VR180 POV: New Tech, Creative Thinking and Problem-Solving

There has been a lot of talk about VR180 in the last few months and we’ve began dipping our toes into this exciting new medium at Light Sail VR with our show ‘Now Your Turn’. Each semester, our company takes on several interns to give students the opportunity to use our tools, learn our techniques, and help us shape this growing medium. This semester, one of the projects was to explore techniques regarding POV camera movement and creative choices when filming in VR180. The following blog post is written by Cody Pomeroy, Iggy Cossman, and Nick Reed, published here with their permission.

- Matt Celia | Light Sail VR

VR180 is an interesting new format in the world of immersive media, finding itself placed snugly between the traditional 2D video format we are all used to, and the 360º degree video format that can be more daunting. With that in mind, we set out to discover how exactly VR180 technology works, how it can be used to tell strong narratives in different POVs, how a desired effect can be achieved, and how to work around problems that may exist in this format.

We discovered that VR180 can work well in 1st-person; and that traditional 2D filming techniques to move the field of view, such as pans, tilts, and dollys, can work well when planned out. However, this technology requires creative thinking and may require multiple attempts to get a desired solution. The following is an in-depth look at the reasoning behind our decisions and some conclusions we have drawn.

MOVING POV IN 180

One of the first things we should cover is why POV in 180º makes sense. 180º is as close as we can currently get to emulating the average human viewpoint (the average human has a 210-degree wide field of view), but this field of view is also extremely close to the angle range we see in traditional 2D formats. This allows a creator to make more direct narrative decisions relating to perspective, opening up a much wider range of opportunities when filming. However, one must be careful as VR180 also isn’t a perfect emulation of actual human POV, and this can create a feeling of surrealness. The challenge of VR180 POV is that people don’t live a sedentary lifestyle: We are constantly moving, turning our heads, looking around, etc. Our perception of the things around us is not limited by a creative medium, so translating our own perspective to VR requires some thought.

After our tests, as you’ll see below, there are a few things we have learned that can drastically improve the audience experience and avoid nausea and discomfort.

  1. Keep your camera pans less than 90º
  2. Keep subject central in your 180º view
  3. Add in dip to black fades for transitions: coined as “blinks” by Matthew Celia. Keep transitions anywhere from 6 to 10 frames depending on the speed of motion.
  4. Only show motion on one plane at a time, i.e., isolate pans and directional movements
  5. Use body mounts and post stabilization if movement is essential to story
  6. Be careful of adjusting the camera height mid-shot, as it disorients perspective

By focusing on the 1st-person POV, we wanted to better understand new techniques that may arise from filming in this medium. We also wanted to experiment with as many different types of shots as possible to get a full range of scenarios to work with in post.

The first video was shot by Light Sail VR’s Interns, Iggy Cossman and Nick Reed. They shot this from the first-person POV of Iggy, while Nick showed him around the office. The big problems with this video were that the camera was filmed completely handheld without any stabilization added in post, and was limited to one continuous take from start to finish.

The second video, shot by Cody Pomeroy and Nick Reed, was from a similar first-person POV but filmed on top of a tripod. While filming on a tripod does take away from the immersion of continuous motion, this is rectified by the fact that less motion makes for a smaller risk of motion-sickness, and that movement can be simulated by using dip to black fades for a few frames (6–10 in our testing), which makes the viewer feel as though they are blinking while viewing the video.

To show the comparison, here are some side-by-side GIFs from both videos that demonstrate what video elements we found worked well for the viewer, as well as ones that resulted in an uncomfortable viewing experience. For these comparisons, we will be focusing on the biggest issues that we faced in production, as well as the types of shots that we believe will be the most commonly used in this format. For the most part, Video Two was made in an attempt to fix the problems that we had in Video One, as you will see in the following GIFs.

Comparison 1: Horizontal Motion (Forward)

Video 1 (Left); Video 2 (Right)

Notice the difference between Video One and Two. While Video One does provide continuous motion, this is unnecessary. Video Two gets the viewer where they need to be faster while also conveying movement and alleviating any uneasiness that comes from unstabilized motion. Unless the creator needs a narrative reason to dolly from one spot to another, the second option is by far the best choice. Unlike traditional filming, static shots are almost always the way to go in terms of visual appeal for the viewer in VR180. We found that similar to 2D video, one can go straight to the next significant action without losing continuity or immersion in the story. It is best to execute this in a way that is not disruptive for VR180, such as the quick fade method used in Video Two, that is consistent and keeps your audience grounded in the narrative.

Comparison 2: Camera Pans

Video 1 (Left); Video 2 (Right)

In this comparison, Video One and Two both require camera pans to get a better look at the kitchen area. Video One doesn’t work because the pan will likely not match up with the direction the viewer is currently looking, resulting in immediate discomfort and breaking the immersion. Video Two still has a slight motion (less than 90º), but by dipping to black and creating a sense of “blinking”, we are helping to cue the viewer that we are moving while not causing any discomfort to them. This is a great way to still get motion in this video format without sacrificing how your audience may feel or react to the shot.

Comparison 3: Extreme Angle Changes

Video 1 (Left); Video 2 (Right)

Videos One and Two here present a major problem that someone might face in creating 180º videos: How do you effectively move in extreme angles in a format that isn’t traditional 2D (thereby using smart cuts to fix the issue) and that also isn’t 360º (thereby completely foregoing that issue)? Video One would require extreme planning to pull off effectively, whereas Video Two circumvents the rule by shifting from one location to another in a speedy process that mimics traditional 2D camera work. Notice also how we stay consistent with the 180º rule in this format; the actor exits and enters from left-of-frame.

Comparison 4: Vertical Tilt

Video 1 (Left); Video 2 (Right)

Here we are presented with the challenge of vertical motion. While this likely isn’t a shot that will happen often, it still exists. Video One isn’t smooth, because the camera is attached to an actual actor. It creates a motion that the viewer would rarely mimic inside a viewing headset. Surprisingly, despite this, we did find that a vertical tilt — while seated in a static position — works well in a first person POV. This may be attributed to the fact that the average viewer usually only looks left and right in a headset as opposed to up and down. In Video Two, the motion still exists without discomfort, but can be a confusing shift in both X and Y-coordinates for the viewer. While both options have pros and cons, it appears that a middle ground may yet exist that takes the best of both options.

Take a look for yourself by clicking the links to both of our videos below. Make sure to view the experiences in stereoscopic 3D in your own headsets and please share your thoughts in the comment section to start a larger conversation about this exciting technology!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWUQtthW5SE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YSnZlBFfvM\

Conclusion

There are always unseen challenges that arise when working with new technology, and VR180 technology is no exception to this rule. Within just a simple two-minute video, we encountered multiple problems and had to devise creative solutions to fix them. We quickly figured out that a body rig on an actor would simply not work in most scenarios and that this issue could be fixed by using a tripod and selectively shooting movement as necessary. There are still plenty of other scenarios that we will face in future endeavors: How do wide shots work? Inserts? The 180º Rule? The list goes on and on as we work with a new format and style of filmmaking. VR180 certainly has plenty of uses and tools in its arsenal, and it will be interesting to see how other creators will use this technology in their own way.