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Virtual Reality Tools and Workflow, Part 3: Lessons Learned

In the concluding segment of a series of articles about my first virtual reality (VR) project, which I produced using equipment supplied by, and assistance from Mobeon I describe the lessons learned during the project.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

When positioning camera and subjects, think about how much viewers will have to turn their heads to watch the action. To explain, as you read this, twist your head to each side a few times, as far is it can go. I’m sure you can go past 90 degrees on each side, for a total of 180+, but you’d probably get a bit grumpy if you had to continuously repeat the motion. Perhaps a range of 90-100 degrees feels comfortable.

The problem is that the six-camera GoPro rig I used has one camera pointed upwards, the other five in a circle pointing outward. If you have three subjects, and place each directly in front of the camera for maximum clarity, you have a minimum head-turn of around 210 degrees (360 degrees / five cameras x 3 angles). This is shown in Figure 5 (below). If you substitute your head for the camera, you see that there’s an uncomfortable distance the viewer has to turn to see all the participants.

Figure 5. This setup forces the viewers to turn their heads too much.

A better approach would have been to sit the two students together as shown in Figure 6 (below), which would have limited the viewer’s head turn to around 70 degrees. While the diagrams are simplistic, this is exactly the kind of analysis necessary to ensure that the final presentation doesn’t cause whiplash, neck strain, or vertigo.

Figure 6. This setup would be much more comfortable to watch. Click on the image to see it at full size.

Other Concerns

Another thing about GoPros and most small-sensor cameras is that they need lots of light. In my office, using only overhead fluorescents, the cameras produced dingy footage. In the classroom, when the fluorescents were supplemented by LED lighting, the quality was quite good. So if you’re shooting indoors, you’ll need to bring lots of lights into the set, and then, of course, figure out how to hide them.

One issue that I haven’t yet conquered is the audio issue. (At this writing, I haven’t finished editing the final production.) A microphone went out during the shoot, so I’m having to redub the comments made by the students. Once I have that, I’ll have to figure out how much directionality I need to build into the audio.

That is, the teacher will be on the viewer’s extreme left side, the two students on the right. I’m not sure how funky it will sound if the audio comes evenly out of both ears in a simple stereo mix. I may have to position the teacher on the left track and the students on the right. Simple enough to do in Premiere Pro, but getting the proportions right could be a bear.

For example, even though the teacher is on my left, I still hear her in my right ear, though at a lower volume. So it’s not 100 left/0 right, but is it 80/20, or 60/40? I’m sure there’s a formula and workflow used by television and movie professionals, but I don’t know it because directionality has never been an issue in any of my previous productions. Though I may decide to punt on audio processing and just use a simple stereo mix (it’s a school project after all), if it were a paying gig, audio would be a critical issue.

Unless you’re sure it’s not going to be an issue, be careful how you mix your audio during the shoot. Obviously, if you need to mix with directionality, you’ll need separate tracks for all inputs.

Find a Buddy Who’s Been There

The whole production workflow isn’t rocket science, but the tools are still pretty rough and there aren’t a lot of online resources. I was fortunate to have the folks at Mobeon available to answer all of my technical questions about the camera gear and software. I would definitely rent everything my first time out, and choose a supplier with capable and available technical support with VR production experience.

I firmly believe VR is the next big thing, and advise you to c’mon in, the water’s fine. Just be sure not to overpromise on your first production, because I’m sure you’ll come out with a list of lessons at least as long as mine.

Related Articles
In this series of articles, I will discuss the tools and workflows that I used in a recent testing project to see how VR compares to 2D video and audio as an educational tool.
In Part 2 of this 3-part series on VR streaming, I detail the workflow for producing VR video in Vahana VR, which is the software in charge of stitching together the video from the 6-camera GoPro rig I used to shoot the video.
VR remains a niche market at this writing, but it's a growing one with huge potential. Here are the latest developments and what it means to adoption in the live production and streaming world.