Virtual reality is unavoidable at the moment. Marketeers are praising its immersiveness and versatility as tools to increase engagement; the relative novelty of successful VR projects makes them a hit with PR teams, and creative teams are excited to push themselves in a new medium, as you can see from our panel featuring creatives from The Mill, Halo Post, Alchemy VR and Rewind:
All of which begs the question, is this something you should be doing in-house? A case could be made for outsourcing to specialists like Alchemy whenever clients ask you for VR content, but the increased control and agility that comes with doing things in-house – especially when it comes to things like integrating 360 video into a wider campaign, rather than staging one-off VR events – has led many creative teams, including ours, to wonder if they could take this on themselves. Let’s take a look at what you’d need.
What could you be creating?
As Facebook, YouTube and other large platforms add support for 360-degree video, it’s becoming an integral part of many social campaigns, an extension of the traditional video content you might produce for a cross-platform project. It’s also become a popular alternative to corporate ‘explainers’ among companies who want to seem cutting edge and, as in this well-regarded example from Michelle Obama and The Verge, with publishers and journalists who want to ensure their content stays relevant as users move to new platforms. (The New York Times also got a massive publicity boost when it gave away a million Cardboard headsets and started making startlingly good immersive journalism).
‘Immersive VR’ – the kind that uses an expensive headset and motion tracking to make you feel like you’ve wandered into a video game – has more in common with games development and 3D animation than traditional film production, although as our panel pointed out, the sense of narrative and need for careful direction remain.
In the commercial sphere, immersive VR has proven to be a great tool for attracting PR at one-off events or tours (this mildly terrifying hiking experience from Merrell, for example or Sotheby’s offering you the chance to climb inside a Dalí painting. You can also climb inside your own sketches with help from Gravity Sketch). However, as VR technology becomes more readily available (and affordable) we’re seeing the rise of more apps for end users.
This is especially true of content that can be consumed via cheaper headset solutions like Google Cardboard. Cardboard-compatible apps have received a mixed response in the past because until recently many of the smartphones it worked with struggled to sync streams of 3D sufficiently well to avoid lagging and motion sickness, but the times they are a-changing, and the chips in phones they are a-getting more powerful.
So what kit do you need to invest in?
When it comes to shooting 360 video, there are two ways to do it: attach multiple action cameras (GoPros are popular) to a rig, then stitch the footage from each camera into a 360 degree panorama, or buy a camera designed to shoot 360, or go all the way and invest in the Insta360 Pro for true 360 filming.
We’d recommend shooting native 360, but if you’re wary of investing that much upfront, Teradek’s Sphere solution comes with a GoPro-compatible rig and a monitoring solution that’ll let you see your stitched footage on-set, which is a huge advantage if clients are going to be present for the shoot. There’s also Google’s Jump programme, for which you’d need to purchase a Google Jump rig, then use the Jump Assembler to send your footage to Google, who return it to you 48-72 hours later, fully stitched.
However you choose to shoot your footage, you’ll want to add Imagineer Systems’ mocha VR plug-in to your editing software, as that makes it possible for you to perform tasks like optimised planar tracking, masking, object removal, and horizon stabilisation directly in your NLE.
Adobe have been quick to add VR tools to Premiere Pro, too, so if you already have a Creative Cloud subscription then it’s well worth exploring those. With the Premiere Pro CC 2017 update, Adobe added native QuickTime DNxHR/HD codec support, so you can create VR media files which play back more efficiently than H.264. They also added VR properties to Clips, meaning Premiere Pro will look for the same metadata added during export, which allows 360 playback in YouTube and Facebook. In June, Adobe acquired Skybox plug-ins by Mettle, for 360 video and VR, which will integrate their functionality natively into Premiere Pro and After Effects, and should be available by the end of the year.
One of the key things from the panel we held (seriously, scroll back up and give it a watch), is that while virtual reality projects tend to max out at around 20 minutes in length, they spend longer in post-production than a 60 minute television programme, as the challenges of stitching footage, mixing audio and performing all your usual corrections and grades now has to be done on far more footage, which is far more difficult to match, may contain 3D animated elements, and potentially contains a crew and other equipment that need to be painted out, because there’s nowhere to hide them in a 360-degree shoot. Even adding motion graphics, as you might want to in a corporate video, becomes much more difficult when they have to exist (and follow the viewer around) in a 3D space.
Doing all this means you might need to invest in higher-spec workstations (asked to describe the ideal spec, our product manager simply said “beefy”, which you’re free to take however you want, but which we think means “the sort of thing you’d work with 4K footage on, why not explore your options in our workstation configurator?”).
How can we help?
Aside from hosting Soho’s premier panel on the subject, we can provide all the kit you need for VR – cameras, rigs, software, plug-ins, media, monitors – from one place, with 30 day credit accounts (subject to you passing a credit check) and next day delivery on many key items.
If you’re not quite ready to buy, our longstanding relationships with leading media vendors mean that we’re perfectly placed to advise on the directions different suppliers are taking with VR, and help you find kit, storage solutions and workstations to support the direction you want to take, as well as advice on how to fit them all together.
For more on the cost of bringing VR in house, take a look at this sister article for finance teams. If you want to know more about VR, give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. If you’re ready to start shopping head to our design store, here. For everything else, including the latest news and reviews, follow @WeAreJigsaw24 on Twitter, or ‘Like’ us on Facebook.