DoP, editor and director Svend Even Hærra has been producing a number of 360 projects for NRK, Norway’s public broadcasting corporation. One of his 360 pieces–his first, actually–was just nominated for for an International Kids Emmy Award as part of a larger digital publishing.
The experience, shot in September 2016, follows a young girl on her first day of school as the viewer experiences it from her perspective. It’s part of the series, Jenter (Young Girls), which is one of NRK’s most popular kids’ series and incorporates a number of media types–blogs, Snapchat, Instagram, video and more–into one story.
We sat down to talk to him about his best practices for directing 360 experiences, his camera preferences, and other best practices.
What camera did you use for the Jenter piece?
We used the Samsung Gear 360 for this, because it was this camera that would best work for us under the conditions. We had to produce this film quickly and the girl would need to be able to carry the camera while filming.
My background is in fiction and documentary, so I wanted the actors to be as free as possible. I wanted the camera to make it possible for us to get the most natural actions at the highest quality. That’s always the challenge: the best quality with the most freedom.
I started checking out all of the cameras and initially I thought I was going to use a more professional grade camera because I wanted higher quality. But, I looked at the GoPro Freedom rigs and knew the stitching would be a problem because we wanted people to get really close to the camera, to walk up to it, to get in ‘her’ face.
Also, since those pro cameras are heavier, it would have been too heavy for her to carry in a stable way.
And we only had 1.5 hours to make the video, so we wanted to be able to watch it right away and see if everything was as we planned. There are so many 360 productions where you don’t see the material right away, but with the Samsung, I can view while I film, watch it once more after, and really know if we got what I need.
For us, the need to control the camera, have people act naturally, carry the camera, and be able to be close to it was why we chose the Gear 360. We lost picture quality, but we gained a lot in directing, use of time and few stitching lines/errors.
We should have, of course, stabilized the video in the Jenter film, but back then we didn’t have the tools to stabilize it. Today, I think we would have used the GoPro Fusion or Garmin Virb instead of the Samsung Gear 360.
With 360, we had the possibility to tell both how she reacted to all the crowd and if you as a viewer turn around you can experience what it’s like to be her. Because the actors look straight in the camera/right in your eyes.
Further up the stairs, a boy hides behind her and comes up and teases her. You don’t see that in the TV version only when you watch the 360 film version.
Another challenge was that we wanted the girls to Individual instance of a shot; a take = each time the camera is started and stopped. a selfie but then we would see 360 camera in the picture from the iPhone. In the photos below, you can see how we solved it with A subject shot against a background of a particular shade of green so the background can be removed and replaced in post... More on the phone when we filmed. We used the recording from the 360 film and inserted it into the A subject shot against a background of a particular shade of green so the background can be removed and replaced in post... More on the phone.
Speaking of directing…what new challenges did you face, shooting 360 for the first time?
Knowing where to hide and how to direct, of course. But also, directing the actors. (On Jenter, Tine Grønneberg and I co-directed).
People would move to the side and think they were out of frame and we’d have to tell them that if they can see the camera, it can see you. They needed to realize that even after she walked by them with the camera, they still need to be in character.
When it comes to 360, you also need really good actors because they’re in the shot all the time. You can’t edit around them like in normal TV.
Also, in 360, people can get a bit stiff, especially if you tell them to avoid being in the stitchline–then they’re thinking about that rather than acting. Then you can have a good story and good quality, but with bad acting you lose it.
We also realized it was important for things to happen in the whole room and for us to use the whole space, which was very different from how we think about television.
But in other 360 films, it’s important to be clear where the story is going on (especially when the camera is not in motion) so that you do not lose the most important information. In all the 360 films I’ve made, the viewer is taken care of by the actors around the camera. They are looking directly into the camera as if you are really there.
I think that eye contact is very important so you won’t feel alone, but rather integrate into the story. In the Ski Jumping 360 piece, for example, we organized some ski jumpers at the bottom of the hill and they gave you high five. We have seen a lot of the viewers when they use the VR headset appreciate this and raise their hands to be part of the action.
How has the NRK audience responded to 360?
The people who run the Facebook page for sports didn’t know if a 360 video would be successful or not, but when they published it, it got double the views they normally have on their Facebook videos. People really liked it. It was really cool to see so many people sharing and commenting on the film.
