Shooting VR: 5 Location Shooting Challenges and How We Solved Them

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VR-blog3-HeroLocation plays a pivotal role in the filming of any VR/360-degree video. As we briefly discussed in our previous VR blog, failing to identify a location’s challenges and find the best solutions in advance of the shoot day can jeopardize the quality of your video.

Case in point: We recently produced a series of VR tradeshow videos for one of our pharmaceutical clients that showed the world from the patients’ perspective in different environments. Because “everything’s in view” in a VR/360-degree video, all elements of filming in a particular location need to be reevaluated in advance of the shoot day.

This got us thinking about the importance of our clients understanding the crucial relationship between locations and the “everything’s in view” aspect of shooting VR. If not addressed properly upfront, this relationship can create a ripple effect of unwanted headaches, even to the point of requiring last minute changes to the project’s concept itself.

With the location and “everything’s in view” relationship in mind, we’ve put together our top 5 VR shooting challenges and how we approached solving them. While we will only be addressing one challenge per location for the purposes of this discussion, every location will inevitably have a mix of the 5 challenges.

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Challenge #1: Lighting

Location: Hotel Room

For the patient video project, our first location was a large hotel room. Normally, a contained space like a hotel room is always a great location choice for VR. You have the most control to set up the location to fit your needs. However, contained spaces like this often force us to get creative with lighting.

Hotel rooms tend to be on the dark side, which means lots of studio lights, or a good mix of natural lighting from the windows in combination with studio lights. Since “everything” was in view, the challenge became finding creative ways to properly light the scene.

The Solution: Luckily, the room had a wall which we could hide a few studio lights behind, then bounce the light off the ceiling and walls to give the space a nice overall wash of soft, bright light. But the key to making the scene look great was figuring out the right mix of studio lights, practicals (i.e. desk lamps, freestanding lamps, overhead lights, etc.), and natural light from the room’s windows. In using this mix of lighting, we were careful to fine-tune our setup based on each light source’s color temperature. This included tweaks to the cameras’ white balance settings, using daylight balanced studio lights, and using gels/replacing the hotel room’s existing lights.

If you’re faced with shooting an indoor scene and you can’t hide the studio lights, we advise finding a way to incorporate practicals and natural light. It may require some last minute lighting adjustments (e.g. gels, lens filters, white balance settings, etc.), but it’s worth the extra effort for well-lit VR video.

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Challenge #2: Camera-to-Object Distance and Seams

Location: Art Gallery

Our next location took us to an open, art gallery-style space. Though the larger space gave us more walls for hiding and thus more studio light usage, it did present an important challenge that’s central to good VR filmmaking—proper camera-to-object distance and placement of VR seams.

When shooting VR, it’s best to avoid placing objects or having people pass too close in front of the cameras. This can disrupt the illusion that we’re viewing one continuous image. Objects or people will appear to shift, as they move from one camera’s field of view to the next. (Technically speaking, this is called a parallax issue. Hit us up. We’d be happy to geek out and share some great VR samples and production stories with you.)

The Solution: To avoid this issue, we employed a 10 foot rule-of-thumb and did not place objects or people closer than 10 feet to the cameras. When planning your next VR shoot, make sure your production crew explains how close talent can come to the cameras and where talent can stand or objects can be placed without being on a seam. Understanding the impact of camera-to-object distance and seams in a location upfront could be the difference between the flawless VR video you want to make and the one that frustrates you every time you watch it.

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Challenge #3: Hiding Stuff in Plain Sight

Location: Restaurant

When we filmed a scene in a large restaurant space, VR’s biggest shooting consideration of “everything’s in view” moved back to the forefront of our planning concerns. The scene’s concept hinged on our ability to create the illusion of someone spending time in a busy restaurant. Where were we going to put all of our gear and crew? How were we going to direct where and when our extras moved through the scene?

