Intro Guide to Filming in 360° for VR Apps

This guide will cover everything that happens prior to upload to InstaVR. And we’ll do our best to incorporate actual client stories in how they approached these questions. This guide is geared towards corporate users, who are for the first time creating a VR app for marketing/sales, training, hiring, etc.

As always, feel free to reach out to our Sales or Customer Success team with any questions!

  1. How to Pick the Right 360° Camera for your  VR Project
  2. How to Plan for your 360° Shoot Days
  3. Tips on Filming in 360°
  4. Organizing & Editing Your 360° Media Post Shoot
  5. Conclusion

1. How to Pick the Right 360° Camera for your  VR Project

The number of 360-degree cameras has exploded since we launched in early 2016. Almost every major camera maker now produces at least one 360 camera. And most of the early camera producers have already moved upstream in terms of quality (see Ricoh Theta S -> Ricoh Theta V, Insta360 Nano -> Insta360 Pro, Samsung Gear 360 -> Samsung Gear 360 v2, etc)

Picking the right camera can be an overwhelming process for a first time 360° creator. We at InstaVR are camera agnostic — we only require that the camera capture in .jpg or .png for images, or mp4 for video — which virtually every VR camera does.

The best place to get an overview of the 360° camera market is tech news sites such as Tom’s Guide or PC Magazine.

To help you narrow down your decision, you should ask the following questions:

Do you want a 180-degree camera or a 360-degree camera?

This is a relatively new wrinkle in the camera selection process. In June 2017, Google announced it would be partnering with hardware companies to create VR180 cameras. Concurrently, InstaVR announced support for media generated by those 180-degree cameras. Unveiled at CES 2018, the first two official Google cameras are the Lenovo Mirage and the YI Horizon VR180 camera, along with them offering support for the Z Cam K1 Pro.

If you’re creating VR, why would you choose a 180-degree camera? Well first off, our heatmap data shows users spend the vast majority of their time in the front 180-degree field of view. So you’re not depriving your users of much visually. From a production standpoint, 180-degrees is much easier to film. You can hold the camera without worrying about being in the shot, you only have to consider 1/2 as much action, and your resulting files will be considerably smaller.

On the flip side, there’s way more 360-degree cameras on the market. There is also a certain cache to total immersion. And, if you’re going to be doing spatial audio (more on that later), you’ll get more mileage in a 360-degree environment. Ultimately, if you’re going for creating a more practical VR application (ie employee training), a 180-degree camera might be advantageous. Otherwise, you’ll likely stick with the more popular 360-degree cameras.

Is a prosumer (sub-$1K camera) going to be enough? Or do you need to invest in a Professional level camera? 

The answer to this question largely depends on the project. Some of our most noteworthy clients have created solid VR projects using what are largely considered prosumer cameras — eg TUI Group (Nikon KeyMission), US Navy via Left of Creative Agency (Kodak Pixpro + Samsung Gear 360), Zimmer Biomet Dental (Vuze), and Premise LED (360Fly).

Agencies that tend to work with more varied clients often have access to a number of different cameras, including higher-end multi-camera GoPro rigs, Insta360 Pro cameras, and YI Halos. You can read about use cases for more sophisticated rigs in our interviews with Galago Vision and Dusk, two premiere 360-degree agencies.

What are the upsides to multi-camera, higher-end cameras? They capture stereoscopic VR images/video, they can capture higher than 4K resolution (beneficial if you’re displaying via a high-end VR headset), and the audio/video experience will just be better overall.

On the downside, you’ll have to invest considerably more money (though you can rent some of the cameras), spend significant time stitching (though Insta360 Pro will stitch in-camera for 8K flat or 6K stereo videos now), and burn through a ton of SD cards.

For absolute beginners, it might be best to start with a $500+ prosumer camera with a decent reputation, such as the Nikon KeyMission or Garmin Virb, and then graduate to the Professional level.

What other camera equipment will I need for a VR shoot? 

