The concept is simple enough to understand. Overlapping video footage is recorded simultaneously by assembling several cameras, typically GoPro-sized lightweight models, into an array, or using one of the dedicated off-the-shelf spherical-cams that are making their way to market almost daily.
Models like the Bublcam, Giroptic, Nokia’s OZO or the 360fly are pre-configured specifically for capturing spherical panoramas and are low cost, out-of-the-box solutions for would-be spherical shooters. After capture, the footage is processed using software to blend the separate shots into a seamless scene that results in an immersive viewing experience within which the viewer can explore by rotating the perspective side to side and up and down.
There’s no doubt that, from a technological standpoint at least, the ability to create interactive spherical is cool. Many a technophile will no-doubt geek out over this futuristic foray into viewer controlled video. The question at the moment however is this: How practical is spherical production from a storytelling point of view?
The question at the moment however is this: How practical is spherical production from a storytelling point of view?
Traditional TV, film and video production is built upon the premise that the producer controls where viewers look, how long they are allowed to linger on a shot, at what pace they are moved to the next and what things are purposefully left outside of the frame. Traditional video tells stories through shot sequences that move from extremely wide establishing shots to extremely close-up inserts to reveal important things to the viewer or to conceal those things that the producer chooses to hold back.
In traditional shot sequencing, continuity of motion relies upon established rules of camera position is relation to the subject moving within the scene. The action axis must be maintained, without the camera’s perspective crossing over the line in order for the viewer’s brain to process the on-screen action as consistent from one shot to the next. A behind-the-scenes look at any traditional television or film sets reveals that there is a world of lights, mic poles, camera gear and crew just outside the visible frame.
With spherical video, there’s no place to hide production equipment and crew members. For all these reasons, producing spherical video is a new and unique endeavor.
Presently spherical video is an excellent tool for providing panoramic live-action views of outdoor environments; for adventure video, like roller coaster rides or mountain-bike racing experiences; and for voyeuristic peers into various places. To a small degree, spherical is being used by creative, technology-inspired innovators to create kitschy single-shot cut-free dramas performed around the camera.
Many spherical videos are disorienting and difficult to watch at first, but they do lend themselves to multiple viewings, allowing viewers to experience the video from a different perspective each time.
As storytellers experiment with spherical capabilities, they’ll certainly innovate new ways to create compelling media. Check out some spherical videos online and experience this phenomenon for yourself. Who knows? We may all be shooting spherical soon. It’s literally all around us.
Matthew York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.