Effect, Mechanics and Peculiarities of 360 Image Films in Practice

360 Image film
360 Image film: what it can do. And what not. | © Pixabay

Unlike conventional films, the viewer’s gaze can move freely around the 360 image film. But what can this genre really do for marketing and communication in practice?

When does it make sense to produce an image film with this type of video? For what kind of use are 360° films suitable? What do you need to think about to make 360° videos really effective?

You have to know that

  • Virtual reality was invented fifty years ago. Despite this, people still struggle to combine VR and cinematic regularities into one experience.
  • A 360 image film always makes sense when there is something to discover. In this case, the viewer can move through a scene (using glasses or by navigating with the mouse pointer).
  • On the other hand, the all-round view limits the experience: neither is the classic re-cut (and thus changes to the shot sizes) possible, nor can the image section be changed without camera movement or panning.

360 image film – a mega trend?

If you believe the providers of the technologies needed to make 360 videos, this type of film will inevitably become the next big thing. The trade press, but also popular media such as the German BILD newspaper and business analysts unanimously declare 360° films to be the mega trend for 2016. What is forgotten is that virtual reality (VR) was invented by Ivan Sutherland 50 years ago.

Tips and tricks for the function and production of 360° videos can be found in rows on the Internet from a technical point of view. Posts on camera types are endless. This three-part series of articles therefore focuses on the nature, content and impact of 360° films. The tonal space is also excluded. Guest author Nils Raouf explains in his article 3D audio production where the sound in 360 space for VR 360 video stands today and what is technically possible.

Table of Contents for the 3-part series on 360 Film and Video:

  1. Function and effect (this article)
  2. Trends and examples

What immersion means for this type of video and why it can’t be done without it is explained here.

How a 360 image film works

Unlike normal videos, 360° films do not show a section of reality. They present all the scenery around the camera. Perspectives and working with aperture and focal length have limited manipulation compared to regular video or film. The possibility of camera pans to direct the viewer is eliminated. Whether up, down, left or right: the viewer decides for himself in which direction he wants to look in a scene. It is not possible to steer the gaze via the classic camera angles.

360° films are therefore also referred to as “all-round videos”. But unlike Bullet Time, the camera here is always looking out. While every film and every video has to face the subjective perception of the viewer, here the viewer gets even more freedom. He chooses not only how he sees something, but what he sees.

You can watch a 360 image film either on your smartphone, on your computer screen or with specially made glasses. While you determine your viewing angle on the computer with the mouse, VR movies for the smartphone automatically change the viewing direction as soon as you move it in the desired viewing direction.

VR glasses

It’s even more perfect with VR goggles. The abbreviation VR stands for virtual reality. When the wearer of the virtual reality glasses turns his head, his field of vision changes simultaneously, just like in reality. VR glasses are also called head mounted displays (HMD). They are available as cheap cardboard models with or without advertising print (so-called VR Cardboard), but also as high-tech special glasses (currently: Galaxy Gear, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive). However, these glasses can only provide a virtual experience close to reality if they are connected to a powerful computer that can serve as an image source.

It’s all a bit like “Second Life” from the noughties, a huge hype that I didn’t like very much at the time.
Markus Böhm

Technically, a 360 image film can be implemented in many different ways. A basic distinction can be made between recording systems that record the entire 360° image with one camera and systems that use several cameras for this purpose. Simple camera systems for all-round films are already available for low four-figure sums. At the high end, the spectrum for professional hardware extends well into the six-figure range.

The workflow for a 360 image film

As a rule, assuming the correct workflow in data processing, the greater the number of cameras, the higher the quality of the 360 degree film. If only one camera is used for recording, there is no need to stitch the images together to a panorama in image processing (the so-called stitching, which can be lovingly translated as “sewing together” in German). For this, the data from one acquisition unit must serve the entire 360° image.

Because even with 360 image films, image information can only be enhanced if it is present at all, only multi-camera systems usually guarantee a quality in color grading that can compete with conventional films.

Five or even seven cameras recording in parallel generate a huge amount of data even for a 360° video lasting only a few minutes. This increases the temptation to compress data at the expense of quality. While this may simplify the processing of the data and increase the speed of data processing in image processing, it ultimately makes the same amount of sense as putting a fine filet through a meat grinder.

Discover and experience

360° videos are films to look around, to discover on your own. You can narrate sequentially if each sequence corresponds to a scene and setting. This requires a high experience value: In every viewing direction there must be something interesting and visually attractive for the viewer to see. Something that makes you want to explore and discover. The basic rule in this genre is that what is close to the camera appears large in the picture. What is further away recedes into the background.

360 Imagefilm: Bildzone | © filmpulse.info

360 Image Film simply explained: function and effect

Depending on the recording technique, and depending on the specifications of the cameras used, the ideal recordable space for a 360° film should be no closer than 1.5 metres and no further than 7 metres from the camera. This sets tight limits to any kind of implementation and any script. In addition, in the reality of filming, we have to work with real spaces and locations. This further complicates the correct positioning of the camera.

