As Fstoppers' resident virtual reality content creator, I'm excited to share our most recent project we did for AOL. A few weeks back, the Autoblog/Translogic team flew my business partner and I to southern California and rented out a race track so we could film an awesome 1980s Ferrari that was converted to an all-electric high-performance sports car in virtual reality. They also wanted to interview us on what we are doing in the VR field and where we see the technology going. Learn more and see the actual VR film below!
If you're unfamiliar, I've been a commercial photographer and filmmaker for over 10 years shooting for the big brands and magazines. About a year and a half ago, Nick and I decided enter the work world of virtual reality under our production company, 8112 Studios. We saw early iterations of brands using VR to promote productions about 2 years ago, but they were very rudimentary and not particularly high quality. Although, Oculus Rift virtual reality goggle technology was truly compelling. They were unlocking the potential of smartphones which already had high-resolution screens with quick screen refresh and gyros built in.
So why didn't VR take off when it became relevant again in the 90's? Well, the technology at the time was prohibitively expensive for consumers at the time. Also, we didn't have LCD or LED screens, but instead had to rely on very heavy CRT screens with poor refresh rate and low resolution. Thus, when trying a VR experience with a CRT monitor-based headset, you'd get nauseous because it was so heavy and there was a slight delay with the video footage any time you turned your head. It was just a bit too early for the tech to take off, but today is a different sotry.
So what does that all mean? It means that with the right free app, your smartphone (such as your iPhone or Android device) can display VR content right now. That means even my mom can download an app pretty easily and watch my virtual reality content with just an easy link from across the country without truly having to buy any additional accessories. Having said that, there are companies like Samsung, which partnered with Oculus, to create the Samsung Gear VR headset which is essentially a premium VR headset that is powered by Samsung's S6 and Note 4 phones. This is also the headset you see in the behind-the-scenes video above (and the white headset in the photo below).
This is a really exciting time for virtual reality. Many of us refer to it as the "Wild West" because there is no perfect video capture solution yet. You see, for most of us, we have to cobble together a camera system utilizing multiple cameras facing different directions, then we have to stitch it together using early generation and complicated video stitching programs, and this isn't even covering CGI or audio mixing. For high-end productions we record multi-channel spatial audio as well as wild sounds and have them mixed together in postproduction to give a more realistic and immersive sound experience. We also use CGI and VFX programs such as Nuke to fix inevitable stitch errors due to shooting action or small locations (e.g., car interiors) and remove the camera's mount points or tripod. Although, budget dictates how far we can go with VFX and sound mixing. As you can imagine, shooting even a 2-3 minute video is incredibly time consuming if you want to do it correctly and with high quality.
You are probably going to ask me what cameras we use and the only answer we can give you right now is that we use a variety of solutions depending on project budget and type of content we are shooting. We hold our exact filming techniques close to our chests, but I can tell you we are developing our own high-end virtual reality camera system that will truly change the game.
Nick and I actually see crucial limitations with current VR camera systems, even the high end ones such as the Google Jump and the Nokia OZO. So, we partnered with an incredible engineering team and we spent many months applying for big government grants, which we were just awarded. So that means our prototype is fully funded! We expect our virtual reality camera system to overcome a lot of the challenges that most 360-degree video solutions face today, such as reviewing live stitched footage as you film so you can properly direct, capturing true high-end spatial audio, and a completely custom-made camera CCD/lens combos places in such a way as to defeat a lot of the parallax and stitching issues we VR producers face so often. I know that is promising a lot, but we have an amazing team behind us and will be announcing more about that soon. She is already being constructed!
You can watch the 360-degree video we shot of the Ferrari below. For an enhanced "virtual reality" experience, you can download the LITTLSTAR app on your iOS or Android devices. You'll be able to watch the video and look around by moving your phone around and can put it in "VR" mode and place it in a cardboard VR device in the comfort of your home or office. Just find our virtual reality videos under the "Hearstmens" account.
Have questions? Feel free to hit me up below! Also, stay tuned, I will be posting a lot more about virtual reality technology over the coming months. The upcoming year will be huge for VR due to the immense amount of products coming out such as Oculus Rift's new consumer model, Samsung's new and cheaper Gear headset, Valve's high-end PC gaming headset, and Sony's Morpheus headset for the Playstation.
You can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or need help with virtual reality video production.