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The VR Download Part III: B-Reel Films' Take on the 360º/VR Video Industry

Posted By: Heather Prather on August 31, 2016

B-Reel Films VR

Welcome to part three of Simian’s four-part follow-up series to the launch of our complete 360º/VR support offering. Designed to expose the inside track from the experts on what’s next for 360º/VR Video, the Simian VR Download takes a closer look at the current challenges and potential solutions on the horizon.

Last week, the team at VRTÜL shared key insights into today’s 360º/VR video production challenges and hacks. Big THANKS to them for their insights!

Next up, the team at B-Reel Films with their spin on the current state of 360º/VR video production, post and beyond…

About B-Reel Films

B-Reel Films is modern production company that creates commercials, branded entertainment, VR, TV & feature films. Founded by five friends in Stockholm in 1999, B-Reel Films believes in the importance of classic storytelling and the need to connect on a deeper level with one’s audience. Since their inception, B-Reel Films has released ten feature films, three long form documentaries, tons of TV content and hundreds of international TV commercials.

Margo Mars, MD/Partner, London
Gevorg Karensky, Director

Simian: VR is a hot topic this year, how have things changed since inception? Is gear like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive having an impact on the demand for this type of content?

Margo: The tools provided to create this type of content as well as the story-tellers’ ability to make use of its unique possibilities have developed a lot the past few years. We’re looking forward to high-end equipment releases this year that opens up exciting new opportunities for VR and 360 production. Right now, I think we are still witnessing the birth of this all, as headsets are available but not owned in a big enough scale to make an impact on consumers yet.

Simian: What makes VR such a unique storytelling experience?

Margo: It’s a unique medium in the realm between gaming and film. The viewer can be the director of their own experience and choose to explore whatever angle you want. It forces us to make decisions. One person’s experience will be completely different from everyone else’s.

GEVORG: A director must have a very different approach to telling a story in VR. Since you are not able to specifically force the audience into a single part of the image at a particular time, you have to rely on story elements on a bigger scale, outside framing.

Margo: Using game engines to enable spatial interaction & manipulation in the VR experience not only lets its audience expand their view outside the usual cinema frame but also interact with their virtual environment.

Simian: What are the biggest VR production challenges? How are directing, shooting, lighting, etc. being affected?

Margo: Directors need to consider a full spherical space rather than a frame out of which they can monitor the action and hide lighting and other equipment. It takes a lot of creativity to maintain a cinematic experience when having limited control over lighting and depth of field.

Movement of the camera can be tricky, pans can create nausea for the viewer and tracking equipment like dollies would be visible in the shot.

GEVORG: One big challenge is that every department has to design and create for 360-degree view. There is no such thing as “we won’t see the shoes”, or “we are not shooting that way”. This really makes people think outside the box and truly pay attention to every minute detail of the space.

Simian: Do you have any hacks when it comes to directing?

GEVORG: Since VR is a clean slate, a new frontier, there is not much content out there, the biggest positive is not to rely on previous references, and truly invent the storytelling language as this new medium evolves.

It’s like a mathematical equation. Once enough research has been done, and enough theories have been tested, conclusions can be formed and then they could be simplified into guidelines. This is why now is the most exciting time in VR. We are one of the first in its development stage and we can influence it.

Margo: I think we can treat the whole shoot as theatre – both actors and all the crew need to perform for all senses, and that’s very exciting.

You want your viewers to make the most out of their freedom to look around yet not miss out on important action. We have to make more than one angle interesting at the same time – otherwise what’s the point of their freedom of view?

Script-wise you could also take inspiration from the dynamics of the theatre where you build more on minor roles, elaborating their story arc and adding actions even when they’re not in focus as the audience may let their gaze wander across the stage rather than always following the leading role.

Simian: How are you framing shots? Is there a main focal point or is there action going on all-around?

Margo: The viewer should be encouraged to explore the full 360 spherical view. Allow your audience time to look around and reward them for doing so. Depending on their own choices they each ‘direct’ their own unique experience. Creating multiple exciting options of what to follow within the experience will make them want to revisit the space again and again to explore the space further.

Simian: Because there are currently no universal standards, what are the challenges with different camera formats, supporting browsers, etc.?

GEVORG: You could shoot with a Sony camera, a RED, a GoPro and an iPhone simultaneously and be able to create a 360 image from all of those different images. This can go into all platforms as well. I would say it’s not so much about the specific camera but about what is the right choice for that specific project. The question becomes how do you want to show the world?

On Post Production

Simian: What are the biggest VR post production challenges? How is editing, VFX, client review, etc. being affected?

Margo: You’re dealing with a lot more material than with regular film. A lot of the time the footage will need synching before stitching can even begin. The cameras are overlapping to eliminate the risk of missing information somewhere which means you’ll have to adjust the stitching throughout the film.

Adding to that the cameras may have different exposures and the lenses will have created a warp effect on the footage that you need to adjust. All in all, this can make for quite post heavy productions and enough time needs to be scheduled in for the decision making process.

GEVORG: Depends what you are filming with, but with some engineering help, those problems are all solved during shooting. Our cameras are all synchronized, and act as a single one instead of a multiple setup.

Simian: Is it important to consider post production before shooting even begins and if so can you explain?

GEVORG: This definitely depends on the type of project. For a documentary style filming, I would say not so much. However; for any short film, and especially any material involving visual effects, the entire project has to be thoroughly prepared, almost like designing a blueprint.

Margo: If you want to add movement or depth to a live-action VR experience the solution is to incorporate stereoscopic or 3D camera rigs which will add complexity.

On Budget, Marketing and Software Technology Needs

Simian: How do budgets and deadlines differ from traditional video? Does it take more or less time to complete a VR project?

GEVORG: Depends on the project again. Usually the pre-production time is slightly longer due to the fact that we are not preparing to film a single frame, but the entire world. This takes more time to set the pieces in place. Post production is longer due to the fact that every shot requires post production.

Simian: How are you marketing VR production and on what platforms? Have those platforms been effective in generating new business?

Margo: The range of headsets available as well as VR cinemas offering premium headset experiences to those who don’t want to invest in one themselves, makes this type of content available and compelling to the masses.

An interesting aspect is the demand for tailored experiences. Arcade Fire ‘Wilderness Downtown’ was at the forefront of this way of treating a film and is still one of the best examples of how to shape content after the viewer rather than serving them a static piece to take in.

Simian: What does the future of VR look like? In the long run, do you think it will become a mass or niche market?

GEVORG: VR is in its infancy, yet it is growing rapidly. Emotional engagement-wise VR is far more capable than any medium that exists today. There are lots of different views on where it will flow, but it certainly will become a mass market. It will be a new market.

Simian: What types of VR production software and technology will be helpful in the future? What do you want to see from vendors?

Margo: We’ll see a lot of equipment the coming year that try to solve some off the issues in VR production. Single media outputs that cut out matching time codes of the different cameras, playback solutions and built in 360 audio recording to name a few, but we’re yet to see how far the software development has come. For me, I’d love to see more solutions for multi-viewer experiences breaking down the isolation barrier a headset creates.

BIG thanks to B-Reel Films! Some great info here for sure. We hope you learned as much from our first three installments of The VR Download as we did.

Stay tuned for installment four – there’s much more awesome info to come!

Have a question or some great feedback to share? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook – we’d love to hear from you!

Image via B-Reel Films, Mini/ BMW - "Real Memories"

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