In a medium where the viewer chooses where to look, the 360 video director and cinematographer must use far subtler cues to ensure the important beats of a story are seen. In 2015, The X Gene and Virtual Reality Ventures worked together on a test shoot, attempting to bring the viewer into a high-action scene but still keep their attention on one point. If you’ve been inside a headset, you know you can look anywhere: up, down, to your left or right, or turn and look behind.
Here’s the result, and after the video, our observations:
The camera does not choose
In 2D filmmaking, action is planned, but the camera then moves around that action, filming different angles in short bursts. Often, the action is manipulated or cheated to get the best results when it’s all cut together. In 360 video, it’s all about the action first, with the camera almost (and in our case actually) a character to be considered as part of that action. It moves through in one long take, as everyone moves around it. A cinematographer doesn’t choose how to shoot, but rather how to move through action, choreographed like a performer.
360 video is way more like theatre
The best way to plan a 360 video shoot is to first nail the location or set, then block out how the actors move and interact over a set period of time. That is your scene. If someone fucks a take, you simply start again, but once you get it, done! So think like a theatre director whose audience is in the round, only the round keeps moving … or, to stretch the metaphor, the audience is reverse-in-the-round. Identify what is happening, where the stories are taking place and when the key moments of those stories happen, then block your camera to take your audience as close or far from those moments as is appropriate to convey meaning.
Think like a Renaissance painter
Two people run on either side of the camera. You only see one of them, so you follow her and discover she’s joined up with her comrade you never realised until now was on the other side of you. Now you watch those two run away into the distance. That’s how we made sure viewers, at the very start, were oriented the right way for the story. We picked an action sequence because that genre is the most raw, blunt way to convey story. There’s literally rising action, physically overcoming obstacles and the foe is actually vanquished to death. These codes and tropes let us use things like bullets to drag the eye, as viewers followed the stream of nerf pellets to see where they came from. This was most effective in our little twist, as we got the viewer to look up at a machine gunner, breaking away from the obvious and default eye-level as the bullets rained down. These are like live action, moving, temporal versions of how Renaissance painters directed the viewer’s eye around a canvas.
(Did you notice our director in plain sight behind the camera man during the headshot the end?)
Lighting is a thing OR Location & production design are huge
We picked our location deliberately, because the gantries on the second floor let us hide two giant 2k blondie lights that let us flood the place like we were sun gods. Lighting is totally doable, but you need to work harmoniously with location and production design more than any other medium.
Full trilateral 360° isn’t necessary
Nup. Especially not for anything you want the viewer to watch from a couch for a decent period of time. Looking behind you isn’t enough of a thing, we think, to justify using full, XYZ 360° vision, which is why we bought a 360 camera with 235° field of view: about the same amount of lateral movement you make turning your head from side to side.
This is just the start
We learnt way more during this test, and we’re gonna apply it and build on it in our next tests. Stay tuned, storytellers!