This article is part of an extensive series of articles to walk creators through the process of making a 360-degree video, from start to finish.
The first time I shot 180-degree 3D video, or VR180, I was surprised by how much I missed the ability to frame what I was shooting, to choose what the viewer pays attention to. It’s a luxury those of us shooting 360-degree video don’t often get.
Instead, we have to find new ways to direct attention and make sure the user can follow the story (if they want to). Here are a nine ideas on how to direct the viewer’s attention in 360 video.
The first step to directing attention effectively in 360 video happens during the storyboarding stage. I applied many different storyboarding strategies before I landed on one that worked best to suit this end (read about all those here).
What I ultimately landed on was to outline what I hoped they were looking at, but also think about what the storyline might be like if they look in a second, third, or even fourth direction. What will they see? What story will they be following? Will it be a story at all? Is there anything I could do to make the story easier to follow, should they get off track in these handful of ways I anticipate they could?
If trying to plan for three different contingencies is too much for you, at the very least I recommend following this strategy shared by Jessica Brillhart.
One of her story planning strategies is to give each shot a color and put one beneath the other beneath the other. For example, in the first shot (blue) the viewer is looking in the direction denoted with the black dot and ends looking in the direction of the white dot, which is exactly where the focal point for the next shot (red) begins.
It all this sounds like a lot of effort, and that’s because it is. You can learn how I do this, step by step, in the storyboarding chapter of this series, available here.
You can also use motion to try to drive the viewer in the direction you want them. For example, if a person is moving across the scene, the viewer will likely follow their motion once they set eyes on that person. Same goes for objects, cars, etc.
This is one way to encourage viewers to look around a space, without missing out on the main storyline.
Audio is a natural cue we use in the real world to know what to pay attention to, and it’s a cue that translates well to immersive environments, if applied correctly. If a viewer hears something happening behind them, they will most likely turn to look at what is making that Undesirable variations of brightness and/or color in an image that typically occur when recording at high ISOs in digita... More.
Spatial audio may be a bit beyond your workflow at the moment, however it’s good to know that it’s a possibility that most cameras are capturing (to a small extent) that you have at your disposal. And the post production required for spatial audio will only get simpler with time.
Already, some of the biggest names in software are working toward streamlined spatial audio tools (but that’s all I can say about that 😉 )
Although it’s difficult to light 360 video effectively, lighting can be used to help viewers identify what to pay attention to, whether that’s a spotlight on the main character, a subtle vignette, or something else entirely.
This was one of the earliest tools immersive storytellers used to guide viewers in their stories. Whether you have a reporter guiding the viewer through the experience, or a subject guiding the experience, or a voice of God type of voice-over, each of these methods can be used to help shape the preferred storyline.
In the early days, there were plenty of immersive experiences that were shared with arrows pointing in the direction of what a viewer should look at. Although there are certainly subtler, more creative and more immersive ways to do this, graphics can help guide the viewer’s attention. And they don’t need to be arrows!
You could place titles, text, lower thirds, informational graphics, artwork, etc. where you want the viewer to look. If their pass this as they look around the sphere, it tends to stand out.
Social A trigger for a action or line of dialogue.
Like spatial audio, social A trigger for a action or line of dialogue. can also be a natural way to guide the viewer’s attention. For example, if the character is looking at the camera (i.e. the viewer), they will most likely meet that eye contact and maintain that direction of focus.
Alternatively, if they are looking in any given direction, the viewer will likely instinctively look in that direction, too, to see what he or she is looking at.
Perhaps the most natural way to guide viewers at all is to make it seem like you’re doing nothing of the sort. This is made possible through a tool available through Liquid Cinema called forced perspective.
Using this tool, you can upload your final 360 video and project file to Liquid Cinema and then choose where the audience should be looking at the start of each new shot.
You may be thinking, “Isn’t that what Premiere’s VR Rotate Sphere does?” The answer is not really, and not really well. VR Rotate Sphere can be used in conjunction with anticipatory storyboarding to try to figure out what direction viewers will be looking prior to a cut to a new shot, and then you center the next shot where you think they will be looking.
Forced perspective makes it so that the center point you select at the start of each shot will always be the first thing the viewer sees, regardless of what direction they were looking at the end of the previous shot.
When I talked to Liquid Cinema’s Thomas Wallner at IBC in Amsterdam earlier this fall, he told me about how he used this tool in a 360 experience he produced and that an early viewer complimented him on anticipating where they would be looking so well. The key here is that you don’t have to anticipate! Nifty, huh? I think so.
Liquid Cinema is also developing a tool they call conditional forced perspective where you can also choose to force a viewer to look in one direction or another during the same shot. For example, if you have a shot where three people are sitting around the camera having a conversation, you can make it so that when a person outside of the viewer’s The angle of space viewable from a given lens position. begins speaking, they will automatically cut to look in that direction.
Surprisingly, it isn’t as jarring as it might sound! Perhaps it will become a thing, once fully launched, perhaps it won’t. But it’s important to remember that every rule we talk about today is up for debate, trial and error, and debunking. It’s worth a shot to test it out.
Embrace the freedom
The last method to direct viewer’s attention during a 360 video is to do the exact opposite. Allow the viewer to enjoy the freedom they get with a 360 video as a benefit against traditional video.
In this way, each person who watches the video is likely to have a unique experience and people who watch the video multiple times will spot new things each time (whether or not they engage with it enough to want to watch it multiple times is up to you 😉 )