starting-action. However, we found the front-lens 12 o’clock point is where the video stitches together, and can result in a visible blocky line if playback compression is low (e.g. Over mobile internet).

  • If importing the clips from the camera to a Mac, use Image Capture NOT the OS X default Photos Application!

  • If you need to transfer a clip from the Theta to the Phone App, make sure it is no longer than 20 seconds!