360 videos and Virtual Reality are a trend. The eulogies heaped on this new variety of video product are reminiscent of the enormous hype around 3D televisions some years ago, the victory march of which should have turned communication with film and video on its head worldwide. 360° video is no more novel than 3D was. Audiovision has been experimenting with these exotic film formats for more than fifty years. However, the technical opportunities in the manufacture of 360° videos are new. And, if cleverly applied, these do indeed offer sustainable new perspectives.
Part 1 of this article series has illuminated the characteristics and functionalities of 360° films. Part 2 examines the questions about when 360° videos make sense, how and where a 360° video should be applied and the significance of the all-round image for the storytelling aspect.
360° image films and 360° product films
The image film portrays a company, communicates the company’s unique selling points and illustrates the company’s values. In contrast to the image film, the product film does not highlight the company as a socio-technical economic body, but a product or service provided by the company instead.
In 360° video, the playback system ensures the viewer’s all-round perspective throughout its duration. The specific selection of a viewing angle into only one direction is impossible. At the same time, the advantages of conventional film cutting are made obsolete. 360° films do not have to wait for the cutting process to acquire their statement, their rhythm and structure.
So, in order to check whether an image film or product film can be shot as a 360° video, this basically means:
A 360° film would be the wrong medium whenever a viewer cannot visually capture and understand the contents, values or product benefits as an external manifestation at first glance.
the values of a company are only ascertainable at second glance. They are not reflected in the architecture nor in the infrastructure of the offices or the work processes. In this case, the all-round view, the omission of assembly and the obligatory reduction to a few scenes hinder the viewer from correctly registering the required expression.
If the venue at which the 360° camera is positioned does not contextually or visually stimulate the viewer to move through the 360° image and thus discover the entire visual world, then 360° film is the wrong medium.
a company produces product packaging fully automated for the first time in its history. The highly modern production conveyor with robots is stationed in a newly created factory hall, which has been standing partially empty for months. Therefore, to thirds of the all-round video duration does not provide the viewer of a 360° video with any exciting information worthy of his attention. The resulting effect from these minutes is comparable to a website offering a user insufficient information: the exposure time is reduced because the user or viewer leaves.
If graphics, interviews or testimonials are relevant for the success of informational or emotional transportation, 360° films will reach their limits or turn the viewer’s visual experience into a horror show due to their hampered viewer guidance.
a financial press conference is documented as a 360° video. Superimposed graphics with progressive graphs are supposed to clarify the content. The filmmakers have two options, both of which both are not convincing: either risking that the viewer will not see the visualised information in the video because he is looking in the wrong direction, or steering the viewer guidance in the desired direction with an additional but mostly alien element.
Storytelling with 360 videos
Attempting to tell a story with a 360° video is incredibly challenging. Those arguing the opposite have either never tried it or have not understood where the perceptual-psychological limits of 360° videos are. Obviously, everything can be filmed. That is film’s fate. But to design, stage and control a story in 360° is a completely different, tailored pair of shoes.
Oculus is the name of the gadget one straps in front of one’s eyes in order to submerge into an electronically generated world. The user is shown that everything is possible, whereby he hardly notices how bullied he is while he zaps through these electronic visions. Oculus will become the next must-have on the electronics market. It is predictable who is expecting to benefit from the new opportunities: the porn industry. Adrian Daub, NZZ dated 25 May 2016
Ideally, the filming location itself will tell its story in 360°c video, whereby the movement of the camera can, to a certain degree, influence and support the viewer’s visual direction and therefore the sequence of things which the viewer gradually discovers during playback. In this case, the moved 360° camera actually moves along a narrow line: if the camera moves at quite a speed, the majority of viewers will almost certainly turn towards the direction from which the image comes to face them during these minutes. For example, if the 360° video camera travels to a ski slope for a sports event, the viewer will be looking forward as the representative of the skier.
This is because looking back does not comply with one’s personal skiing experience – after all, not many people ski down a slope while looking backward. However, the viewer also looks forward because the image information behind him will no longer be able to provide him with anything new. He has already seen everything which passes him digitally, like in a moving car. From the perspective of a 360° film, digital image information is merely environmental pollution without added contextual value.
In addition to the careful selection of the filming location and camera movements, contextually demanding 360° films also use the movement of people in front of the camera to stage the viewer experience. If a person is positioned at 10° in the foreground and then moves around the camera to position 120° in clockwise direction, the viewer – animated by the movement – will want to follow that person. While moving the 360° camera and during movements in front of the 360° camera, the utmost care must be taken to ensure that the movements are always carried out within the safe, recordable corridor. The corridor around the 360° video camera indicates the area in which the subjects or objects in front of the camera are neither distorted (because they are too close to the camera) nor too small (because they are too far away) when filmed.
Staging and storytelling in a 360° film can also be significantly supported at the sound level. If a car hooter sounds through the room, the viewer will subconsciously, immediately and curiously turn towards the source of the sound. Unfortunately, the currently available technology on YouTube and other digital platforms for digital 360° videos has not yet caught up with the times in this regard. In Circlevision films, which are immobile and are shown in especially constructed cinemas, is it a mandatory matter of course to be able to assign the sound to an exact point on the 360° screen thanks to differently positioned loudspeakers. This is (still) impossible for Facebook, YouTube and Apps. In this regard, 360° videos currently still lack one of the most important tools for dramaturgical viewer guidance.
In contrast to mental work, which should go hand-in-hand with the creation, planning and production of a 360° film, the playback of 360° videos is child’s play. Google, Facebook and YouTube support this format just as the browsers Chrome, Opera or Firefox do. Once loaded onto the platform, the film is easily played back in 360° format.
Those wanting something a little more exclusive will distribute their 360° videos with a specially developed App. (In this case you should ensure that the provider does not want to sell a cheap, copy-and-paste application as an elaborate customised programme).
The last part of this article series, which will appear next week, is dedicated to 360° documentation and will be presenting selected video examples from all over the world on YouTube as 360° videos from real life.
The publishers of Videothink, Condor Films AG, made their first 360° film in 1963/1964 on assignment of the Swiss Department of Defence (now called VBS). From 1998 until his appointment to the Management Board of Condor, the author of this article series shot seven additional, international 360° films on customer assignment, including work for Volkswagen AG, Expo 02, and for European theme parks together with DoP Michael Ballhaus (ASC) and Director Dani Levy.