You’ll definitely need a monopod or tripod. These help with stabilization and allow you to get the camera eye level (the preferred angle for 360 filming). It might also prevent what happened when we used a Gear 360 at SXSW last year, and put tape over the exhaust fan which caused the camera to overheat.

Depending on your audio goals, you may need additional mics, particularly for things such as capturing spatial audio. Like our interviewee Michael Wohl explained, you want the mics near the audio sources to capture lifelike audio. For instance, the new Ricoh Theta V has spatial audio built in, but the four mics are so close together in the camera, that it makes the spatial audio not as impactful.

Extra SD cards. You never want to run out of storage space while filming. Always carry more than you think you’ll need, so you don’t end up shorthanded.

Camera Charging Equipment. You’re not going to be able to charge your camera easily if you’re doing an outdoor shoot. So if you can bring an extra camera charging mechanism, do so. 360-degree cameras burn through power like crazy, so plan accordingly.

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(Image Courtesy of Scott Robinson of Galago Vision)

2. How to Plan for your 360° Shoot Days

In any type of filming, preparation is absolutely essential. Because of the unique nature of 360-degree video, and the way it’s viewed, preparation before shooting is even more impactful. Whereas traditional movie or advertising shoots can include shots done on the fly, doing the same in a 360 landscape is perilous. If not planned properly, you may not notice issues (i.e. missed audio) until you get home, as many 360 cameras don’t have easy playback mechanisms.

For that reason, we suggest investing significant amounts of time in the following activities:

Spend Plenty of Time Location Scouting

As 360-Degree Video Handbook author Michael Wohl shared with us, location is almost always a key character in 360 video, and thus location scouting is more important than you might think. Because users will be fully immersed, you have to consider the location from all angles. Obviously, that includes things like where will the cameraperson will be during shooting — holding the camera or out of frame?

But also, you have to consider the depth of the scene you’ll be capturing, the ambient noise quality, and whether you can effectively keep passing people from entering the scene. All of this is hard enough in a normal shoot, but gets compounded with the extra geographic territory covered in 360 media. Also, lighting — both in terms of location of lights and quality of lights — is essential. That’s why interview subject Scott Robinson of Galago Vision developed his own proprietary Ambit 360 Video Light.

Storyboard (If You Possibly Can)

Anytime you’re filming, storyboarding is a good idea. It’s even more valuable in 360-degree shooting though. Why? Because each scene you shoot is really two scenes, and many of your cast and crew may be first timers with 360 media. Accordingly, you’ll need to include twice the number of panes in your storyboards, to accommodate both 180-degree Fields of View.

You also might have to shoot quickly, as 360 media is often filmed outdoors. For instance, our client Left of Creative had limited time and access when shooting on a US Navy ship. By storyboarding ahead of time, the shoot process went much smoother. The crew knew where to be, where to set up the camera, and what should be captured.

Consider Camera Location Carefully

With the vast majority of 360-degree shoots, the camera is placed at eye level. This is because it will make the user feel most natural in the VR headset.

But there are other considerations as well, like should the camera be used as the sole POV for the viewer or should you have a person in front of the camera? Client Toyota, for instance, had an employee as a guide for their 360 office tour. This felt more natural than using voice over for conveying information. But when you introduce someone in front of the camera, you then have to consider things like how far from the camera the person should be placed.

Consider Audio Capture Carefully

Audio is as essential to immersion as video in VR. For that reason, many individuals and companies are investing a lot of time and energy into how they capture the audio. So equipment is obviously something to consider — will you just use the camera’s built-in microphones? Or possibly additional microphones to capture spatial audio? 

Beyond equipment, you also have to consider the ambisonic sound. Do you want to draw attention of the VR viewer to a certain location in the scene? Do you want more natural sound or will you be overdubbing additional .mp3 audio/music later? Can you hear and understand people talking?

By doing all of this work prior to shooting, the actual shoot day(s) will go much smoother. 360-degree shooting is no more difficult than normal filming, there’s just more variables to consider. And the earlier you consider those variables, the better your final VR experience will be.

