effective-storytelling-360-video-part-2

author: @aestranger

Reading time: 10 minutes

Effective Storytelling in 360 Video — Part 2: Set the scene in 360 degrees

The next area in our series on 360 videos will be looking at how you can set the scene for a world where the viewer can look in any direction they want.

We’ll be exploring:

  • 360 mise-en-scene & camera/placement
  • 360 audio
  • 360 narrative

As you’ve read in part 1 of 360 video storytelling, the world you create in 360 filming is very different from Virtual reality. You do not necessarily have the freedom to move around, or at least not very far if you’re using 3D stereoscopic cameras like the Vuze camera.

But people do want to view a video in 360 because it is an immersive experience. It creates a deeper connection with the individual with what they are seeing.

So, when you are making a 360 video you need to consider the visual language you will be using and showing to the audience. How do you set the scene in 360 degrees?

360 Mise-en-scene

The mise-en-scene, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is the placement of everything in the frame that the viewer will be looking at, the actors, the props, costumes, lighting and so forth. For this, I’m also going to add in a few digital and technical aspects of the mise-en-scene, as I believe that these are more relevant under this term in 360 videos than they would be traditionally in normal 2-dimensional filmmaking.

Let’s break down the various aspects in the linear order of what an average viewer will see when looking at your 360 videos.

As with traditional cinema, you will need to introduce your video in some fashion, either through titles or scene setting. Titles will need to be visible in all directions, imagine your scene with 4 walls, a title should be visible on all 4. Obviously, these are all guidelines and not rules, but for easy viewer acceptance many of these apply, such as not missing a title because you were looking one way and it appeared on the opposite wall.

Credits should be left to the end of a film; the view becomes too cluttered if you add a few at the start.

Even if you do overt titling, it’s preferable that you combine this with scene-setting. I highly recommend avoiding titles on a black background as your opening frame, even in 360 videos, unless you are trying to brand something clearly. But even then, I would say the story should be your branding, not a logo.

When scene-setting the placement of your camera now has an added relevance to it. In traditional filmmaking, there were technical and artistic reasons for camera placement. And this, in turn, had a psychological effect on the viewer. You could offer a specific existential view, this view is now increased and/or enhanced with 360 videos.

Firstly, you would need to consider all the things that your viewer can see in the various directions. Is there something of interest, are there too many distractions, where will they be guided to look to? And secondly, at what height does the camera need to be placed?

Both are questions that have always been asked in filmmaking, they are nothing new in this world of omnidirectional video capture. But the psychological aspect now takes a more personal turn for the viewer. As they will associate more intimately and quicker with the placement of the camera than before. Therefore, camera placement has now become part of scene setting.

The story you will be telling becomes linked to location-based/spatial narratives. The language of how best to achieve this is still developing, but the overall belief currently is that you should view your spatial storytelling in terms of the 4 walls and each wall having a level of narrative priority. This will aid you in determining what to place in the scene and where the viewer will be looking. We’ll explore this more fully in the next section around camera movement.

The overarching axiom at present when creating 360 video is that you as a filmmaker should be “building entire worlds, rather telling a story frame by frame”, as is traditionally done. I feel this concisely captures the idea of having points of interest in all direction but of varying priority. And this is true of both set design, props and actors.

For actors in the scene, it will become a far more demanding exercise, as the traditional cut is no longer effective in a 360 video. Actors will need to follow more of a theater based acting style, a 1 takes mentality, without cuts. Entire scenes will need to be memorized, choreographed and blocked out, since the viewer is now viewing the world where the story takes place, not the story of a world.

And with that two questions arise, first we return to the one of what role is the viewer playing this, are they an observer to the actor’s scene, standing apart, or are they a silent accomplice. Has the viewer magically become Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob, along for the ride, enjoying the journey and the locus of the deus-ex-machina of the narrative?

The second question is, where will the film crew hide? For they cannot remain in view, at least not somewhere that it is obvious that they are a film crew. The answer lies with camera direction and its movement.

360 Field of View: Camera and placement

When you are creating worlds, you need to remember that you will be guiding your viewer through them. They will have the sensation, the illusion of complete freedom, but you are guiding them from plot point to plot point. Guiding their attention will aid you in not only progressing the narrative effectively but also hiding that which makes filmmaking possible, such as the above-mentioned crew members.

This is also more cost-effective than spending many hours in post-production on object removal of entire groups of people.

To guide your viewer through your world, you will need certain points of interest. These points should naturally draw your viewers gaze to them so that they naturally follow the story. Effective tools for this in mise-en-scene are lighting points and set design. Specifically highlighting something will draw the gaze. If there are multiple people in the scene as a distinctive prop or location design to the person who is highest in priority of points of interest. These are just a few ideas around spatial storytelling, or what can be compared to with environmental storytelling. The basic grammar of each is very similar in guiding the viewer.

