There are two types of virtual reality movie – non-interactive, 360-degree videos, which allow you to look in any direction; and 3D-rendered VR environments that are much more immersive and responsive.
Needless to say, one is harder to create than the other.
In fact, you can shoot a 360-degree video surprisingly easily. The £300 Ricoh Theta S has a pair of 12 megapixel cameras (front and back) that can record up to 25 minutes of full HD footage. It’s basic stuff and there’s no screen on the Theta S, so you can’t see what you’re shooting. But there’s no cheaper way to get started with VR-friendly video.
Import what you shoot onto a PC, convert the MOV to an MP4 file and you can then upload it to YouTube for easy viewing.
Shooting in 360 degrees (in 4K)
The £340 Kodak SP360 4K Action Cam is a step up, but you’ll need two of them mounted back-to-back to shoot true 360-degree content. While the Theta S shoots in a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, the SP360 can capture its surroundings in Ultra HD (3840 x 2160 pixels at 30fps in 16:9). Although for 360-degree shoots, the maximum resolution is actually slightly lower at 2880 x 2880 at 30fps.
Obviously, the more cameras you have, the better the results will be. GoPro Hero cameras are proving popular for making VR videos, but to capture a full 360-degree movie you’ll need to use six of them. Thankfully, there are a numerous rigs available for just this purpose, enabling you to mount multiple GoPros together.
Going pro with a GoPro rig
The 360Heros PRO7 GoPro VR Rig, for example, is designed to hold seven GoPros – a circle of five cameras with another mounted on the top and the last one on the bottom. Need more lenses? The £600 Bestablecam Gp10 Vr 360° Panorama Mount Rig holds ten, while the Gp14 Vr 360° Panorama Mount Rig has space for 14.
The GoPro Odyssey goes two better. It’s an all-in-one VR rig that packs in 16 synchronized HERO4 Black cameras capable of capturing content in 8K30 video. It works with Google’s new Jump Assembler, which can stitch the 16 individual GoPro streams into a stunning stereoscopic VR movie.
By this point, we’re at the pro end of the virtual reality video market. It’s here that you’ll find customised solutions like HypeVR’s rig that consists of 14 Red Dragon cameras capable of capturing 6K video at up to 90fps. Or Nokia’s OZO, a ball-shaped device that features eight, synchronised, 2K x 2K sensors. The Pete’s Dragon VR flyover video below was shot using it.
What about true virtual reality movies?
But as we said right at the beginning of this piece, there are two types of virtual reality movie and two very different ways to shoot them.
With a 360-degree video, there’s still a disconnect between viewer and content. Even with a VR headset on, you know you’re watching a video. True VR movies, however, will have the power to transport you into the centre of the movie, making you feel as though you are standing in the middle of the virtual world, viewing it the way you choose.
These experiences are far more complicated to create. Eric Darnell’s animated VR short Invasion! took four months to complete, using a mix of high-end CG tools like Maya and Unreal. While the Penrose Studios-produced Allumette was built for positional-tracking headsets, allowing you to physically lean in closer or to view the story from any angle.
You don’t shoot a true virtual reality movie. You build it.
Watch the best VR movies with a SAPPHIRE VR-Ready graphics card.