8 Tips to Making a Knock-Out VR Film

— March 16, 2018

Virtual Reality has been around for over half a century. It’s a time constantly punctuated by false dawns. “Virtual Reality is going to change our lives” is something I’ve heard again and again since what feels like the dawn of my professional existence.

But with significant technological advances in the past couple of years, could VR about to go from a wondrous pipedream to everyday reality? Mark Zuckerberg certainly thinks so, and so do we for that matter. We’ve spent the last year literally immersing ourselves in the technology’s potential and developing our own capabilities (our first big VR project is in currently in post-production).

But how should marketers think about VR when it comes to video?

Well, the first thing to say is that the technology presents brands with a HUGE opportunity to engage with audiences in a new way. VR is scientifically proven to affect brain waves in a different way, stirring more emotions (and we all know the power of those!). With that in mind, here’s our essential tips to get you started.

8 Tips to Making a Knock-Out VR Film

Tip 1 – Let Go

The first thing to get your head around the VR is that the viewer is ultimately in control. You can direct them and use clever techniques to develop a narrative, but ultimately the viewer controls the frame, looking where they want to look. So in terms of traditional advertising techniques, well quite honestly forget it. This is about creating immersive stories and landscapes that will generally interest viewers. Your brand should quite simply be an enabler of this. But fear not, that in itself can be very powerful!

Tip 2 – Immerse Yourself

Stories that work in a traditional film, may simply fall flat in VR. In virtual reality location is character. You need to think of locations and stories that will genuinely be interesting as an immersive experience for viewers. Picture yourself being transported into a scene. Is it an interesting place to look around? To explore? What actions would bring it to life? A beautiful sunset, for example, might make for an incredible shot in a traditional film, but by itself as an immersive experience its likely to fall flat.

Tip 3 – Rehearse Rehearse Rehearse

When it comes to making a VR film, there are actually many parallels with stage and theatre production. Actions need to be carefully designed and choreographed, playing out in real time. And once the performance begins there is no possibility to stop halfway through. For this reason, rehearsals are all important. Lots of them. This is likely to lengthen production time, particularly prior to filming, and also increase costs vs a standard video production.

Tip 4 – Beware of Movement

Be aware that camera movement can make viewers feel sick. Because viewers are immersed in an environment but in their real world they are sitting (or standing) still, camera movements can confuse their body causing motion sickness. In very small doses, such as one very short scene in a film, it can be effective, but should be avoided most of the time.

Tip 5 – Post-production, but not as we know it

The “edit” is actually one of the more simpler aspects of producing a VR film. Long takes, where scenes play out in real time, means there is little need for “creative editing”. But some of the other aspects of post-production take on added significance. Creative sound design is absolutely crucial, helping fully immerse viewers into a scene. Sound is also a key tool in driving narrative. For example in our latest film, we wanted viewers to look at a photo that was being taken out of a bag by a character. We switched out the rucksack to a plastic bag so the sound of rustling plastic caught the attention of viewers and motivated them to look in the direction of the photo.

Another important aspect of post-production is the process of painting out objects that you don’t want in your scene. Because VR has a complete 360 field of view, on set there is literally no hiding place. So its almost inevitable you will need to spend time removing lights, other equipment, and even crew!

8 Tips to Making a Knock-Out VR Film

Tip 6 – Make sure you know who’s watching

Think about how your audience are going to see the film. The most impactful way to view VR is through a headset, but not everyone owns an Oculus Rift or Vive. Make sure you pair your VR experience with a Facebook 360, Littlstar, or YouTube 360 campaign; without at least one of those, a limited number of people will see your content. (Those platforms offer a VR version of your content, which is meant to be viewed with goggles, but also offer a web version in which viewers can use their mouse to turn their perspective.) An immersive VR experience can also be a hugely effective tool to use at events where brands have direct contact with potential customers.

Tip 7 – Use trusted providers

This is a new technology. So in many ways, everyone is learning, and the technology itself is developing at an incredible rate. But VR filmmaking has some very particular challenges, which if your supplier doesn’t have a proper understanding and experience of, will likely mean your project will end in failure. At Aspect for example, we spent 9 months of endless testing and practice shoots before we even went near a commercial project. I can’t even imagine starting a project without this knowledge in the bank, so make sure your supplier is experienced in immersive filmmaking and hasn’t just purchased an affordable VR camera and thinks they can jump in!

Tip 8 – Opportunity Knocks

Fundamentally this technology is something to get really excited about. Like with any new technology or channel, by embracing it early enough, you will give yourself an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and do something that feels fresh and innovative. So don’t wait, give it a go!

8 Tips to Making a Knock-Out VR Film

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