Virtual reality and 360 degree film is in vogue. The praise that is being heaped on this new form of video production is reminiscent of the huge fuss that was made about 3D televisions a few years ago.
Moving freely in a video was previously reserved for games. The 360 degree film now fills the gap. Here the viewer has all the freedom. He can direct his gaze wherever he wants. But this is often forgotten: This freedom is at the expense of the staging and the director. This article explains why.
You need to know
- A 360 degree film follows different laws than a normal video does. It moves between virtual reality, game and moving image.
- Until now, there have been no clever ways to switch back and forth between 360-degree film and conventional making within a film work. The decision for the all-round view is final for the respective work.
- Where there is nothing to see or experience, choosing a 360 degree film is the wrong format choice. The same is true when a story is to be told in the literal sense.
360 degree film: a trend that is not a trend?
The triumph of 360 degree film should have turned communication with film and video on its head worldwide. But: just as 3-D was not a novelty, neither is 360 video. Audiovision has been experimenting with these exotic film formats for more than fifty years. Virtual reality (VR) is not new either. It was invented 50 years ago by Ivan Sutherland.
New for immersion, however, are the technical possibilities of production for this kind of video. And these, used wisely, do indeed and in the long run offer new perspectives and a more convincing result than before.
360 Degree Film: Series
Part 1 of this article series has highlighted the quirks and workings of 360 degree film. Part 2 now explores the question of when such a video or really makes sense, how and where to use a 360-degree film, and what the “all-round picture” means for storytelling:
Table of Contents for the 3-part series on 360 Degree Film and Video:
- Function and effect
- How and where to use? (this article)
- Trends and examples
Image films and product films
The 360 degree image film portrays a company, communicates the company’s unique selling points and illustrates the company’s values. The product film realsized in 360 degrees does not put the company as a socio-technical economic body in the foreground, but a product or a service of this company.
With 360-degree films, the all-round view of the viewer is given for the entire duration of playback. Selecting a specific angle of view in only one direction is impossible. So is working with classic camera angles. At the same time, the advantages of conventional film editing are eliminated.
A 360 degree film cannot get its message, its rhythm and its structure only in the editing. The possibilities of sequential storytelling are limited compared to classic film.
When does 360 degrees make sense?
For the examination whether a 360 image film or product film can be shot as a 360 degree film, this means quite concretely:
Where content, values or product benefits cannot be visually grasped and understood by the viewer at a glance as an external appearance, a 360-degree film is the wrong medium.
Example: The values of a company can only be discovered at second glance. They are not reflected in the architecture, the infrastructure of an office or the work processes. In this case, the all-round view, the omission of montage and the compulsion to reduce the film to a few scenes prevent the viewer from correctly grasping the message.
If the place where the 360-degree camera is positioned does not stimulate the viewer, either visually or in terms of content, to move through the 360-degree image and discover the entire visual world, a 360-degree film is also suboptimal.
Example: A company produces fully automated product packaging for the first time in its history. The ultra-modern production line with robots is located in a newly built factory hall that has been partially empty for months. For the viewer of such a video, two thirds of the duration of the all-round video thus contain no exciting information worthy of his attention.
The resulting effect from these minutes is comparable to a web page that offers the user too little information: The dwell time decreases because the user or viewer drops out. If graphics or interviews are relevant to success, these films quickly reach their limits.
Example: A balance sheet media conference is documented as a 360 degree film. Faded-in graphics with progression curves are intended to clarify the contents. There are two options for the creators, neither of which is convincing: either risk the viewer not seeing the graphic information in the video because they are looking in the wrong direction, or use an additional, but usually unrelated, element to steer the viewer in the desired direction.
In normal film, the camera, as the eye of the viewer, tells the story along with it. She chooses the point of view, determines with perspective and focal length, with camera panning and tracking shots, what the audience sees and thus, despite later subjective perception, lays the thread of the narrative. VR is a different story.
Trying to tell a story with 360 degree film is incredibly challenging. This also applies to 3D audio production. Those who claim otherwise have either never tried it, or have not understood where the limits of 360 degree film lie in terms of perceptual psychology.
