Planning a VR Video: Is the Camera Person Supposed to Be in the Shot?

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Virtual Reality (VR) is the new normal for video. VR is infiltrating our computers, phones, and tablets in ways that extend far beyond video games, transforming how audiences experience and interact with video content. As we discussed in our previous blog, the emergence of VR video means that companies and content creators alike now have a new format for communicating with audiences.

However, creating a VR video isn’t as simple as turning on the cameras, filming, editing, and posting. In this blog, we will cover some of the unique aspects of planning a VR shoot, which every content creator needs to understand.

A 360-Degree View

Everything is in the shot, including the camera personThat is the first point we stress to our clients when beginning pre-production on a VR project. We also advise them not to think in terms of wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups.

Shooting VR is similar to filming a live theater production. We encourage our clients to think of the cameras as the “audience” and the “stage” as anything that’s happening within a full 360-degree view. Just that little perspective shift has a huge impact on how we approach pre-production.

Smarter Pre-Production: Three Key Components

Planning a VR shoot can feel like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle while blindfolded, with one arm tied behind your back. Balancing the technical requirements with the creative need for telling a good story can make for a complicated set of priorities. Because so many additional variables are in play, pre-production has the potential of becoming unfocused and chaotic. However, our experience has taught us that three key components can help structure and drive the pre-production process: gear, location, and shooting style.

The Gear

First off, shooting VR requires a lot of cameras. How many? Brella currently uses the Freedom360 camera rig, holding six GoProHero 3+ cameras.

Brella’s Freedom360 VR camera
Brella’s Freedom360 VR camera

Each GoPro is mounted at a specific angle so the camera’s field of view will overlap portions of the surrounding cameras’ field of view. This overlap eliminates any footage gaps, thus allowing for flexibility when stitching together all of the cameras’ footage. We can capture video that covers the entire 360° by 180° area.

Depending on the video quality needed, a camera rig holding up to 16 cameras can also be used.

GoPro Odyssey Rig with 16 GoPro cameras
GoPro Odyssey Rig with 16 GoPro cameras

Why it matters—Cameras and rigs come in all shapes and sizes. The number of cameras being used and the size of the rig can affect where and how we shoot the video. Settling on the number of cameras and the rig early on helps with addressing location and shooting-related issues.

Location, Location, Location

As in real estate, choosing the right location is crucial. Inside or outside? Day or night? A city street or an open field? These are the kinds of questions we consider when choosing the best location for a video.

Why it matters—While every location will present challenges, the primary consideration is lighting. Because everything is visible in the shot, illumination becomes a deep-field, whole-setting consideration. Our guiding principle: You need “suitable and consistent lighting,” and achieving this may require coming up with some very creative lighting solutions. Be prepared. Figuring out lighting solutions during pre-production means far less headaches and delays on set.

The Shooting Style

With the shooting style, the objective is to define:

A. Where the audience should focus their attention.

B. If camera movement is needed (and how to incorporate that movement).

Why it matters—Because audiences are free to look anywhere in the video, it’s crucial to focus attention. A few ways to focus the audience’s eyes include camera placement, actor cues, and audio or visual cues.

In terms of camera operation, any movement must be motivated. You need an impetus, like a person or a vehicle (e.g. car, plane, or drone). Keep in mind, whatever is initiating the motion will be in the shot. For example, if you attach the camera to a drone, that drone will be in the shot unless you can find a creative way to hide it. While it’s true smaller objects can be hidden—or possibly removed—in post-production, the process is time-consuming and should be considered a last option.

Another concern is the amount of movement. We have found that too much motion may disconnect the audience from the experience or even induce nausea, especially when wearing a VR headset. For example, before you strap the rig to your head and begin jumping around and start filming, think about how much movement is needed to tell the story. At the very least, anchor the rig to something that is stable in the frame they can see and is constant in their view to reduce seasickness … like the body of a car, a motorcycle, a rollercoaster, or even the deck of a boat.  Having the stable (to the viewer) deck of a boat helps to ground people and let them enjoy the journey without becoming disoriented, even if the rest of the world is moving around them.

Good Pre-Production = Good Shoot

Solid pre-production makes for a stress-free VR shoot. Key decisions about gear, location, and shooting style early on give the pre-production process a structure that enables us to identify pitfalls and plan solutions long before the cameras start rolling.

In our next blog, we will hit the set for the making of our most recent VR video project. Join us as we share stories of shoot day challenges and how we overcame them.

Next Up: On the Set: Stories of Shooting a VR video

Beyond the Blog

The Brella Blog is just the beginning and so is VR. If your company is interested in having a more in-depth conversation about developing your next video, event, programming, or design project, contact Brella.

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