In the next phase of Facebook and Semi-Permanent’s storytelling challenge, Australian director Alex Smith has tackled Facebook 360 video in a claustrophobic and bizarre piece called Server Room Symphony inspired by the famous artwork by Dan Winters. B&T had the (scary) pleasure of sitting down with Smith and Rebecca Carrasco, head of Facebook’s Creative Shop, to talk about 360 video.
Watch 360 video on mobile to get the full effect. 360 videos on Facebook 360 isn’t viewable on Safari or Internet Explorer, use Chrome or Firefox.
“I get very sentimental about old, beautiful things that really won’t get made like that ever again because people don’t make those things anymore,” Smith explained the inspiration behind the piece. “The Dan Winters image reminds me of when friend grab me and force me into a photo booth, along with whomever else was nearby.
“It’s the sense of desperately trying not to obscure each other’s faces, holding our breath and trying not to crush whoever was stuck at the bottom of the pile. It’s a response to that sense of obsolete technology, claustrophobic room and the flash.
“It’s supposed to be nightmarish, but that’s why it’s funny.”
“You’re constructing an experience instead of a linear story,” Rebecca Carrasco head of Facebook’s Creative Shop (Australia and New Zealand) added. “There is so much more perceived control over a linear narrative, but it really is just thinking about the narrative as an experience which Alex did beautifully.”
You do have to let the user loose in the experience, but there are definitely ways and means of triggering people to move in a certain direction. See Facebook’s 360 tips below.
“One of the biggest challenges with this format is ‘why take it to 360?’ What difference is there going to be in the way you tell this story that gives you a reason for taking it to 360 as opposed to a linear narrative. That’s what we love so much about this idea because it has a reason to put you in the middle. The experience builds as you look around.” Carrasco added.
Before filming the Server Room Symphony Smith had to leave behind a lot of his assumptions about shooting 360 video. “There’s a lot of preconceptions with 360 that I had to drop, for example ‘I think the sound will make people look’, but a lot of people won’t look for the noise. The idea is you get rewarded for looking around, it’s a bit like opening an advent calendar.”
“The idea is that a noise is connected to each one of the things that’s going,” Carrasco said. “We’re hoping that people watch it a few times because it’s a lovely piece of film, and the idea is you’re looking to find the origin of where all this noise comes from.”
Smith has three pieces of advice for creatives venturing into 360: “Think of it like theatre and why would people want to watch it. In a way you can’t just think ‘this would be a cool shot’ the whole thing is one cool shot, there needs to be a reason to motivate people to watch it. I think that’s fantastic for being inspired to make interesting content. It really relies on your ideas.
“Also, you’re a lot further way from your subject then you think. Because it’s extreme wide angle lenses.”
For Smith, 360 presents a new way of creating immersive content. “The novelty of the format is to just look all over the place, but once we get through that phase people will settle in and it will be fantastic. The ultimate thing would be people having an involuntary response to looking around, following the story because it’s interesting and because you care.”
Facebook’s top tips for 360:
Selecting the camera placement is one of your first critical decisions. Where you place the camera is where you place the viewer. Consider where the camera placement will best capture your story. What is happening in front, around and behind? What is compelling about seeing a 360 image in the world you are capturing?
Explore or Direct:
While a viewer can look in any direction, you need to seriously consider where do you want them to look? Depending on the story you are telling, you may want them to look in a certain direction at a certain moment. Or you may want them to explore and look in any direction at any moment. There is no right answer and beautiful examples of both. Making the decision in advance will help you tell the story you want to tell.
Make sure to give your viewer a moment to understand the world in which you have placed them. Since you are not sure where they will look for the first few seconds, be sure to give them time to orient and not miss the action.
Look This Way:
If you want the viewer to focus on a particular action be sure to keep the canvas uncluttered and allow them time to realize where the action is. Once you have their attention, purposeful choreography will allow you to keep it.
Stabilize the Camera:
Rapid movement in an un-stabilized situation gives people motion sickness. Whether on a selfie stick, a tripod, the side of car or the cockpit of the Blue Angeles, secure the camera so that it does not shake, drift or roll.
Honour the Horizon Line:
When there is a horizon line, keep it steady. This manages the viewer’s equilibrium, shifting it around can give the feeling of being on a boat and can make one sick.
Abrupt and quick cuts are very jarring. The editing techniques we are accustom to don’t always work well in 360. Gentle cuts with the subjects of a scene at a distance are the least disturbing. When the action is very close to camera, the abrupt cut can increase dizziness and story disorientation.
Bye Bye 4th Wall:
When capturing content with a 360 rig, there is no such thing as “behind the camera”. Monitors, lighting and crew need to make other arrangements. Cleverly lighting your scene with real-life elements can help.
Finding the right placement for the camera so that people do not look warped (string bean body and watermelon head) can be tricky. Experiment! We have found putting camera at mid chest height can minimize this.
Shooting Direct to Camera:
Looking straight down the barrel of the lens has much more intensity in 360. Acknowledging the viewer this way can give the feeling of intimacy and closeness the way a close-up shot does in a 2D frame. Playing with this can be a powerful storytelling tool.
If the sound track is 50 per cent of a good 2D video, it’s importance is even greater in 360. Sound cues the viewer to action happening or about to happen. Sound is one of your greatest creative tools to help guide the viewer’s gaze in the sphere and provide a rich immersive experience.
Working with Drones:
Go for it. Shooting 360 footage with drones can be gorgeous. Be sure to keep the horizon line stable and be high enough in the sky that the movement of the camera is gentle and not racing. When you get too close to the subject or the ground it can be induce motion sickness.
Graphics and Text:
Adding graphics and text can be helpful and add stabilizing orientation points. Remember to add the text in the 4 quadrants of the sphere since you can’t be sure where the viewer is looking. Also, if they are too low or too high in the frame they may go unnoticed by a viewer who does not tilt up or down often.
Since cutting can be jarring, you can use distance to your advantage, the way a cast on the stage does. When particular action needs attention, coming closer to the camera can get the attention of a viewer.
Don’t Forget the Ground:
Often times the video starts when the phone is looking at the ground. Be sure to think about what is at the feet of the viewer in the screen and use it to communicate that there is a world of action happening above, in 360.