One interesting concept I came across with guiding the viewers gaze is that of restricting or forcing the viewer’s field of view to only 180–190 degrees. If they turn they are met with a black void. On one hand, the freedom is removed, but with effective transitions around the 360 degrees, more traditional editing can be brought in if for example we move from left to right around the sphere, seamlessly transition from one 180-degree view to the next. Shifting, pushing the viewer’s gaze across the “world screen”.

Though when guiding the viewers gaze, be careful to not cause nausea. The camera movement that is so popular in current cinema will not work if the viewer is the one in “control”. Shaky-camera movements are definitely out, so is the use of soft-focus at certain distances, as often used in 3D films. It’s an irritating practice in 3D as it causes more discomfort than guidance. You will need to use deep-focus, such as Orson Welles pioneered in Citizen Kane.

The other aspect of preventing nausea is shot length. The current belief certain circles are that shots should last a minimum of 20 to 30 seconds. This is enough time for the viewer to take in their surroundings, to understand the environment they are in. And this should really be done with a static camera, at a correctly motivated position and height.

If the camera does need to move, then much like with the actors, it needs to be rehearsed and choreographed to perfection. And it should be narratively motivated. Though it is important to note that the camera should favor forward motion, too much lateral motion can apparently cause severe motion sickness in the viewer.

All the actions you take in transporting your viewer, in guiding their gaze needs to be with the intention of maintaining complete immersion. So far, we’ve looked at it from a purely visual point of view, but the sound is as important, if not more in 360 filmmaking.

360° audio

It almost should go without saying, almost, but the audio in films should be crystal clear and interesting. This is true of traditional filmmaking, and it is still true in 360 filmmaking. Unfortunately, though you and I both come across pieces that are visually stunning but suffer from poor audio.

In the 360 videos, it is paramount to maintain clear and interesting audio as the immersion will depend on this. If it is not perfect, the suspension of belief will be shattered completely and the world you created will crumble.

Having clear audio is true for either the newcomer who is only able to achieve stereo sound and for the veteran who can deliver spatial or stereoscopic sound. Naturally stereoscopic sound offers a deeper level of immersion because it adds a positional element phonically for the viewer. Like many things, we experience in the real world, we place by where we hear the sound coming from, not only from where we can see it.

This positional immersion is expanded with stereo fall off in a 360 environment. This fall-off effect adds another tool for guidance because with what the Doppler effect allows you to do, you can direct the viewers’ attention to events, actions, individuals nearby, far away, leaving or closing in on them.

Much of this audio would need to be added in post-production, as you will have a greater control on the effect it can have. Rather than the obvious setups to capture it while filming and which would get in the way in the viewer’s field of view, breaking the narrative immersion.

360° Narrative Experiences

A statement that you should hold true to whenever making any film, in VR, 360 or traditional narrative, is that the more immersive the experience, the better it is. This is an obvious truth, but one you should remind yourself of regularly. And in making 360 videos, you should always be asking yourself, is this an immersive experience? Does the viewer feel like they are present? Are they a passenger, an observer or a silent participant?

These questions are important because within a VR headset you cannot multitask, you are captive. The physical nature creates immersion, and you are there to ensure it is not broken.

As this phrase from an article from Think with Google states:

“The subject matter should truly take advantage of the medium — transport people to a place, immerse them in a world and compel them to explore,…”.

As I’ve mentioned, the viewer needs to have time to explore the environment, if you require some inspiration as to how best to achieve this then have a look at Japanese and Asian cinema. Yasujiro Ozu was a master at holding the shot and allowing the audience to absorb the environment they would be spending the rest of the film in.

Though at some point we do need to move to the next shot. And so, we return to the problem of editing. We explored before how to direct and force a gaze, but I don’t feel that this is an adequate solution in storytelling. And if we avoid cuts in the language of 360 videos then it will become very expensive, tiring and possibly boring for the viewer.

As this video from the Google, I/O 2016 conference explains

editing is not frame to frame, its world to the world”.

What is meant by this is that the transitions between the world are where the cuts occur. The video shows a scene where a cut is done on spatial position with a concept they’ve come to call “Probabilistic Editing Experiences”. This technique is to make a statically likely guess as to where the viewer will likely be looking and want to move to, as the cannot move, and then match the cut to the position they are in then and the objects that are in view.

This concept is at the same time illuminating and recognizable. As traditional editing is also done on object comparison, for example, the scene from “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a spinning bone in the sky and cutting to a spinning space station in space. We know the cut happened but we are not jarred as a viewer.

The point that I am trying to make with this, is that 360 filmmaking is not so different from traditional filmmaking, as much planning and effort are required in it as in other forms. It simply needs a different point of view. The language already exists we just need to adapt it to a different environment. And as with many things the more limitations that are in place, the more creative you can become.

Take on the challenge of creating a 360 video, if you’re unsure of what camera to get then check out this review on affordable cameras at The Wirecutter. Personally, out of all the reviews that I’ve read, the easiest to get going with is the Ricoh Theta S, but I’ll leave you to decide for yourself.

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I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æStranger.com, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

Please do Share if you found it helpful and know of someone who would it find it helpful as well.

 

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