360 degree film: the recordable camera range has narrow limits
Unlike Bullet Time, where the camera’s gaze is directed inwards, in 360 degree film the camera looks “outwards”, limiting the recordable area. This is because only in a limited shooting zone (shown in green in the picture) the action in front of the camera is neither too far nor too close to the camera lens. Everything outside the ideal recording zone (the recordable corridor) is either distorted (because too close) or extremely small and only visible in the background. It is somewhat easier for those who work with 360 animation.
Of course: you can film anything and everything. That is the fate of the film. But designing, directing and telling a story in a controlled 360° way is a big pair of bespoke shoes.
Best practice: Ideally, with 360 degree filming, the location itself tells their story. The placement and movement of the camera can, to a certain extent, influence and support the direction of the viewer’s gaze and thus the sequence of things that the viewer gradually discovers over the duration of the play.
In reality, the moving 360 camera wanders along a fine line: if the camera moves at some speed, the majority of viewers will almost certainly turn in the direction from which the image is coming.
360 degree film: Camera movements need to be carefully planned
360 degree tracking shots
If, for example, the camera is moving along a slope in a sporting event, the viewer in the 360-degree film looks ahead as a proxy for the skier. This is because looking backwards does not correspond to one’s own skiing experience – after all, hardly anyone skis down a ski slope looking backwards.
But the viewer also looks ahead because the image information at his back can no longer offer him anything new. He has already seen everything that passes by him digitally, as if in a moving car.
From the point of view of a 360 degree film, the digital image information is in this case only visual pollution with no added value in terms of content.
Best practice: In addition to the careful choice of location and camera movements, content-rich films also use movements of people in front of the camera to stage the audience experience.
If a person is positioned in the foreground at 10° and now moves clockwise around the camera to the 120° position, the viewer, animated by the movement, will want to follow the person.
Best practice: When moving the camera, as well as when moving in front of the 360-degree camera, strict attention must be paid to ensuring that movements are always within the safe, playable corridor.
The corridor around the video camera is the area in which the subjects or objects in front of the camera can neither be distorted (because too close to the camera) nor too small (because too far away).
The staging and storytelling in a 360-degree film can also be significantly supported at the level of sound. If a car horn sounds in the room, the viewer unconsciously immediately turns curiously to where the sound is coming from.
Unfortunately, the technology currently available on YouTube and other digital platforms for digital omni-directional video is not up to snuff in this regard.
In the case of Circlevision films, which are shown in specially constructed cinemas, it is a matter of course to be able to assign the sound to exactly one point on the 360° screen thanks to differently positioned loudspeaker boxes. Facebook, YouTube channels and apps can’t do this (yet). Thus, this type of video currently lacks one of the most important tools for dramaturgically guiding the viewer.
360 degree films can also be used as testimonials. Particular attention must be paid to the positioning of the people and their distance from the camera.
Distribution platforms for 360 Film
Playing back 360 degree film, unlike the mental work that should go into creating, planning and making a film, is a breeze. Google, Facebook and YouTube support the format, as do the Chrome, Opera or Firefox browsers. Once uploaded to the platform, the movie can be easily played back in 360 degrees without any assistance. Special glasses are not absolutely necessary for this.
Oculus is the name of the thing you strap in front of your eyes to immerse yourself in an electronically generated world. The user is made to believe that anything is possible. At the same time, he hardly notices how he is zapping through these electronic visions. Oculus will be the next must-have in the electronics market. It is foreseeable who expects new opportunities from this: the porn industry.
If you want something more exclusive, you can publish your 360-degree film with the app created especially for this purpose. (In this case, you should make sure that the provider of the app does not want to sell you a copy-paste application, which is available for little money, as an elaborate custom programming).
Continuation of the article series on 360 degree film
The last part of this article series is dedicated to 360 documentation and presents a group of selected video examples of 360 degree film from around the world, whose performances are convincing. There is a separate article on the new YI HALO 360-degree camera from Google in FILMPULS.
Do you have any questions about this article? Or had your own, possibly different experiences with 360 degree film? Please contact us via the comment function and share your experiences. All input and feedback is welcome!
Kristian Widmer, one of the co-authors to this article series, shot seven 360-degree films on behalf of clients from 1998 until his appointment to the management of Condor Films AG with an international team of 360 experts, including for Volkswagen AG, Expo.02, and with cameraman Michael Ballhaus (ASC) and director Dani Levy for a European theme park.
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