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(Image Courtesy of Michael Wohl, Author of 360 Video Handbook)

3. Tips on Filming in 360°

Even if you’ve prepared extensively, your first 360-degree shoot is likely to be stressful. You’re working in a new medium, probably under a deadline, possibly with a crew that is seeing  a 360 camera for the first time. To minimize the stress, we suggest the following:

Overshoot, if Possible

Yes, purchasing and using a ton of SD cards is annoying. But you know what’s worse? Getting home and realizing you missed a shot you needed. Or having something unexpected on the footage, like people walking in front of the camera. (read Emporia State University’s interview about how that happened on their very first shoot)

So like with regular filming, it’s better to shoot more than you need, and then edit down later to the material you want to use in the final app.

Label Your SD Cards Properly

If you’re shooting a decent amount of material, you’ll be using a number of SD cards. For later organizational purposes, it’s best to properly label the SD cards as you take them out. It’s a small thing, but you’ll thank yourself later.

Just Because It’s 360 Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Need Coverage

There’s a belief amongst new 360 videographers that they don’t need to film coverage. They think because the camera is capturing the full 360-degree landscape, doing extra filming is not necessary. But sometimes differences in depth, or inability to capture audio, means you should definitely re-shoot scenes with new camera placement. If you can do multiple takes, do multiple takes.

Don’t Forget to Do Some Additional 2D Standard Photography for Hotspots, Icons, Splash Screens, etc

You’ll likely want to capture some additional 2D media, either using a standard camera or a phone. You can use these images or video to augment your VR experience with interactive hotspots. You’ll also likely use those images in the app icon, splash image, and splash video.

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4. Organizing & Editing Your 360° Media Post Shoot

Prior to uploading and authoring your VR app using InstaVR, you’ll need to do a number of things with your shoot footage. Some of those things are obvious — ie stitching together images if you used a camera rig that doesn’t have in-camera stitching. But there are some more nuanced actions you have to take to make your media InstaVR-ready. We cover those below.

Edit Your Images/Videos (Using Software Like Adobe Premiere Pro)

There’s a number of reasons you’d want to edit your media prior to upload to InstaVR. For videos, you might want to condense the video length, reducing unnecessary footage. For images and video, you may want to edit out the tripod/monopod or camera person.

If you have access to Adobe Premiere Pro, I strongly suggest you read our guide on How to Create an App Easily With Adobe Premiere Pro.

Re-Name Files Making Them Easier to Identify

When exported from cameras, single files are often given unique but not informational file names. Prior to uploading to InstaVR, we strongly suggest re-naming these files to something recognizable. Last year we added a toggle feature between Pano Preview and Name, particularly to help clients with a bunch of 360s that look similar (ie rooms in a house). However, if you don’t use a good naming structure for your files, you’re only making Authoring in InstaVR more complicated for yourself.

Organize Your VR Projects Into Folders on Your Desktop

Our InstaVR File Manager allows you to upload files sequentially or by dragging a folder into the File Manager space. To expedite getting your project-specific media into the File Manager, it’s easiest to put it all in one folder on your desktop and drag it to the File Manager. Our cloud infrastructure can upload fairly quickly if you have a good Internet connection.

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(Image Courtesy of James Manttan of Dusk)

5. Conclusion

Doing your first 360 shoot can seem a little overwhelming at first. But it’s really not that hard. You just have to take a rational, prepared approach, that takes into account the things that make the media unique — a full 360-degree field of view, the ability to capture ambisonic sound, and a VR experience that will likely emanate from the viewer’s eye-level POV.

Also, feel free to jump on our weekly Thursday 10am EST training — https://join.me/instavrandrew. Besides showing all the features & functionality of InstaVR, we also discuss the overall process of VR experience creation, including filming. Thanks for using InstaVR and we can’t wait to see what VR projects you create!

Article reprinted by courtesy of InstaVR and with their permission.

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