Virtual reality is huge news at the moment, and whether you’re dealing with PR teams who want to cash in on the attention it garners or creatives who want to push themselves in a new medium, chances are someone’s already asked if your team can produce VR content. After all, it’s just like video, right? Well, not really.
VR content is very much its own animal, and requires a specialist skillset and kit list. We’ve been supplying equipment to the creative industries for over 25 years, and have our internal video workflow (and those of our clients) nailed down. But in order to start offering VR as a service, we’d have to make some fairly major upgrades to our stash of shooting kit, storage and 3D animation skills – and we imagine many agencies are in a similar position.
It’s an investment worth making though, as it’ll allow you to stay current, help clients take advantage of a major new channel, and avoid losing long-term clients to more on-trend rivals. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what you’ll need to invest in..
First things first: what kind of content will you be creating?
Currently, most commercial VR content falls into one of two camps: 360-degree video (video footage that lets the viewer look all around the setting, rather than just showing them a static shot from one angle) and immersive VR (the interactive, 3D-animated kind that makes you feel like you’ve wandered into a videogame). These need very different skillsets and equipment, and are suited to very different projects.
360 video has been used effectively to create more exciting versions of the traditional corporate ‘explainer’ (here’s a great example from The Verge and Michelle Obama). A similar technique has been used in concert videos to give viewers the sensation of really being there, and Topshop used the technology to let visitors to their flagship store experience what it’s like to be on the front row at London Fashion Week.
If you’re already offering video services, you can scale them up to include the shooting, stitching and editing of 360 video. Many 360 degree videos include graphics and animations as well as live footage, and your team probably already has the skillset and tools needed to create these.
Immersive VR has more in common with 3D animation and games development, with most projects taking viewers on a journey through a 3D landscape and allowing them to interact with objects they encounter. Delivering immersive VR requires a (relatively) expensive headset, and if you want users to be able to move around, you’ll need additional hardware to track their movements and stop them walking into walls. You’ll also need specialist hardware and software to create content.
Despite the high initial outlay, many companies are keen on immersive projects because they’re high-impact and memorable, and because their relative novelty means that a well-staged immersive event can be a big PR draw.
What kind of kit will your team need?
If you’re shooting 360 video, there are two ways to do it: stick a load of GoPro or Blackmagic Mini Studio Cameras to a rig, then stitch the images together in post to create a single 360 image, or invest in a 360 degree camera.
While the reduce the need for stitching, many 360 degree cameras are less than perfect: lower cost ones are often function like PTZ cameras and have a limited field of vision. They’re fine for live events on Facebook 360 and similar platforms, but not ideal for anything more polished – if your client wants footage they can reuse, rather than the novelty of a one-off viewing event, we’d recommend investing in something higher-end.
As an entry level camera, you could try the Kodak PixPro (£399 ex VAT), which uses a multi-lens configuration to give you close to 360 degree coverage. The Insta360 Pro (£2999 ex VAT) is pricier, but does offer true 360-degree shooting.
If you’d prefer to try the rigged approach, stitching is inevitable (and time-consuming). You’ll need a 360-specific monitoring solution like the Teradek Sphere (£2549 ex VAT), which will stitch your panoramic footage into a 360 format so that you can show clients and directors a rough on-set cut and make sure you have the footage you need – it’s likely you’ll still need to make further adjustments in post, though.
Helpfully, the Sphere includes a rig for GoPro cameras, so if you already have a stash of them and are happy to use them for your 360 work, you won’t have to fork out for a separate rig.
Another option is the Google Jump, a 16-camera rig and asset management system that has the big advantage of allowing you to outsource your stitching. When you sign up to the Jump programme, you get access to the Jump Assembler, where you can send your footage off to be processed by Google (their turnaround is mooted at 48 hours, but users have advised us to budget for a 72 hour wait).
Editing 360 degree/VR footage
Post-production on 360 and VR content is far more intensive than that needed for traditional video. At our recent VR event, Halo Post’s Richard Addis said that VR content is “rarely longer than 20 minutes, but the time spent in post is far in excess of what you’d spend on a 60 minute TV show.”
The key plugin you’ll need is Imagineer Systems’ mocha VR (£865 ex VAT), which brings optimised planar tracking, masking, object removal, and horizon stabilisation tools to host applications including those from Avid and Adobe. Premiere Pro, which you’ll already have access to if you have a Creative Cloud for teams subscription (£708 per user, per year, ex VAT), has its own set of built-in VR tools, too.
If you’re producing immersive VR (ie animated 3D environments), you’ll want a top spec workstation for your animators so that they can deal with the sheer volume of footage they’re going to have to render – if your facility has not invested in networked rendering, now might be the time to start looking into it.
What skills will your team need?
While your team may have done video and animation work before, VR is definitely its own niche and VR-specific companies like Framestore and Alchemy are leading the way when it comes to larger, more interactive projects such as this mildly terrifying hiking experience. That said, there’s no reason your existing team can’t take on VR – and particularly 360 video – on a slightly less heart-attack-inducing scale.
If you’re already producing video, you’ll need to find the time and resources to allow your team to familiarise themselves with the new kit, but the main factor is likely to be ensuring that you’re able to perform the extensive post-production and animation work any VR requires, be that stitching, editing, painting out any remaining crew members, creating 3D graphics and, frustratingly, adjusting content so that it can be used on multiple platforms which, as yet, have no common standard (most successful projects have limited themselves to one platform, such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and exploited that platform fully).
Sub-contracting work to a specialist VR company is always a possibility, but if you’re getting numerous requests from clients for VR work and want to make it a permanent part of your portfolio, investing in your own kit and having control over you own content and deadlines might be for the best. For more about the skills and challenges involved, watch our VR panel with experts from Alchemy, Halo Post, Rewind and The Mill, who have all launched successful VR projects.
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 bringing VR in-house, take a look at this sister article for creative 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. For all the latest news, follow @WeAreJigsaw24 on Twitter, or ‘Like’ us on Facebook.