Virtual reality or virtual realities (VR), also known as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, is a computer technology that replicates an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence and environment to allow for user interaction. Virtual realities artificially create sensory experience, which can include sight, touch, hearing, and smell.
Most up-to-date virtual realities are displayed either on a computer monitor or with a virtual reality headset (also called head-mounted display), and some simulations include additional sensory information and focus on real sound through speakers or headphones targeted towards VR users. Some advanced haptic systems now include tactile information, generally known as force feedback in medical, gaming and military applications. Furthermore, virtual reality covers remote communication environments which provide virtual presence of users with the concepts of telepresence and telexistence or a virtual artifact (VA) either through the use of standard input devices such as a keyboard and mouse, or through multimodal devices such as a wired glove or omnidirectional treadmills. The immersive environment can be similar to the real world in order to create a lifelike experience—for example, in simulations for pilot or combat training—or it can differ significantly from reality, such as in VR games.
As Cinematographer, we’re used to making immersive experiences for people already. There’s a reason someone comes out of a movie theater thinking they’re in the movie. Compelling storytelling and incredible cinematography ‘pull you in’, not with standing the 60 degree FOV.
With VR, we now have 360 FOV. It’s no less of a development for our industry than the introduction of sound or color, and requires new methods of working, although storytelling remains as important as ever.
Currently there is huge demand from brands to create live-action VR experiences. Everyone is experimenting in this nascent medium, from live 360 streaming of sports and concerts, to 360 music videos, short films, documentaries, current affairs and hybrids of CG and live action.
The jury is still out whether consumers will watch long-form cinematic content in VR, as some people experience nausea after prolonged exposure, and turning your head constantly can literally be a pain in the neck. It also tends to go against the fundamentally passive nature of film and television, where we let content flow over us. But being aware of this issue is the first step towards creating content that works.
To film in VR means rethinking a lot of what we’re used to as Cinematographers & camera operators. We’re used to literally being behind the camera all the time, but that’s not possible with VR. We’re used to spending a lot of time thinking about camera angles, depth of field and lenses, whereas with VR these factors are far less relevant.
Allowing people to see literally anywhere, means hiding the crew while shooting, and finding creative ways to focus the viewer where you would ideally like them to look. Sound, lighting, and talent cues, which direct the viewer in subtle ways, are all techniques that have been used successfully to date.
All-in-one cameras from the likes of Jaunt, GoPro and Nokia, which are being touted as professional cameras, have fixed lenses and little in the way of manual control. While they have their uses, they leave a lot to be desired for professionals.
It’s this reason that has led a few within the industry to design their own 360 VR rigs, typically around Red Dragon Epic’s, Codex action cams, Sony A7S II and others.
Selecting a camera means giving careful thought to whether the output is 2D or stereoscopic, and which kind of stitching software you are likely to use.
A 360° image is one that captures an entire scene in all directions. When just dealing with 360° horizontally these images are better known as panoramas as they tend to miss out the lower and upper portions of a scene, thus making them 360° (horizontal) x180° (vertical) images at best, but usually they’re 360° x 120° or even 360°x100°. For a true 360° image that’s 360°x360° you’re actually talking about “photospheres“. Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you’ve all seen them before. For example, when you switch to Google Street View and pan around on the spot in all directions – that’s a photosphere.
Just like 360°x360° images (photospheres) a 360° video is one that captures the entire field of vision (FoV) in all directions, both horizontally and vertically, giving you a full 360°x360° immersive video.