The Aesthetics of an uneven playground:
Take a look at the image above. Chances are, most VR professionals will cringe and chastise you for not “leveling” the horizon. One can’t blame them. They are professionals who have been producing panoramic images for the past couple of decades (if not more) and meticulously massaging the image pairs through stitching software while correcting for anomalies to produce aesthetically pleasing finished panoramic images.
Once those images were polished, they were usually printed in large format – posters, center spreads and sometimes even displayed electronically on websites with click and drag interactivity, allowing for the audience to pan around the view.
Then… HMD’s came along such as the Oculus Rift, Samsung GearVR, Sony’s Morpheus and more recently the “Vive“. This gave birth to “Cinematic VR” – or, Virtual Reality where panoramas weren’t stills anymore, but being captured as moving images with dedicated multi-camera rigs. Overnight “VR Cinema” studios cropped up, with varying levels of expertise.
However, since the art of visual storytelling in Cinematic VR is still in it’s infancy, let’s take a look at a few things possible when you capture the entire 360 field of view. There are pros and cons when looking at what’s possible when playing around in a 360 frame. Re-framing is one such possibility. More on that in a few seconds. Today there are – and to use that oft overused term- literally, a couple of studios worthy of mention in the domain of stereoscopic 3d 360 VR capture.
Let’s look at an example where a Cinematic VR scene captured from a single vantage point in 360, can be re-synthesized to produce different view points.
Ext. Dan’s Balcony – Day
Dan sits on a bar-stool, smoking a cigarette taking in the view. The rich life. We hear him exhale.
His latest Cinematic VR movie had way too many stitching errors, even though he’d used the latest tech available… “computational photography”.
Ext. Dan’s Balcony (Later) – Day
Dan has climbed the bar-stool, looking at the spent cigarette butt in the corner of the balcony…
He turns around, the lag in his visual cortex and the blurry resolution in his field of view almost making him lose his balance.
Life’s not worth living in a one dimensional flat world. It has to be 3D or nothing.
Dan notices the fish eye staring back at him… embedded in the wall.
There was hope… The fisheye was a clue that his world was 3D after all.
Fade to Black
This award winning (!) screen-play may be reproduced to explain Cinematic VR blocking to Directors, Cinematographers and VR professionals.
The shot is a single panorama (extracted from a stereo pair) and different camera angles are synthesized from the same shot, after-the-fact, allowing a Director to “own the frame” i.e: set the stage for a new shot/scene, before letting audiences take over (via HMD headtracking)
Re-synthesizing – Camera Blocking in VR 360:
Such re-synthesizing of a view-point in a 360 panorama can be done in conventional pano stitching software such as the free Hugin or other semi commercial and commercial software solutions such as Ptgui and more. Adobe After-effects with it’s slew of image manipulating features can also be used to change direction (compass direction) of where the camera is facing at the start of a new scene or shot, and including setting of view-point tilt among other parameters. Of course such a view point can be captured during principal photography, but it is nice to know that it is also achievable in post. While Adobe After effects is not 360 proof, with many filters showing edge artefacting, eventually most Video NLEs and VFX software suites will catch up to compete for a bigger slice of the VR pie.
One thing that needs to be remembered is, if the scene is captured in stereoscopic 360 – you can’t cheat scale and depth so easily. In fact, it is extremely hard to cheat scale in a stereoscopic 360 scene. There is no other non interactive method to add “presence” in Cinematic VR movies, other than to shoot it in stereoscopic 360.
But just as filmmakers had to re-learn a lot of what a “frame” was and could be in conventional 3D movies, so too must 360 VR cinematographers. They must learn to ‘think in 360’ just as 3D filmmakers learned to “Think in 3D“
(images in this article are copyright and permission might be granted to reproduce them on a case by case basis.)