In 2017, the team at Immersive Shooter interviewed upwards of 30 immersive media professionals for our Maker Q&A series. If you didn’t catch them all, here are the top tips, tricks and advice from the pros.
Cameras & Kit
Tip #1: It really isn’t about the camera, it’s about the story.
Even older, lower-resolution cameras can be used to create compelling content.
“The primary 360 camera at each location was our Mini EYE 3 camera – which is built specifically for live VR broadcasts. …Other cameras used included traditional 2D broadcast cameras, a couple of 2D cameras for the main host in Nashville, and even a few Ricoh Thetas (consumer 360 cameras).”—Alx Klive, talking about CNN’s 360 live stream of last August’s eclipse (the most watched 360 live stream ever)
“One of my favorite VR pieces was a piece by Reveal on sexual assault within Jehovah’s Witness communities. It gave me goosebumps. And that was shot with a Ricoh Theta S. The quality wasn’t crazy, but the story was really well done. The testimony in that piece was very touching. It affects you. That’s what we wanted to try to do.”-–Thomas Seymat
Tip #2: Some stories may require you to trade off resolution for something more valuable.
Think proximity, speed, frame rate, or even weight.
“We used the Samsung Gear 360 for [our Jenter piece], 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. …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.”—Svend Even Hærra, talking about his piece, Jenter, which was nominated for a Kids Emmy
Tip #3: Not every immersive story needs the full 360 degrees.
Especially if you need very close shots, or you to be behind the camera to direct, capture audio, conduct the interview, etc.
“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.”–Svend Even Hærra
Tip #4: You don’t need a multi-thousand-dollar rig to get started.
There are a handful of solid camera options out there for less than $1000.
“I also shot a lot of stuff during Hurricane Harvey in Houston using the Garmin Virb 360, which is a great camera for journalists getting into it. It’s naturally shot flat, but you can get creative on the post production side, and the picture quality is really good. And it’s pretty indestructible.”–Dylan Roberts
Tip #5: But, you may want to future proof your videos by capturing at a higher resolution.
IF you have the budget, time, and the content is somewhat evergreen.
“One of my biggest tips would be to future-proof your videos. Don’t shoot it and master it at 2K! Shoot it at 8K and then down-res it because today’s headset may only be able to show 2K material but tomorrow will be a different story.”–Aaron Rhodes
Tip #6: Yes, all your 360 gear can fit in a backpack.
Depending, of course, on what you’re packing.
“I’m a minimalist when it comes to 360. I love that I can put everything in a backpack and I’m good to go. Plus, 360 takes longer to create, I want things that can move quickly with me. They need to be small and compact. Everything I bring fits into a carryon bag. For my tripod, I use a MeFoto tripod and I don’t worry too much about hiding the legs. When you use the insta360 pro camera the legs barely even show. For audio, I just use my iphone with the Rode SmartLav for interviews and the Gear’s internal mic for nat sound.”–Socrates Lozano
Tip #7: There is such a thing as “affordable” volumetric capture.
But it depends on your definition of affordable (and your quality standards).
“Part of the project is an experiment with how we can use photo and videogrammetry in the field. I’ve been using a Matterport scanner and an Occipital Structure Sensor 3D scanner to recreate environments. …The structure sensor captures people and objects. It connects to an iPad and takes a bunch of pictures and stitches them together using proprietary software. It’s an affordable AR solution. The real trick is marrying pieces of tech together.”–Dan Archer
Tip #8: Don’t overcomplicate your first piece.
Keep it simple, or you might psyche yourself out.
“I’d say pick a simple story with minimal text and simple audio. Build it for a mobile audience. Don’t psych yourself out worrying about ambisonic audio and other things like that before getting into 360 video. Just give them a couple scenes (7-11 seconds long is my sweet spot) of something interesting to look at and rich audio from the top. …It’s important to realize what’s going to take the most time. For example, you can turn something around faster if there’s no central voice or character, if it’s just a scene from a larger event. You can produce about a minute in half of a day.”–Brittany Peterson
Tip #9: Not every story works well in VR…
But here are some suggestions from the pros.
“Although she doesn’t see many rules in VR, she does recognize some general tendencies about what works in VR, including embodiment (why must you be in that space?) and perspective (for example, the viewer as the protagonist of the story). …We’ve been really interested in first person narratives, which is really interesting for us as a news organization,” she said. “It’s something we haven’t done in the past.”–Francesca Panetta
“Here are my top five.
- Places where people can’t go. Film something that people can’t see otherwise —like space, for instance.
- Places where people don’t want to go or things they are afraid of doing themselves – like extreme sports – but want to feel what it’s like. The best part of 360 is that you can basically be anyone: famous conductor, a belly dancer, or extreme sports driver.
- Sightseeing and travel guides. So they can see places without leaving their homes.
- Sport events. So they can watch without a ticket.
