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How to Shoot 360 Video for VR

How to Shoot 360 Video for VR

Have you wanted to create immersive 360-degree videos for VR, but not known where to begin? We are here to help!

Today, we’re going to show you how to shoot videos for virtual reality. While it’s a bit more involved than shooting for traditional flat media because of unique challenges inherent in capturing 360-degree video, a lot of camera manufacturers are making the process much more accessible thanks to firmware and software updates. We’ll also look at a couple things to keep in mind on set to make post-production as smooth as possible.

We’ve already covered the basics of how 360 video works in a previous article, but the goal today is to demystify the VR filmmaking process, and help prepare you for the future of immersive video production. In future articles, we will also equip you for the compositing and editing workflows for (and within) VR.

What’s Possible in VR Filmmaking

For an outstanding example of what can be achieved in VR filmmaking with a big budget and a lot of creativity, check out the VFX-heavy, very impressive 360 short below:

Best 360 Cameras for Virtual Reality

The pros and cons of today’s 360 cameras vary, and you will have to choose whether or not you want a camera that does in-camera stitching, or one that outputs video you stitch together yourself in post (typically with manufacturer-provided software). In-camera stitching can be a major timesaver, but cameras that let you stitch the footage together yourself will give you more control in post, and will probably be more ideal for compositing visual effects.

Make sure the equirectangular projection format is an option in whatever you choose, if you’re planning on editing in Premiere Pro.

If you want to know which 360 camera you should get if you’re just starting out shooting video for VR, below is a great comparison video on what the latest consumer/prosumer 360 cameras offer to help you decide. 
If you are interested in getting serious about capturing and marketing immersive video, the comparison video below breaks down the differences between some of the high-end, professional VR video cameras out there.
While only a handful of 360 cameras include stereoscopic 3D capture, the depth of stereoscopic video makes a tremendous impact in VR, and is more likely to evoke that “wow factor” you’re wanting to achieve. Stereoscopic capability is well worth the extra cost - plus it will let you integrate 3D elements and VFX more organically once you begin compositing.

Camera Placement for VR

VR offers a unique perspective for storytelling that just isn’t possible in flat media. There is an inexplicable sense of presence and spatial awareness that makes the viewer a part of the action.

Consider the perspective you want to tell your story from.  If your video is from a first-person perspective, think about the emotions that the viewer should experience along with the character, and how camera should be placed to maximize this effect. Is the viewer’s character supposed to be tall or short? Is the character supposed to be seated or standing? Unique questions like these need to be at the forefront of your mind as you are on set.

You’re shooting from a wide angle at all times, so keep your subjects and action close. The folks at Wistia.com suggest keeping your subject at a distance of 3-5 feet from the camera. This keeps the shot from being too close and causing viewer discomfort or a fisheye effect. They also recommend generally shooting at chest level rather than eye level, which could result in too much headroom above your subject.
Also, remember to keep your talent focused on the scene, and in-character at all times during filming. Everyone is actively living within the world on screen, even when their character may appear passive.

The top of the 360 video is referred to as the zenith, while the bottom (where the tripod would reside) is known as the nadir. You’ll want to think critically about what’s directly above and below your camera as you’re shooting, and whether or not it could break the immersion of the scene. Oftentimes you can replace the tripod in the nadir zone with a blur, feathered texture, or logo to mask out the tripod. Make sure to use a sturdy tripod with a small footprint for the best results.

If it’s possible, shoot a rehearsed test video at your location before the actual shoot, and watch it in a VR headset along with your crew to make sure the 360 camera placement is spot-on.

How to Light a Scene for Virtual Reality/360 Video

Unless you’re shooting in a studio and keying out the background, lighting for a VR production can be relatively simple, but you may need to do some leg work to light the scene properly. Keep the lighting as even and realistic as possible. Remember, your 360 camera is shooting all angles, so the less dynamic the lighting, the easier time you should have in stitching the video in post. You also will want to use natural lighting, or at least naturally-placed lights that fit the scene. While rotoscoping lights in post-production is an option, it’s definitely not ideal.

How to Capture Audio for 360 Video/Virtual Reality

If you’re committed enough to opt for a professional VR camera, you’ll also want to record spatially-based audio that will adapt to the user’s headset orientation. Full Sail University details how to record audio for VR storytelling in the excellent video below.

Limitations of Shooting 360 Video

As you can see, perhaps the biggest challenge in shooting 360 video is the need to be creative with your gear, crew, and camera placement. While you can certainly spend a lot of time in post removing elements, it would be ideal to take advantage of hiding as much as you can behind walls, buildings, cars, etc. You could build a small barrier that goes behind the camera to keep things out of sight, or you could also put your crew behind a green screen for keying and replacement later. 

Keep in mind where you want to focus the viewer’s attention, and if you are using a green screen, make sure whatever you replace the screen with is a natural fit for the scene, such as a wall or set extension. Also, use practical set pieces as much as possible. Even a foreground object as small as a lamp can have a tremendous impact in VR. 

If you have any great tips on shooting video for VR, or if you’ve produced any cool 360 video projects, share in the comments below!

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