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Cinematic Virtual Reality for Visual Storytelling: Transitioning between Worlds with Nothing but a Headset

Have you ever been inside a human hamster ball? Imagine standing still in that sphere. You can see the inside, every angle, as you move your head around, right?
That’s precisely how a 360-degree image is. A panorama that extends in every direction, as if the pictures were sprawled on the insides of a sphere.
Cinematic Virtual Reality is an improvement upon this concept, as it lets you feel how the movie unfolds. You strap the gear to your head, and everything looks real, sounds real.
What Does Cinematic VR Bring to the Table?
For the viewers, a suspension of disbelief via a sense of presence. For the makers, a chance to create compelling stories in a medium that can deliver authentic familiarity to the audience.
Cinematic paradigms are shifting. Film festivals like Cannes, Sundance, and Tribeca are showcasing virtual reality cinema. Industry trade shows are putting weight on 360-degree cameras and gears. The technology, as well as its dimensions, are being explored, recognised, appreciated.
In May 2016, for the first time in India, a specially made 360-degree video for his psychological thriller movie Phobia was made. Created by Meraki VR, this wasn’t the only example of using immersive video to put forth a point.
The Oscars organisation presented a special award to director Alejandro Iñárritu in 2017 for his direction of CARNE y ARENA, a simulated experience. An immersive tour of Palava, another documentary about the first literate generation of the tribals of Keonjhar, Orissa, are two other similar examples, both produced by Meraki VR.
It’s an abundance of evidence that right now, every creator wants to try, test, and work with this technology, not just because it’s innovation at its current best but also because it is a mighty weapon for storytellers.
But, Creating Virtual Cinema Involves a Good Amount of Trial and Error
The Lumiere brothers shot and released the first film in 1895 in Paris. It was a fresh change of perspective and technique from the theatre. The director was in charge of not just what the artists would perform but how the audience would see it, from which angles, with which effects, thus empowering the storytelling.
With VR, the control goes to the audience. Every component of an environment becomes the frame. It’s immersive but requires a strong narrative and subtle clues to convey the story in all intended meanings. Both your technique and tools need to be up to the mark.
The Perfect Camera Rig, and VR Video Issues
The rig used here is a sphere, with many cameras mounted on each side, with their specific field of view, who record at the same time. The market offers you different shooting gears, each with a set of pros and cons.
Ricoh Theta S
It’s probably the cheapest point and shoot camera for 360-degree videos. It comes with HD live streaming, prolonged exposure, live view via a dedicated application, and 8 GB memory.
Insta 360 Pro Version 2.0
With its recent firmware update, it is excellent for colour accurate, good quality images. You get 12K super-resolution pictures, optimised dynamic range, white balance, and clarity, and manual frame rate adjustment. You can also accelerate image stitching by using Pro’s processor.
Obsidian S
It comes with a stitching software and companion app, and it’s a Meraki VR favourite, because it’s optimised for higher frame rates, 6K stereoscopic video along with depth mapping.
However, as different lenses capture different angles of any environment, they have to be stitched together while editing to provide a sense of continuity. Poor stitching can wreck a VR video. While shooting motion shots, average work can be downright sickening if the movements are unexpected, rough, and hence, often nauseous.
VR Filmmaking Has Begun Walking; It’s yet to Break into a Run
Steven Spielberg calls virtual reality a dangerous medium because it allows the viewer to ignore the storyteller’s perspective and determine their direction themselves. And, without a threaded narrative, Spielberg fears the story could be lost among the effects.
Simply put, there’s a lot that cinematic virtual reality has to figure out before you can create or witness a movie that you empathise with in every sense.
About the Author
Parth Choksi is an IIT Bombay alumnus with Masters in Mechanical Engineering, who holds great passion about work in the areas of branding and marketing. Parth had previously co-founded LevoDrive, an intra-city public bus transport system. He has also worked with ITC, where he worked on projects based on renewal energy, having commissioned a 1MW solar power plant and designed a 10MW solar power pack. He has also commissioned a complete storage facility for Finished Goods for the group. He currently heads the technical and marketing function at Meraki, one of India’s first Virtual Reality Studios.