How to Direct 360° Video

Google’s YouTube Creator Academy shows us the finer points in 360° video production.

Last year Google’s YouTube Creator Academy gave us the low-down on some of the biggest mistakes made while shooting in 360° with the video How Not To Shoot 360° Video. The company used its years of experience exploring the budding medium to give us an impressive collection of do’s and dont’s, but mostly dont’s.

Now the Creator Academy is showing amateurs and professionals alike what they SHOULD be doing to create the best 360° content possible. In their new video Directing in 360°, Tom Small, Manager of New Technology Programs at YouTube Spaces, returns with an impressive collection of techniques that could genuinely result in elevating your 360° filmmaking, both real and fictional.

Here’s a basic summarization of the tips Small provides, though I highly recommend watching the full 360° video on a headset to truly understand what he’s saying:

1. Naturally guide the attention of your viewer towards the main action.

Utilizing the freedom of 360° while simultaneously keeping the viewers attention can be tricky so you’ll have. To help guide them in the right direction have all the characters look at the main action. If the action is out of frame, draw attention to a certain character and have them walk towards it so that the viewer follows them and discovers it.

You can also direct a viewer’s gaze by moving the camera. When a camera is moving during a video, viewers tend to redirect their attention towards the direction in which they’re moving.

2. Keep your action and direction within 180.

Probably the most valuable bit of information in the video, staying within 180-degrees allow you to better maintain the attention of the viewer while still utilizing the unrestricted freedom of 360° video. It’s also important to keep in mind viewers who may be seated. Keeping the meat-and-bones of the story within a 180° field of view ensures viewers of any viewing position are able to experience the video properly.

However, just because no important action is taking place behind the viewer that doesn’t mean you get to ignore it entirely. Making sure every person, place and thing within view of the camera is essential for an immersive 360° experience. So while the rear 180° may not be the most essential element of the video, it still deserves proper lighting, set decoration and choreographed actors.

3. Keep your main character in focus when cutting to a new scene.

Having a main character suddenly teleport to an entirely new location when switching to a new scene can be extremely jarring for the audience. Be sure that the character drawing the most attention is in the same position he was before and after you cut.

Another solution would be to have the character leave the room or move to a position that would make him/her invisible to the viewer. This way you can have them return to the new scene in a natural manner without upsetting the viewer.

4. Have characters make regular eye contact with the viewer.

When you boil it down, the biggest issue when directing a 360° film is keeping the attention of the audience. The easiest way to do this is to treat the viewer like a ghost who’s passively viewing these Earthly characters.

To combat this separation between the viewer and the film, instead treat the viewer like a character. Have characters in the film make eye contact with the audience, gesture in their direction, try and start a conversation. All these techniques help keep the viewer engaged in the video by making them believe they’re actually part of the story.

5. Use a guide or establish a purpose when moving the camera.

Moving while in a 360° video has been a glaring issue for the medium that’s had many filmmakers using the formant banging their head against a wall looking for a solution. Simply forcing the viewer in a particular direction against their will as proven to be an uncomfortable experience for most, causing mild cases of discombobulation.

The solution is to simply provide a reason for moving in the first place. Going back to a previous tip, viewers should be treated as characters within the world. By providing a character for the viewer’s character to follow, they actual;y have a reason for moving, giving them a sense of purpose in their motion. Be careful when having the viewer back away from a character moving towards them however as this can be extremely threatening to the viewer. Then again, maybe that’s what you’re going for you…

6. Provide a reason why the viewer can’t move.

Another tip on how to better immerse viewers in the scene, giving the viewer an explanation as to why their ‘character’ isn’t moving is essential for an engaging experience. Simple scenarios such as being tied-up to a chair or strapped into a rocketship give plausible reasoning as to why you’re only able to sit and passively experience the events unfold around you.

Placing the viewer in a wheelchair can also serve the same purpose while at the same time allowing the viewer to move throughout the scene naturally. This circle back to the previous tip of adding purpose to movement. Of course you could just remove the viewer body entirely, of course you would then be left with just a creepy floating head. Instead, try adding a black shadow or deep blur to the lower part of the screen. This blocks the body portion as well as redirects the viewers attention to more important aspects of the scene.

Once again I highly suggest you check out the full video yourself to better understand these tips. The five minute 360° short was mastered in 5k resolution via EAC compression and was shot using the latest 360° tools such as the Yi Halo, GoPro Odyssey, a Yi VR180 prototype and the Humaneyes Vuze. The audio was spacilized using the Sennheiser Ambeo mic (for the street portion) and an early demo of AudioEase PanSuite v2.0 for the rest of the video.

This is just another amazing offering from the fine folks at the YouTube Creator Academy as they continue their quest to reinvent the way we absorb our entertainment. Head over to the official YouTube Creator Academy page to learn more!

About the Scout

Former Writer (Kyle Melnick)

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