What is closer to the camera is quickly distorted and has a strong irritating effect on the viewer. Conversely, what is further away appears only small in the background of the video, is hardly recognizable and thus almost unimportant.

No subjective point of view

The privilege of the subjective point of view (see here) as well as the phenomenon of the so-called invisible cut, which is as welcome as it is useful in normal film, are completely omitted in the production of 360 image films.

360 Imagefilm: Visible zone / image section with camera movement | © filmpulse.info

360-movies-scheme-picture-zone-camera-movement
360-movies-scheme-picture-zone-camera-movement

The classic film cut is also not a viable option, irrespective of the camera movements, neither for the filmed nor for the filmed or staged 360 image film (the difference between filming, filming and staging is explained in the Filmpuls article Making video requires only one decision from the client).

This should make it clear: The majority of locations pose the greatest challenges for the camera in this genre. Conflicts of objectives between filmmaker and client are programmed.

Own visual language

The choice of locations is particularly important because 360° films work with a different visual language than conventional films with a limited frame. The 360 image film cannot be edited like “normal” videos. The combination of close-ups with long shots quickly pushes this type of film to its limits. This also eliminates the possibility of creating a 360° film in the montage after the shoot or trimming it to a desired statement afterwards. From that perspective, 360° videos strive much harder for authenticity. This even more than good commissioned films and other genres can do. 360° films find their final form, their structure and their rhythm already during the shooting and not only in the later image processing.

The limited possibilities of montage also mean that it is not possible to cut from panoramic shots to close-ups. If objects in a 360 image film are to change their size (i.e. their distance from the camera) in a scene, this requires careful staging. Either the camera has to be moved or the object has to be moved. Because the 360° camera is the viewer’s eye and influences storytelling, camera movements should always be motivated by content.

Virtual Reality is a magical technology because it brings about a fundamental shift from an indirect consumption of information via text, images and video to an immediate consumption of information in virtual worlds.
Luca Caracciolo

To make matters worse, the all-round view of the viewer in a 360 image film not only forces the director and camera to literally hide themselves so as not to appear in the picture. Even spotlights and microphones have to be hidden in the scenery so that they are not visible at first glance and destroy the illusion of reality. This explains why many 360° videos are only shot with natural light outdoors instead of indoors.

Scenes and staging

360° films almost invariably consist of a string of a few locations (scenes) that follow one another at leisurely intervals. The limitation forces the realizer to find the right .

Viewers (whether watching via YouTube, Facebook or in a browser via Google on a home page with the latest news from the press) always need more time than in classic videos to explore the 360° scenery. New storytelling strategies are needed.

In order to motivate the viewer to go on a journey of discovery, 360-degree video needs to incorporate specific elements into the scenes. For example, if a person moves through a room (de facto around the eye of the 360° camera), the viewer will usually want to follow that person.

360° films are completely unsuitable for content and stories that require rapid scene changes, rhythm changes or a precisely controlled localization of information and emotions through changes in shot sizes. 360° videos give the viewer the freedom to look for themselves. In turn, they take away a lot of the cinematic tools that can be used to control audience behavior in normal films. This is one of the reasons why 360 animation in particular will set new standards in the future.

Continuation 360 Imagefilm

In the continuation of this article (part 2) on 360 image film, we will look at the circumstances under which 360° videos should be used as image films and product films and what 360° films mean for storytelling in film making. In the concluding part 3, a selection of best practice examples is presented, and 360° documentation and the perfect 360° video are discussed. Who is interested in the new YI HALO 360-degree camera from Google: Filmpuls has dedicated a separate article to the camera and the opportunity to work with it for free for 2 months as part of a competition.

On the question of length, see: How long does a video need to be.

360-film-variety-kristian-widmer-condor-films
360 Movie: Congratulations Poster Variety

Background Information:

The author of this article has been working intensively with 360° films since 1998. In 1999-2000 he was responsible as executive producer for a 360° entertainment film with a seven-figure budget, directed by Dani Levy, shot with 9 analog 35MM film cameras and post-produced in Los Angeles and Munich. After this film was able to generate over 12 million viewers (in the specially built cinema), he shot six more international 360° films in Australia and Europe in the following years.

Condor Films made their first Circlevision film for the 1964 Swiss National Exhibition. Condor is currently producing four new 360 image films on behalf of a customer. In order to be able to guarantee an optimal price-performance ratio, proprietary tools and independently developed workflows are sometimes used in production and image processing.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Kristian Widmer
About Kristian Widmer 16 Articles
Kristian Widmer is a member of the Swiss Film Academy. The holder of a master in law and an MBA from the University of St. Gallen HSG was for many years CEO of Condor Films AG, founded in 1947 and winner of an Academy Award™.

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