Wanna make a 360° film? Since it's such a new medium of storytelling there are bumps, humps and hurdles to overcome. As the content creators pump out material, the tech companies respond in-kind to the needs of this emerging industry. Creative problem solving, gear alterations and improvising are all the name of the game when working with 360° film, but the product is well-worth the effort! Be prepared to swing at the hip and build on the shoulders of others to see the new heights of where these immersive experiences can take us.
My team - Mochi Mochi Media - embarked upon a narrative short film, A Big Encounter, which is a fun story based on Bigfoot. This is part one depicting trials and tribulations we experienced pre and post-production.
- Rig: We used the Freedom360° Rig (or other 360° rig; there are many choices available at the moment)
- 6 Hero3 or Hero4 GoPro cameras (or more, depending on the size of the rig)
- Remote control for GoPro Cameras
- Memory Cards x 6
- GoPro battery and remote chargers
- Mono-pod with proper thread for Freedom360° Rig
- Proper sound equipment
We ordered the Freedom360° rig from Adorama for $1399 (which includes Kolor software) along with six GoPro Hero3 cameras. When we first experimented with the rig, we experienced intense warping in the stitching. Whenever a person would walk past a portion of the stitching area, the image was obstructed. After experimenting, we concluded there were errors with the actual 3D print of the rig. A crucial component in stitching is ensuring each GoPro image overlaps with nearby cameras. Essentially, this has to do with camera positioning within the rig; making sure each camera is tilted and pointed at the appropriate angle.
With this rig, we solved the obstruction and warping issues, thank goodness.The rig worked great in terms of positioning. We had some issues with how the GoPro cameras fit into the rig; it's a sort of pop-in action and some of the cameras didn't fit as cozy as others. To solve this problem, we went ahead and taped all the cameras in, which was a bit of a pain, but was a working temporary solution. For a list of other available 360° cameras, visit our blogpost.
Another issue we ran into was the monopod. We ordered the Manfrotto MVM250A Aluminum Fluid Monopod and the rotating ball on the bottom wouldn't lock. Great for moving images, not great for still shots. We used weights to properly position the 'fluid' monopod. If you go this route, don't forget to order the proper Freedom360 attachment. It's the only way to attach the rig to the monopod.
The remote control that comes with GoPro cameras is essential to a fluid 360° shoot. We experienced one shoot with the remote and one shoot without the remote. The lack of the remote means you have to turn each camera on manually, which results in different start-times for each image. Kolor, the editing software we use to stitch the images together, had difficulty finding our marker because the times were so out of sync. It took some massive create problem solving to render the footage as usable. Don't make the same mistake: always have your remote with you!
Lastly, sound equipment is key. It's ideal to capture sound in 360° so that in post-production you can use environmental/directional sounds cues to guide your viewer as to where to look. This starts with proper equipment.
Sound Equipment Used
- Zoom h6 recorder (6-in/2-out modular recording)
- DR-05 Taskcam (2-channel)
- Rode NTG-1 Shotgun Mic
- Nady U-41 Lavalier Wireless Mics (for actors)
How to Prepare
When it comes to 360° film, proper preparation can save you heartache and sometimes save your production. Not all stories belong in 360° or appropriate for the medium. For tips on what works and doesn't work for content creation in 360°, please visit our Guide to Storytelling in VR.
Good things to prepare prior to the day of the shoot? I'd recommend writing a script, first and foremost. Celtx is currently a free and easy platform to use to for screenwriting which aids to capture characters, dialogue and basic action for your film. This script will serve as a communicatory tool to establish who to cast, where to shoot and how to plot your scenes.
Rehearse! Rehearse! Rehearse! The more information you give your actors on blocking, entrances, exits and how to interact with the camera (body open), the less leg-work you'll have on the day of your shoot.
On the note of scenes: 360° film is more like theater than it is like film. Forget the close-up and wide angle shots; they don't exist in 360°. There are creative ways to move the rig 'on rails', and that's a great experiment in itself. To keep things simple, for your first shoot I would plan to plant your monopod and block your action around it.
It's always a good idea to scout your locations prior to the day of production. To get a good idea of what the viewer will be seeing, we made a habit of setting up the rig on the monopod (generally, it's a good idea to set the rig at eye-level), stand near the cameras and rehearse the action around it. Generally, a 2-4' arena is a good distance for action around the rig.
Prior to embarking on your shoot day: check battery levels on all 6 GoPro cameras, sync cameras with the remote (this is a GREAT video on how to properly do this), check the battery level on your remote, make sure you've packed all of your sound gear, double-check needed list for props/costumes/etc, and if you're shooting outdoors be sure to check the weather!
Day of Shoot
Our location shoot was rural, so ensuring we were amply prepared was crucial. From making sure we charged everything properly to backup batteries to double (and triple) checking prop lists, it was mandatory we made sure all hands were on deck and every list had been reviewed.
Note: we had one day where we charged the remote control for the GoPro cameras and one day where that had been an oversight. That oversight almost cost us our shoot. Your cameras need to be as synced as possible and the only way to ensure that is to start them all up at the same time and cut them at the same time. When we tried to do this manually, Kolor software couldn't find the proper markers and failed to sync our shots, so we faked it. We got lucky because that particular shoot we only needed 15-seconds and no one was moving through frames. Not everyone will be that lucky. Charge your remote and ensure you've got it in your possession for your filming day!
Give your crew time to set up your scene. A number of things could always go wrong, so give yourself ample time to set the scene. We didn't particularly worry about hiding boom mics and other small pieces of gear because we edited them out in post. But generally, it makes your editing experience simpler if there are no non-scene related objects or people in your 360° shot.
After setting up your scene, stand by the camera and ensure what the camera sees is what you want to capture. Look all around: the ground, the sky and the panorama wrapping around your monopod as your audience will be able to see it all.
Ensure your monopod is 90° with the ground; a leveler can help with this. Remove the lens caps from each GoPro camera and clean each lens with a microfiber towel. Double-check the record settings on the GoPro cameras, which ensures they're synced with one another. Turn the wifi on each camera.
When you're confident your actors have their lines, know their blocking and know how to position themselves in relation to the camera, you're set to press record! Our workflow for recording included the following:
- We'd double check the view of the camera and ensure nothing was in the shot that didn't belong in it
- Actors would hide or mark their beginning spots
- Any crew members involved would find their hiding spots and/or leave the scene of action
- Our director would approach the camera, yell, "actors ready? sound ready?" After getting responses from all involved, the director would turn remote on, use remote to turn all cameras on, make sure remote is reading '6 cameras', press record, mark sound by using three claps or three loud noises near camera and then hide; once hidden said person would yell 'action!' and scene would commence
- After scene was complete, all on set would pause an additional three seconds prior to director yelling 'cut'
- Said person would use remote and would pause record on all cameras
The act of starting/ending cameras at the same time will help immensely in post-production stitching. We highly recommend this over having one long file to import, stitch and then cut. Using this method will considerably lower your editing time.
Since this method of 360° filming doesn't give you the opportunity for instant playback, we'd record each scene ten to fifteen times to ensure we caught the exact take we desire. Otherwise, the whole day was all for naught.
Lastly, don't forget to snag environmental and foley sounds. This will help out immensely when you're stitching your images together and editing in audio cues to guide your viewer where to look. If someone is walking, get sound just of their footsteps. If you're outside, grab sound of the trees blowing in the wind. You'll use these sounds clips later, I promise.
THAT'S A WRAP! Stay posted for Part II in which we cover how to stitch and edit your 360° footage.
*Feel free to leave comments below on your workflow with 360° films or shortcuts you've found to streamline the process.