The Solution: Before filming the scene, we planned out how to hide key crew members (i.e. director, audio person, and Director of Photography) and gear; especially cables. Even though we had a relatively easy time hiding stuff for this location, it did get us planning for future shoots when hiding options could be more limited. In those situations, our plan is to go wireless for audio and video. We even picked up the Teradek Bolt 300 wireless viewing system. What’s great about this device is that you can monitor your camera rig video signals wirelessly, thus reducing the need for hiding crew and cables.

As for figuring out how our talent would move through the scene, we took our inspiration from the theatre world. We blocked out what everyone needed to do and where to go and rehearsed it several times. Then developed a series of predetermined visual cues for our actors that would be invisible to anyone viewing the video. These visual cues were orchestrated by our director, who sat at one of the tables disguised as a customer.

When location scouting for a VR scene, think creatively about hiding crew and talent in the shot and be prepared to go wireless with your gear.

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Challenge #4: Adding Camera Motion

Location: Boat on the canals of Amsterdam

Done correctly, camera motion can elevate a VR/360-degree video to something truly cool and unique. But what’s the best way to add in camera movement? Therein lies the challenge. Introducing camera motion can be tricky. If not handled properly, motion can be distracting to viewers, and in some cases even cause motion sickness. So when we wanted to show a boat ride on the canals of Amsterdam from the patient’s POV, we had to consider ways of limiting viewer discomfort.

The Solution: Research and experience has shown that one technique for reducing the potential for motion sickness is to include a stable reference point in the shot. We took inspiration from one of our owners, who is a sailor and deals with this for guest landlubbers. In this instance, we devised a way to mount our camera rig to the boat’s bow. This meant that even though the camera would be in motion, there would always be a stable point of reference in the frame.

Did it work? Our client has used the patient VR videos at numerous tradeshows and so far, no complaints.

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Challenge #5: Shooting in Public Spaces — Dealing with the X Factors

Location: City Park

The most challenging place we filmed in was definitely a busy city park. Even though we still had to deal with issues like lighting and hiding crew/gear, our biggest concern was the unknown: The X factor that could crop up when shooting in a very public space. So, what did we do?

The Solution: The short answer — time. We left plenty of time in our schedule to make adjustments in case something cropped up. In fact, the day we shot the park scene, it was the only scene we filmed.  That’s how much time we allotted for any unknowns that would force us to change how we wanted to film the scene.

Fortunately, we only had three, fairly minor X factors pop up. Here’s how we dealt with them:

  1. The Weather — Our scene called for a warm, sunny day. Since we were filming in late fall and the forecast for our shoot day called for a mix of sun, clouds, and rain, we knew we would have to be flexible. To sell the idea of a warm day from an on-camera talent perspective, we had our cast dress in summer clothing with their coats hidden behind trees so that they could warm up in between takes (and booked a local café to send crew to wait out the periodic rain showers). As for the sunny part, we waited for the pockets of sun, then shot quickly.
  2. Random People — Knowing this issue could crop up, we stationed crew members dressed as park patrons on the far edges of the scene. Their job was to approach people right before they entered the cameras’ fields of view and quickly explain what was going on. As long as the general public didn’t look directly at the cameras, we were golden.
  3. The Dog and the Trainer — Part of this scene required a dog as a vital part of the story. Not a big deal, except the dog’s trainer came to the shoot expecting to cue the dog with hand signals off screen. Once we explained to the trainer that they had to be in the scene, we found ourselves adjusting our blocking as the trainer worked through being in the scene while cuing the dog. Because we scheduled a longer shoot day for this location, the trainer had the time to work with the dog before having to film.

Every VR shoot (as well as non-VR) is going to have its unique issues to troubleshoot. However, if you plan in pre-production for the 5 challenges we’ve outlined, you’re well on your way to producing an amazing VR/360-degree video experience.

Our VR work is just the beginning. If your company is interested in having a more in-depth conversation about developing your next video, event, digital, or design project, contact Brella.

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