Man wearing VR goggles
Ready Player One (2018)

The growth of virtual reality and 360 video indicates some exciting new prospects in entertainment. Box office hits like “Ready Player One” illuminate the possibilities of VR in the imagination of the audience. Major changes have started to transform the foundation of traditional cinema into an innovative, tech-driven industry. With ambitious VR movies on the horizon, the market is teeming with inventive ideas that have the potential to redefine entertainment.

The best VR movies to experience and why

The list of feature-length narrative films shot in 360 is extremely limited. This is mainly because the technology is still new and undeveloped. Both capture and viewing technology need improvement before audiences will be able to enjoy longer productions. Anyone looking for that summer lineup of blockbuster 360 showings will have to wait it out. 360 narrative storytellers are still working out the kinks. However, there is a handful of notable short-form 360 productions that are helping to spur on the evolution of this new medium. 

Ashes To Ashes

Ashes To Ashes is a 10-minute 360 narrative project shot using the Jaunt One VR camera system. The Jaunt One uses an array of cameras to capture stereoscopic spherical video. This means the viewer can experience the film in 3D, creating a greater sense of immersion to the experience.

Unlike most movies, “Ashes to Ashes” doesn’t make any attempt to hide the behind-the-scenes action that makes the short film possible. Indeed, cast, crew and set pieces are all visible to the audience as part of the experience.

The viewer experiences the VR movie from the perspective of Grandpa’s urn, giving us a passive view of the tensions within the family. This approach works especially well with the 360-degree format. Not shy of revealing the artifice of the production, the film cleverly exposes the crew behind the scenes as well as the actors out of character. To get smooth camera moves, the Jaunt was placed on a remote-controller dolly track, which allowed for seamless set changes. The entire 10-minute film was shot in one take.

The Invisible Man

Next up is the 360-degree short vr movie, The Invisible Man. Filming in 360 was completely new for the team behind this production. The crew had to familiarize themselves with various cameras and the limitations of the technology. In the end, filmmakers Maurice Schutte and Hugo Keijzer shot the whole production with six GoPro HERO4 Black cameras in a Freedom 360 broadcaster rig. As part of the preproduction process, they also used 360 stills to help them to better stage and block scenes.

“The Invisible Man” gives the viewer a seat at the table as a group of criminals engage in some dangerous games.

The project uses the choose-your-own-adventure format, allowing viewers to uncover for themselves where things are and what’s important. The flat monoscopic footage has no depth and no parallax effect is present. After all, both eyes see the same image and everything projected back to the same depth in the viewing sphere. While you can, of course, turn your head and look around the scene, the film manages to keep the viewers’ attention focused with a 2D perspective rather than a 3D perspective.

Invasion

Invasion is a 2017 Emmy-winning VR experience featuring the voice of Ethan Hawke. It was created by the director of Madagascar and the top-rated VR experiences Crow: the Legend and Asteroids. Invasion tells the interactive story of a duo of aliens with grand ambitions to take over our world. Instead, they are greeted by two adorable, white bunnies.

As an animated short, “Invasion” has lots of flexibility in terms of camera position and action. Plus, there isn’t any crew or equipment to hide from the viewer.

The 360 narrative manages to direct the viewer’s eyes to the right place using the characters themselves. For instance, if a character looks off in a given direction, the audience wants to look off in that direction, too. Sound, movement and animation effects help to tell the story’s 360-degree narrative. It’s one of the most innovative VR movies to hit the market and pioneer the VR filmmaking medium in animation.

What to consider for your own VR movie

Before you dive into making your own VR movie, it’s imperative that you understand that producing for 360-degree video is totally different from traditional filmmaking. You have to know what you want your audience to experience before you decide on the best and most affordable equipment suited for your project.

Both camera placement and camera movement are crucial to the virtual experience and visual story.

Both camera placement and camera movement are crucial to the virtual experience and visual story. Too much movement can give some viewers motion sickness. Lighting and set design are important details to pay attention to, as well. You’ll have to find creative ways to hide them from the camera. Don’t fill your scene with anything that will distract the viewer from what they need to be focused on. The best way to learn about the production value and the cinematic aesthetic of telling stories in 360 narrative film is by immersing yourself in the experience first. 

For further reading on the development and rewards of 360 video, check out How to make money with VR and 360-degree video and The language of spherical video will take years to develop.

Final thoughts

VR film is still a new medium. It comes with the excitement of potentially unlimited creativity for the seasoned and aspiring filmmaker alike. Still, it also comes with confusion. How do you move the camera? How do you rig it? What’s the best stitching method or the best equipment for beginners? 2D or 3D? How do you light, block or capture audio? The questions are endless.

Nevertheless, like any other medium, you will learn by hands-on experience what works and what doesn’t. Even if you have no ambition to indulge in the prospects of 360 video from the filmmaking experience, you can still learn about the various ways of immersing yourself. In donning a head-mounted display, you discover the magic of watching a story unfold from within. That’s a cinematic experience you simply can’t pass up. 

4 COMMENTS

  1. I am more interested in VR 180. The cameras are cheaper, and 2x the resolution of 360. Less head turning, nauseating, and you are seated. Also processing power is less…and NO STITCHING!

  2. Also VR 180 is more related to 3D stereographic features that JAMES CAMERON brought back to popularity with his AVATAR. VR 180 does not require hiding the crew. 360 is ideal for documentaries…BUT NOT DRAMAS or ACTION ADVENTURES!

  3. Sounds great, Terry. You know your stuff. VR 180 offers an easier workflow and higher quality video compared to shooting in 360. A camera that shoots 5.7K resolution video in 180 degrees is going to look better than a camera shooting 5.7K video in 360 degrees because the same number of pixels only need to fill half the space. The down side of course is that you only capture what is in front of the camera, not everything surrounding it.You can find some superb articles here on Videomaker Magazine’s site offering insight on both the 180 and 360 degree experience. That one advantage that VR 180 has is that all cameras that shoot VR180 also shoot in 3D, which actually looks really good on a VR headset. There are only a few 360 camera that can shoot in 3D and they are all very expensive.

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