No. These beauties were straight from the high tech world of 1951 where red and blue lenses were used to entertain us with terrible story lines, B-list actors and baseball bats being pushed so near the camera you could smell the bat tar. And then after looking through these lenses for a couple of hours, the entire world was either red or blue depending on if you closed your left or right eye. I swear everything was either red or blue for a week afterward. But I digress.
After the initial “coolness” of the effect wore off, there came a point where the movie started getting lame. Was it the obvious pandering to the idea that the movie was in 3D so push-as-many-things-in-the-viewers-face-that-could-be-captured-in-the-camera? Well, yes. Was it because the acting was comical when it wasn’t supposed to be? Sadly, yes. Was it the story line? There was a story line? Oh then yes. Could anyone pass up Oscar-worthy titles like the heartwarming tale of “Camp Blood” and “Camp Blood 2”, the compassionate and tender “Comin’ at Ya” and the thoughtful masterpiece of “Amityville 3-D”? Yes! Yes! YES! And I still want my $3.25 back YES!
So with that in mind, I would like to share a few thoughts, if I may, about the new world of Virtual Reality and 360 video.
The Viewer Can See Behind Them Now. Big Deal.Recently, phone hardware company OnePlus put together a 360 video for their new phone OnePlus 2. In it, Co-Founder Carl Pei walks the viewer around their company visiting various offices and talking to different teams who worked on the phone. Certainly, the idea of using a 360 video to launch the marketing of a new product is a great idea, and certainly if you could tag it as the “World’s First…” However, as the video goes on (over 30 minutes), Mr. Pei goes to a section of the company where people are busily typing away and begins to walk. Not away or toward something that needed explanation, or even to pick something up and show us something interesting. He begins to walk…
In a circle. Around the camera and therefore the viewer.
Just because the viewer now has the ability to look in 360 degrees doesn’t mean that's naturally enjoyable, entertaining or informative to do so. 360 video and VR is made for the viewer to experience what it’s like to be in another location. If I was physically in that other location and you were showing me around…why are you walking around me? Is that normal, natural or useful?
Deliver Your Content the Same Way You Do in the ACTUAL WorldYou’re at Disneyland. Things to look at are all around you. Your standing on Main Street USA, to the right is Adventureland and to the left is Tomorrowland. In front of you is a family where the kids are pulling a soon-to-be exhausted dad to the nearest ride. The noise to the right is a park attendant sweeping something off the ground and a photographer/ park hustler is trying to push you into taking a picture. The blue sky is above and Cinderella’s castle is in the background. The night darkens the skies and suddenly the lights are turned low and the parade begins to start. Does the parade go around the crowd? While watching Minnie Mouse to the left of you blow kisses to the crowd, are you disappointed that you didn’t whip around real fast to see Captain Hook swing his sword and then turn around quickly again to see Mickey? Or does the parade go down the middle of the street where everyone can see everything?
How about a play? Real live actors? In front of you. Better yet, a Cirque De Solei show? Stuff is happening all around. Is it for the entire show? Unless you paid ridiculous prices to sit up front, is a ton of content happening behind you?
Because it’s annoying. And the Union of Stage Actors (Actors’ Equity Association) would sue for not giving their actors enough front and center time.
If you are going to film an entertainment piece in 360, it is great that things are able to be seen by the viewer all around. But the majority of important and major action should be happening in generally one specific hemisphere.
Action Coming from Another Direction? Have a ReasonIs it cool to come up behind someone and start talking without at least a courteous “ahem” or clearing of the throat or “excuse me”? Do that a few times to some random strangers. Could the expression on their face be categorized as “glee”?
How about a ball (or worse) a car in the real world comes up from behind and whizzes by? Cool huh?
How about that kind of “action” throughout a 10-minute, or heaven help you, a 30-minute VR experience?