- Culture and education. You can do great stuff using graphics and 360 video. It would be nice to see VR for historical pieces, or for biology classes. Even the math could be possible to learn in VR.”–Edward Chizhikov
“Don’t limit yourself to thinking 360 is for one thing and one thing only. Sure, we shot extreme sports like free flight competitions in 360 because it’s very visual, but these pieces were very timely. We wanted to show that something less eye-catching can work, in terms of editorial outputs and in terms of clicks. Our servers did not crash from the traffic, but one of them was the most viewed story in Italian for a couple of days. We wanted to show what was possible and blaze a trail to see if other companies can learn from it.”–Thomas Seymat, talking about EuroNews’ 360 Multiple shots from multiple angles to capture the events in a scene (i.e. master shot, medium shots, close-ups, inserts... More of the 2017 election in France
“The way I approach 360 from a local news station, is every year there are some pieces you’re doing over and over: the state fair, the city council meeting to swear in new officers. You can think back to what you did last year and how to do it differently this year, and 360 is a big opportunity to help keep things fresh.”–Socrates Lozano
Tip #10: Storyboarding may not look or feel the same.
After all, you’re shooting a full sphere…
“Right now, something that’s really important to me is to create an emotional blueprint for an experience. So, I’ll put on blank goggles and mimic the experience and come out with an emotional blueprint–whether it’s narrative or music–and I’ll know how I want someone to feel throughout the piece. For example, I want someone to feel anticipation from 0 to 23 seconds in, and trust from 23 to 40, and so on. As you plan out everything else, you can always go back to that one word.”–Elia Petridis
Tip #11: You won’t be able to frame a shot, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to direct attention.
There are some clever, natural ways you can point your audience in the right direction.
“The viewer is in control, not the storyteller. Unlike in the flat world, they’re viewing it in their own choice of frame. We need to use unique storytelling techniques to direct the audience’s attention.
- You can shadow a portion of the sphere, because people don’t want to stare into a black space they will look in the correct direction.
- We can use narration to guide the audience’s attention.
- We can use arrows.
- We can use positional audio, like a clap in the back of the room makes us turn our heads.
- You can have everyone in the scene staring in one direction, and the viewer will naturally want to look in that direction.
The number one most important question you have to ask yourself is who is the camera?”–Sarah Hill
Tip #12: Your interviews and your relationship with your sources are bound to be different from traditional media.
And that’s OK! Just remember your journalistic ethics.
“I’ll tell them it’s better to walk around and allude to particular objects at multiple focal points, but not to [get too close to] the monopod. It was also pretty critical to show them examples of the other videos so they could get a sense for it immediately. The hardest thing was trying to capture highly traumatic things they’re saying and cram that down into a 2-minute window.”–Dan Archer
“We ask our interview subjects three questions and then hide when they answer and monitor the audio wirelessly. We put Post-It notes on the tripod with those three questions, in case they forget. We tell them to say “Marco” when they’re finished answering the questions, and we come out and say Polo! Otherwise, you won’t know when the interview subject has finished speaking. It sounds funny, but the Marco/Polo trick is very efficient. Anyone doing interviews from their hidey hole knows what I mean when you’re not able to determine when the subject is finished talking when you can’t see their face or hear them speak.”–Sarah Hill
Tip #13: Under most circumstances, shoot at eye level.
But, you might also want to keep height consistent within a location.
“You cannot change height in the same location. You can change height from location to location, but you cannot change it within the same place with a cut. That takes you out of it.”–Elia Petridis
Tip #14: You don’t necessarily need to be out of the shot…
Sometimes, you might want to be right next to or even under your camera!
“We decided to put our audio tech at the base of the camera to protect the camera, help the talent and make sure she was capturing good audio. …We had her sit as small as possible at the base without touching the monopod. Then, we used a The bottom of the sphere. patch below the camera to cover her and the tripod. And that was a purposeful choice, we knew that we would do that when we went into production.”–Aaron Rhodes
“On traditional sets, you can get out of the shot. We’ve done stuff like that, like a piece on Nepal after the earthquake, where the scenes were pretty controlled. But in a conflict zone, we’re always close to the camera and watching it, so if something were about to happen, we’d be there to grab the camera. I’ll know if a soldier is about to bump it or there’s going to be an air strike. If I were hiding away, I wouldn’t see those things coming. With the way we usually film, whatever happens to the camera happens to me.”–Dylan Roberts
Tip #15: For interactive pieces, the user interface will be different from other mediums.
And it should be!