The best experience is of course to watch the film in a headset, but it’s easier to reach out to more people with Facebook.
That’s actually another challenge: we don’t have our own 360 player for NRK. They want to wait until we have enough material, but I’d love to get our own player to publish 360 material on instead of only Youtube and Facebook.
Most of our audience watches on phones without the headset, so they lose out on the full experience. I know from traveling around and talking about our projects, when they view it in a headset is when they realize this is something really special.
For 360 to survive, it’s really important to give people something they can’t get on television. I want people to Individual instance of a shot; a take = each time the camera is started and stopped. off their VR glasses and turn to their TV and think it’s really old. And it needs to be as simple as possible so you don’t feel the technology. You don’t have to think about it. You just jump into it and have a wonderful experience. It just isn’t that way…yet.
I know you’ve tried a handful of very different camera solutions, from consumer cameras like the Samsung Gear 360 to professional solutions like the Z Cam S1 and also the Entaniya lenses. Do you have a preference based on your experiences?
It’s always a struggle to find the best technology to fit a story. And you have to consider what you’re shooting. Is a little girl going to be holding the camera, or is it going to be mounted to a helmet, or could it be mounted on a tripod?
In Ski Jumping 360 I also used Samsung Gear 360. We tried to do something with five GoPros on the helmet, but it was really cold and they kept turning off. Plus, the ski jumper wasn’t so happy about jumping with all of them because it was really heavy, so we used the Samsung for that.
I really like the Entaniya 250 lens, which I’ve used in a lot of different ways, particularly with different frame rates. I’ve done a lot of recording in 4K 60fps with the Sony FS7 and Entaniya lens. Slower frame rates are more like film, but when it comes to 360, I think you feel more present with a faster frame rate. You don’t feel like you’re watching a film, you feel like you are there.
The first time I used it was for the Ski Jumping 360 film. We used the Entaniya 250 lens with MFT mount on a Panasonic GH5 for the shot where we combine real time and slow motion.
I really wanted to have this slow motion effect, and I met someone who had the Entaniya 250 lens a week before doing this shoot and I had a prototype of the Panasonic GH5 that could film at 180fps. I thought if I put the camera with that lens on a tripod and film with the instructor there shot at 30fps, and then put it on 180fps in the exact same spot and then rotoscope out the instructor, I could mix him into the slow motion video.
Another benefit with the wide Entaniya 250 lens is that there could be just one stitching line and the actors are more free to move around and we don’t have to spend so much time to make a good stitch in post production. But, of course, the stitch you have with the Entaniya back to back or side to side, you can have some trouble in the stitch line and might have bigger problems having a good stitch there compared to the Z Cam S1 Pro or other solutions. All this technology, both with lenses, camera and stitching programs, develops very quickly, so there is probably a better solution already out there now.
For the drama pilot I’m working on now, we only need 250-degree The angle of space viewable from a given lens position., so we used only the Entaniya lens. People were also very close to the camera for that. They almost have their nose at the lens! We would have had problems if we’d used a camera with more lenses. Using the Entaniya meant we could also be there to direct and it worked better for some of our darker scenes while getting the quality I wanted.
What I also like about the Entaniya lens is that it can be used for many different cameras and it is easy to change lens mounts. Now there are solutions that can be used on RED Helium 8K 75fps which is great for The number of pixels in an image, typically presented as a ratio of the total pixels on x axis to the total pixels on th... More and frames per second.
We have also used an early version of the Z Cam S1. Here you can see it with the Sennheiser Ambeo mic underneath. We have Spatial 360 soundmix on almost all our productions. We also use lamps that we hide to get better images and more control.
I have also used gimbals like the Feiuy tech G360 to stabilize the camera.
What first got you interested in producing immersive content?
When I saw 360 videos coming, I thought it was such a cool new way to present our characters to the viewers and help to see one story from many different angles.
I’m very interested in storytelling. We should really think about making the viewer feel like they’re present. I think it’s important to push the line and make our 360 films more interactive and easy to navigate. We should challenge ourselves every day to make this platform greater, bigger and more immersive.
You can follow Svend on Instagram to check out his latest productions and behind the scenes pictures.