This is identical to the terrible 3D movies of the 1950’s and 60’s, whose directors played the 3D gimmick to the max in the first 15 minutes of the movie. 360 videos that have action, or worse, meaningful content that moves the story along that is popping up in opposite directions of each other, does not, nor has ever made the audience say “oh, wonderful”. The reaction is more likely to be, “what the @#$% was that!? Now I have to rewind to see what that was…”
Imagine if they filmed the movie Titanic in 360! Toward the end, when the massive ship is going through its final minutes above the water, the groaning of the steel giving way to the inevitable doom of the ice, should you, as the director, at that moment, be distracting the viewer with anything but what is about to happen? Would it be best to put the camera between the ship and the ice before impact? At first the novice would say “Wow! Cool! Yea let’s do it!” And then when you finally see it in post-production you realize that the viewer either sees a boring iceberg or if they turned around, a boring shot of the ship until both of them simultaneously collided on the audience at the same time. The better shot would be from one vantage point or the other or maybe both above (or below) the water. You know. Like in real life.
Traditional Practices for Video May Be Bad for 360
Do not try to cram a 4:3 or 16:9 peg in a 360 hole. Why is it that some magazines and encyclopedias are available in print form or CD-ROM? Why did many of the first mobile apps end up being nothing more than a miniature version of the company’s web site? Why did the first commercials showing up on web sites play the same commercials that they had on TV – all 30 seconds? Do not try to cram a 4:3 or 16:9 peg in a 360 hole.
Camera Movement: It is imperative to understand and embrace the idea that 360 video changes many of the long-established rules that were adhered to for over the last 100 years. One of which is camera movement. One of the best ways to make someone pull off their headset and throw it across the room is to start moving the camera in sudden movements or irregular speeds. Moving the camera has been directly linked to making viewers sick and it seems the only way to effectively film is to move the camera at a constant speed. Viewing a 360 video that starts and stops with current viewing technologies (mostly 2-year-old cell phones) is no different from riding a rickety roller coaster or flying along on a bumpy flight.
Scene Timing: Remember the Grand Canyon scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation? Clark was in trouble for the 731st time and ran over to his family.
“Ok kids let’s get in the car! Here we go!”
His wife looking concerned, “Don’t you want to look at the Grand Canyon?”
He quickly turns toward the majestic scene, looks for less than a second with his bewildered wife, turns around and says, “Ok, let’s go!”
When shooting a scene or location in 360, give the viewer the time to look around if something is actually interesting behind them. If it is a new scene, they probably will look around first and then focus in on whatever thing or things that may be the center of attention. So give them time before something happens. Like a whole 5 to 10 seconds! Really. And if nothing is happening (like at the Grand Canyon), don’t show it for only 20 seconds before you cut to the next scene. In conventional video shooting, after 20 seconds of the same scene in a frame, something better happen or you need to cut to the next scene. However, now they are not looking at a 4:3 screen in front of them. They are in 360, and you just “got” them there after 5 seconds. Give them some time to orient themselves.
Sound: If you have ambient sound that is being recorded and it is pleasant or fits the scene then go with it. Birds chirping in a forest. Waves crashing on the shore. Pleasant music that does not repeat the same rift every 3 seconds. What is not appreciated is sound that either has nothing to do with the scene, is distracting or simply annoying. Sirens echoing off the skyscrapers in Manhattan (always a bonus at 2:30 am). Dogs barking down the block. Mother-in-laws berating their daughters-choice-in-a-man (aka Husband). What immediately sets apart a rank amateur videographer from someone who has at least the beginnings of understanding of good videography, is a person who understands and cares about sound. Be aware of what you are getting. If it stinks, cover it up.
Certainly, as the practice of 360 video continues to grow and mature, many more practices will become known and hopefully the community will quickly call it out and stop its madness. Nevertheless, for now, let’s at least keep in mind something that will actually continue to be with us. Keep the viewer interested and entertained.
And don’t make them want their $3.25...er...$13.25 back.