So what does footage from Facebook’s $30,000 3D 360-degree camera look like?
Last month during their annual F8 Developer Conference, Facebook unveiled the Surround 360 camera from under a black sheet. The 17-camera array looked like a flying saucer, requiring close to $30,000 in materials to build. The Surround 360 is clearly geared toward manufacturers and hobbyists, where Facebook is encouraging the community to take advantage of the open source design and build cameras of their own.
At the time of the camera reveal, we were all eager to see footage from this beast. Now Facebook is showing us their first 3D 360° video produced and filmed using the Surround 360 camera.
The roughly 3-minute long short film, Here and Now, was uploaded on Facebook’s page and shot in New York’s famous Grand Central Station over three 90-minute sessions. The film transports you to the main hall of the station, placing you among hectic travelers running off to board their train or leave the station. As you look around the beautiful hall, you find yourself immersed in conversations and stories of people passing by the camera. From family members reconnecting, to a final embrace as a young daughter departs for a trip, the goal is to make you feel like you’re right there watching these moments unfold.
Facebook’s creative studio, dubbed The Factory, set out to take full advantage of the Surround 360 camera system, hoping to explore ways on how to convey deeper stories of humanity and connection in a 3D 360° video. And I must say, the range of characters and stories to engage with, along with the ability to just look around the main hall, makes this an immersive video that mirrors more closely to a real-life experience and one that is probably different every time.
So what did Facebook learn from shooting ‘Here and Now’?
- Shooting a narrative film in 3D-360 takes careful preparation and planning. This includes creating storyboards that take all 360 degrees into account, as well as blocking out primary characters so their stories don’t overlap, but rather lead from one to another seamlessly.
- Since viewers have total control of where they look and when, it’s important to use subtle video and audio cues to guide them along the journey.
- Rehearsing choreography is also an essential step in pre-production. Since Here and Nowis one single take, it’s essential to have precise timing for characters to enter and exit the scene for the narrative to be cohesive, much like theater.
- Since it’s not yet possible to render the full spherical 3D-360 footage on the fly, we didn’t have the benefit of playback while shooting. This meant we had to make story and script changes without re-watching takes after they happened live. Again, the more preparations made in pre-production, the less guesswork on the day of the shoot.
- Ultimately, we shot 13 complete takes over three nights at Grand Central Station. Of these, four were considered as contenders for the final film before we finally decided on a hero that best blended performance and choreography.
- It’s not possible to do post-production in a Gear VR—or any other headset—so finishing color and sound means working on elements on a standard monitor and with standard speakers, then exporting and uploading the file to a Gear VR headset. Because of the size of the files, each export and review cycle takes significantly longer than on a typical film project, so it’s important to budget time accordingly and work this into the overall post-production schedule.
Of course you can check out Here and Now on Facebook 360, but if you want the full immersive experience, the film is available on Oculus Gear VR in 3D 360°.