Brillhart (2015b) , a principal 360-degree filmmaker at Google, reasons that one of the most important questions that must be taken into account when creating 360-degree videos it is the viewers’ identity. From the first moment users try a VR headset, they are transported a new place where the main questions they ask themselves are “Why am I here?” and “Who am I here?”. Therefore, a producer must take these questions into account, since the core purpose of a 360-degree video is to create unforgettable experience and presence.
A further aspect is storytelling within 360-deegre videos. In a video – conventional or in 360-degrees – the main action tends to happen at one point of focus. On the traditional rectangular video frame, producers are able to select one specific point of interest for actions to happen and telling a story. However, 360-degree videos allow viewers to choose their own angular section of focus, letting them create an own story experience.
As stated by Nottingham (2016), “audience members define the framing and perspective, they create a unique journey for themselves”. The video game industry is the most experienced when it comes to creating open-end stories within games. The player is often able to choose where to go, who to be and where to look. The player is able to develop his own story within the main plot.
Nevertheless, Brillhart (2016a) highlights that even if 360-degree videos allow users to look wherever they want, it is important to identify points of interest, that are elements that attract viewers’ attention. The goal is to bring some structure to the 360-degree world in order to make the viewers’ experience more enjoyable, naturally guided and not messy. Moreover, anticipating what the viewers’ points of interest may be, has to guide the producer’s editing process. As well, it helps with making the most suitable cuts between the clips. Furthermore, creating a psychologically comfortable experience it is not easy. One suggestion is to establish the backstage before shooting and to add some cues within the storyboard to direct the viewer’s motion. There are multiple ways how to attract viewers’ attention while they are immersed in a 360-degree experience.
The existing techniques are not new to producers. But well established in adjacent domains: In theater, it is common to control audience’s attention by using light, stage setup, audio cues and overstress moments within action. In the game industry, game designers often use environment design, colors, lights, or sounds in order to intuitively direct the users. Meera (2017), a co-founder of 360-degree video production company Arbor Entertainment , illustrates that good quality of audio elements and their smart, selective utilization are of higher importance in 360-degree videos than traditional ones. It was observed, that well-used audio noticeably enhances experiences when viewers are immersed.
Additionally, one technique often used in touristic 360-degree videos is having a person guiding viewers through the experience and telling them where to look and what to do. To craft a viewing path along a scene, creators can shift colors, move spot lights, create some sound effects that make viewers react, use a haptic response or add a layer of animations.
Figure 1 shows how a viewer’s attention can be directed within a scene. Here, the goal is to look left with the help of specific sounds originating from the goal area. According to Brillhart (2016), the term “scene” as known from conventional videos, can be substituted by the broader term “world” for 360-degree videos.
By using cues, filmmakers can create or reinforce already existing points of interest and make the users believe that it is their own choice to look at those points of action. Brillhart confirms that if these signals are less noticeable, the users will “feel naturally compelled”. However, the concern can be that some viewers will not notice the cues and not follow the established story and end up confused and miss orientation. In contrast, an overstressed attempt to direct the viewer dampens the feelings of independence and immersion (Dwight, 2016).
This concept of direction guidance can be expanded over the entire video by connecting guided worlds in a particular manner. Figure 2 visualizes a user in a 360-degree experience over the course of two consecutive worlds A and B, represented by concentric circles of expanding radius. Brillhart (2015a) refers to this setup as a world-to-world frame where participants’ can move 360-degree and choose where to look. As it is shown, there must be consistent focus guidance over time. The experience of a world A starts at one point and end in another further left, directed by auditory guidance. From there, it is important that the main action of world B starts where the one of A ends in order to build delightful, smooth experience. In the given example another way of guidance, having an actor walking from center to left, is used in world B. As discussed previously and illustrated here, multiple techniques can be applied and mixed to effectively guide the users.
Another strategy to successful 360-degree experiences is the rotation of a subsequent world to a smart orientation in order to achieve smooth transitions, as suggested by Brillhart. Figure 3 explains how this can be accomplished. Left, in 1), the circle presents a viewer who enjoys the 360-degree video within world A. In the middle, 2) shows the connection, the moment of transition, between the worlds A and B. In this figure, the area of action in world future B protrudes into A which indicates that the area of main action of B is already anticipated by a similar area in A. Such a similarity can be realized through comparable landscapes, equal room proportions, or distinct, recurrent lines in the field of view. As an example, if in B the main action happens outside of a window, then the equivalent area of A might show a similarly shaped door frame or gate. This technique guides viewers’ very smoothly from world to world. Lastly, 3) shows that world B can continue as desired.
Another example of best-practice in transition design that Brillhart (2016) reveals is from the “Go Habs Go!” video which documents a hockey tournament. As shown as a sequence of snapshots below, when being immersed in the 360-degree video, viewers first realize that they are watching a hockey game in Montreal (circle 1). Suddenly, the eye connection between the participant and a hockey fan, seated to the left, is established (circle 2), the moment of engagement). At this moment, the viewer realizes that he or she is also present as a spectator of the game among all the other fans. The viewer perceives a stronger sense of presence. Additionally, this experience with the fan allows the viewer to understand what is exactly happening and to integrate into the crowd by steering the view towards the hockey rink. Therefore, such engagement moments function as a cue described previously, but also strengthen the feeling of presence and make the experience memorable (Brillhart, 2016b).
Shooting 360-degree videos is unlike filming a traditional movie. In post-production of traditional videos editors can adjust, do corrections, select the point of focus or make further edits. However, in a 360-degree video it is more like a live theater that must be set correctly before shooting. Therefore, planning carefully is crucial. Furthermore, Rose (2016) points out that the planning focuses on knowing also what participant reaction the filmmaker wants to evoke. Later, during the editing process, there will be few options remaining for extensive changes. Thus, it is necessary to know in advance where the producer wants the viewers to look, move or focus on to develop a consistent, enjoyable story.
Choosing a plot is another relevant step. However, producers need to reason about what story would be suitable to present within a 360-degree video, and which kind of experience is not desirable for the viewer (White, 2015) . For example, a touristic video watching a couple on a gondola going through Venice’s canals might not be so exciting for the viewer. On the other hand, when the viewer and virtual travel mates enjoy exciting moments by discovering Venice together, with the element of interaction, virtual food “tasting”, walking through the gardens and playing hide-and-sick, that might be much more entertaining for the viewer.
Overall, developing a more interactive dynamic plot by including actors or creating interaction with the viewer is a good narrative piece for 360-degree videos (Koncept VR, 2017). An environment that inspires participants to explore the 360-degree videos, allows the planned story to develop by user-driven exploration. Furthermore, for a good plot it is recommended to write a story script. The script defines the shooting location, gives structure for the actors when performing, makes dialogs clear as well as serves how to plan scene by scene (White, 2016).
The 360-degree script writers need to develop the plot based more on traditional theater writing skills (Nottingham, 2016). This leads once again to the statement discussed before that 360-degree videos are more alike theater plays rather than films. Nottingham (2016) highlights that even when it comes to sound changes within 360-degree videos, it functions the same was as in theater. During the play when the actors and actions move from one place to another, the sound adapts constantly to these visual changes.
Now you are ready to shoot your own video! If you find other relevant aspects that were not mentioned in this and previous posts, please share them with us!
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