Creating Cinematic VR Content – A Quick Overview

Blog Posts ,Random Musings ,Virtual Reality
November 4, 2015

Hey everyone!

This post is from a request that I got on Twitter about creating and animating video content for VR. I know that there are many talented folks working on cinematic VR, and it’s not my area of expertise, but if you were curious about a developer take on the current state of VR video content, read on! In this post, I’ll cover the very basics of animated and “live” action VR video content, as well as a few ways to get started with creating your own content!

My experience with cinematic VR has generally been from a viewer perspective, but there is an interesting degree of overlap between cinematic content and creating gameplay, so I figured it might be interesting to dive into this a little more in depth. I started simple, with Wired’s ‘virtual reality filmmaking’ tag, to get some preliminary news and info. Although I was initially looking for a ‘state of the industry’ overview of VR cinema and filmmaking, I stumbled upon a great article about how to approach VR filmmaking with ‘6 Rules for Making Movies in the VR Age, which gave a solid overview of the considerations Oculus Story Studio had for making “Henry”.

Animated Cinematic VR

Oculus Story Studio has been open about their process with their short films before, so if you’re interested in the technical side of creating animated cinematic VR content, I recommend starting off by reading up on their tooling.

Oculus Story Studio tooling, copyright storystudio.oculus.com

From what I see as a developer, there seems to be a significant amount of overlap between game development and animating cinematic VR content. Many of the same tools are used in modeling and designing the 3D components of an experience, and the interactive rendering done in Unreal Engine appears to use the same process as scripting gameplay elements. Realistically, this makes sense – video games contain different degrees of interactivity, and cinematic VR animated films fall on a spectrum between “animated movie” and “video game” with the distinction growing smaller each day.

In fact, if you’re curious, you can go grab the ‘Henry’ assets and try building it yourself!

“Live” Action Cinematic VR

If you look outside of animated VR cinematic content, just about everything changes about the process. Instead of creating models from the ground up, these types of experiences are generally captured with special cameras (or series of cameras) that film from a center point outward to create a sphere around the viewer. Although it’s not entirely agreed that this is true ‘VR’, this method of creating an immersive video experience still goes beyond classic filmmaking, and is an excellent example of passive VR. Those interested in exploring this type of cinematic VR can do so with something like a Ricoh Theta S, while larger companies like Jaunt VR are building their own rigs for capturing 360 degree video content.

Once the video is captured, stitching software (such as Kolor or Video Stitch) is used to ensure that all of the video streams are in sync and calibrated properly, and a final version of the video is rendered. Larger firms are working on their own methods for rendering and stitching together 360 degree film content, but the overall process is similar for both short scenes and longer content.

Bonus Note: You can capture 360 degree photos on your smart phone – this is one of my favorite things to do while traveling to get a more immersive memory when I show people where I’ve been! 

So how does it all come together?

There is a lot of innovation brewing on the cinematic VR stage. A company called Uncorporeal is working on a solution for tracking human action and transporting it into a game engine encoded object for post-processing. Studios are venturing into new experiences, some computer generated and some filmed from live events, and it’s resulting in some great content. There’s never been a better time to start exploring this new medium with 360 immersive films, and there is a huge opportunity for creative experiences to take advantage of the growing VR ecosystem in storytelling.

I can’t wait to see what you create!

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