“I’m trying to approach my pieces with a seamless user interface, so I ask myself, ‘How do we help people along without a big yellow arrow?’ Like in Hue, we use his shadow as a guide. In Free the Night, we added a lot of little hints. As you pass over the lights, they glow or wiggle to show you that they’re interactive. And, there are these giants that are helping you distinguish the lights as well, so they help show you what you can do so you aren’t alone. I want them to feel at ease so they can consume the story I’m telling. It’s cracking the code of interactive filmmaking.”–Nicole McDonald
“Generally speaking, first person locomotion or movement through VR worlds is not the greatest experience, though it’s the most common mechanic from 2D games like first-person shooters. … That approach can lead to simulation sickness for many users in VR, therefore we used two principle navigation methods to allow movement across the mountain range. The first mode is a teleport beam that allow the user to select a spot in the terrain they’re standing in and “jump” there without any discomfort. The second mode, which we added for the Seeker Expedition, is the use of a portable map that the user can bring up at any time in the lower third of the screen, select any point of interest and be instantly teleported to that point of interest.”–Thor Gunnarsson
Tip #16: Consider versioning your content based on how you think people will consume it.
What works in a headset may not work well on desktop and vice versa.
“The main concern is that you have different approach to VR versus desktop. When people watch in VR, the time goes much faster. If you have a 5-second shot on YouTube, it’s too long. But in VR, 5 seconds is nothing. You can’t do anything with 5 seconds. People need at least 10 or 15 seconds to see around, so we do that for VR and for Facebook and YouTube we use 5-second shots because people are still moving the mouse quickly and getting bored. You don’t get the same immersive effect on YouTube and Facebook as you do in a headset. So, we do two different videos, one for headset and one for Facebook and YouTube. And we do each of them in six different languages, so we end up with 12 different videos.”–Edward Chizhikov
Strategies for 360/VR in Newsrooms
Tip #17: Even though your VR lives on the web, be sure to promote across mediums.
Pay attention to what others are doing…people are experimenting in some really cool ways!
“When you convert 360 video into fixed frame, it looks low res and there is nothing special to the video anymore. With the support of our VP of engineering we were able to build a virtual set at our National broadcast news desk in Denver to help us handle 360 stories, with an immersive mode. It also has a curved robotics track to help sell the fact that everything is three-dimensional. And, in the middle of the 360 video, you can have the presenter. This provides a great show and tell opportunity while the camera freely moves in 360 space.”–Socrates Lozano
“With each project we launch, we try to think beyond the VR or AR experience itself to ways to articulate to our readers what this is and why they should watch it through more traditional forms of media. Because LIFE VR is an umbrella brand for all Time Inc titles, with any piece of content we are able to leverage not only the LIFE VR app, but the magazine, website and social platforms of the brand it’s attached to; and the websites and social platforms of any other Time Inc title that the project is relevant to.”–Mia Tramz
Tip #18: Although people are concerned about ethics and VR, there are actually quite a few benefits to VR when it comes to producing ethical journalism.
A more honest story, new strategies for VR ethics, and setting our boundaries.
“With 360, you can film everything. You can film both sides of the equation—protesters throwing stones at officers, officers firing back. You can see the whole thing. You can’t cut anything out. You can show precisely what actually happened. If we can have the full picture, we want to do that.”–Edward Chizhikov
“With 360, you get what you get and it’s hard to fabricate more. I think that’s really important in today’s journalism world. For example, even when the western front of Mosul was active, the east side was going back to normal. People shooting traditional news would say they were on the front lines when they were really just standing in front of the only blown out building on the block and the videographer cropped out all the civilians walking around the street. That’s why I like VR in conflict zones. It shows everything. We’ve always used the same rules as traditional video. I just think 360 makes it harder for journalists to overhype the situation even if it’s more challenging for them to tell a good story in 360. We have captured a lot of footage where people are experiencing a lot of pain that we haven’t published yet. But, we’re thinking of using some of it in this VR documentary we’re working on now. But, we’re worried how it might affect the viewers. You’re getting the full sight and audio. You’re really only missing the smell. To be honest, I haven’t figured it out just yet.”–Dylan Roberts
“I don’t see VR as problematic in terms of ethics,” Panetta said. “It’s just a different medium, but we are making decisions all the time about how we interpret a story, what quotes to use. Maybe that’s because our organization is very clear about its ethics…I’m not particularly worried about it. …When you watch something like Underworld, you don’t necessarily see the huge amount of reporting, you don’t see or hear those interviews. It’s a really solid piece of journalism.”–Francesca Panetta
“I think trained journalists know what they’re doing and will approach VR with integrity—so the only thing that’s different is a mind shift towards a different question: If I was doing this in real life—if I was bringing my niece with me to Sudan, for example—how would I curate her experience to guide her through it gently. How could I manage her expectations, what warnings would I give her in advance? It’s really moving from an intellectual intelligence to an emotional intelligence.”–Catherine Allen
“When I watch traditional wildlife films, you see this pristine nature scene with rhinos walking through, as if there’s no humanity at all. We’ve framed humanity out of the picture, but that’s not really true. …It’s important to talk about humanity and wildlife. It gives us a way forward to start thinking of us coexisting on this planet,” she said. “I love that about 360. I was actually forced to include the human story, and we are a part of this story.”–Ami Vitale