Every new form of entertainment and communication has its early adopters—the trailblazers who relish the challenges posed by a new format and the technophiles who are unafraid to explore cutting-edge tools. We recently partnered with such revolutionaries to bring virtual reality and 360° stock footage to the VideoBlocks library. Now that it’s available to the mass creative class, we spoke to a few of our expert partners to find out how VR is a game-changer for visual storytelling.

The Inno-VR-tors

Since the start of his career, Mike Drachkovitch, VideoBlocks 360° video contributor and founder and CEO of Ovrture, has aimed to tell stories that “challenge the way we see others, our environment, and ultimately ourselves.” This drive led him to the world of virtual reality.

“VR expands our capacity to share the deeply immersive elements of a story—the parts that you really feel and remember,” says Drachkovitch. “I like how VR can really punch through your worldview and ignite your imagination.”

With his footage, Drachkovitch transports people into environments that are largely inaccessible but carry serious emotional weight, like a far-off historical site or inside a prison. For his first contributions to VideoBlocks, Drachkovitch is providing a 360° look at his home city: Los Angeles.

Drachkovitch shot this urban cityscape for the VideoBlocks Unlimited Library.
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Austin Mace and Ryan Thomas, the co-founders of SubVRsive, are also taking users home with their VideoBlocks VR videos. But in this case, home is Austin, Texas, and some of the footage immerses viewers in a world moving at time lapse speed.

“VR places you in the story and allows you to engage rather than just watch passively,” says Thomas.

“It is fundamentally different from other mediums,” adds Mace. “Virtual reality shares similarities to the birth of cinema and radio and is a tectonically new way to build empathy.”

Mace discovered virtual reality when he was in college at Miami University studying to become a video game developer. He and Thomas were creating music videos on the side, and immediately recognized the potential for VR filmmaking. Since then, the pair have been pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with both cameras and post-production in order to make awesome 360° video content.

The Process

Everything about 360° video is experimental, including the equipment used to capture it.
Austin Mace works on a custom rig for a 360° shoot.
“We custom build and modify our own camera rigs for each project,” Drachkovitch explains. “This gives us the flexibility we need to deliver quality content, as there’s not a versatile one-size-fits-all camera solution on the market to date.”

Mace and Thomas also create unique rigs for shooting in 360°, and they recommend that other filmmakers also consider the specific needs of their project when deciding on gear.

“The type of rig one uses should be chosen as carefully as a cinematographer would choose a lens,” says Mace. “Does it need to be 3D or monoscopic? 180° or 360°? Cylindrical or fully spherical? Will your action be close or far away?”

Thomas and Mace use a few different camera systems depending on the application and the budget. They tend to shy away from the GoPro set-ups in favor of modified cameras with prime fisheye lenses as well as some solutions with large sensor digital cinema cameras. For those looking to try out 360° filmmaking without investing a lot of cash, they recommend the Ricoh Theta—though they caution that consumer options offer less flexibility.

Then there’s the actual process of shooting in 360°.

“The biggest difference VR creators face is that your frame is blown up, which fundamentally changes the way you approach everything—from how you think about your creative to how you do audio capture and lighting,” Drachkovitch explains.

According to Thomas, the viewer is essentially the camera operator with 360° video. “They choose what part of the scene they see and when. So instead of worrying about framing shots, we are now focusing on blocking entire scenes in 360°.”

On shoots, once the camera is in place and they’re ready to roll, the SubVRsive crew has to either hide or commit to being an extra in the scene. “It’s a strange feeling hitting record and then ducking out of sight of the camera as it captures your shot,” says Thomas.

“One has to take elements into consideration on set and location that are more similar to the role of a choreographer than a traditional video director,” Mace adds. “Instead of guiding viewers’ attention using a frame, your work is allowing them to step through it.”

Though filming VR footage certainly has its challenges—especially with lighting—it also drives innovation.

“The advantage, I think, is that it truly gives us the freedom to break all the rules of traditional video and formulate our own specifically for 360°,” says Thomas. “Everything has to be approached differently but that gives a lot of room to be creative.”

The Application

From bringing viewers onto the shores of a serene beach to inserting them into the pack life of African wild dogs, there are an endless number of experiences that VR and 360° video can offer. But in order to work with this content, users need the right editing tools.

Mace and Thomas use Adobe Premiere to edit most of their content and After Effects with Mettle Skybox Studio for all of their VFX, titling, and graphics. They claim that Skybox Studio is “an absolute must” for processing 360° footage beyond basic editing.

Drachkovitch advises users to make sure they have plenty of computing power when they dive into virtual reality editing. However, he anticipates that more software options for working in 360° will soon appear on the market.

“I think we’ll start to see some more standards appear and more experimental applications,” he says. “As VR headsets hit the market this year, we expect to see more word of mouth enthusiasm around the space, more players in the content creator and production tools space, and lower costs for production.”

Thomas believes that big players will soon be embracing VR technology as a viable medium. “We are already hearing rumors of big Hollywood directors planning to shoot films specifically for VR,” he says. “I think it’s only a matter of time before it’s a go-to for all types of content and applications from advertising to journalism and entertainment.”

Recently, SubVRsive worked with the premium cable channel Showtime to provide a major boxing match in interactive 360° video—putting viewers smack-dab in the center of the ring. That’s just one example of an exciting application of VR by a major media player.

“While some have seen 360° video as a fad, I’m confident that it’s here to stay,” says Mace. “Cinema didn’t kill radio; TV didn’t kill cinema. The way we watch and what we watch will change, and I think we can expect to only see more stories be told in VR as tools and processes become more prominent.”

With 360° VR content now available as royalty-free stock through VideoBlocks, it’s now possible for anyone to try out this revolutionary format.

Experience Stock in 360°