In February 2015, we began experimenting with spherical video content creation. This is the video we wished we had when we were starting out:
Want to try for yourself? Download our 360 Video Practice Pack:
360 video (often referred to as 'spherical' or 'VR' video) is basically a video recording in which footage from every direction is recorded at the same time.
A year ago, we began to get excited about producing 3D 360 video. Instead of dipping our toes in, we decided to jump in head first. The gear list included the following:
- A custom 3D-printed rig from 360Heros
- 14 GoPro 3+ Silver cameras
- Kolor Autopano Video and Giga stitching software
After a lot of experimentation and time with the software, we successfully created some 3D 360 content to mess around with. It was incredibly immersive to consume spherical video in 3D! But man, was it time-consuming.
After a few goes at stitching footage from 14 cameras, we shifted to a simpler, non-3D setup that required half of the cameras. While this footage wasn't quite as immersive, it was still an awesome way for us to start experimenting with producing and sharing 360 video content.
During a recent Hackathon, we created a beta version of a 360 Wistia video player. Here's the video we made to launch it internally!
The 360 player is a beta feature, and is best viewed in Chrome.
Gear and setup for shooting 360 videos
We picked up this 7-camera 360 rig from 360 Heroes. We also set ourselves up for success with some simple hacks:
- We bought this 8-port USB hub so we could charge the GoPros without taking them out of the rig.
- We labeled our cameras to keep everything organized.
- We used text files on our SD cards to indicate which card corresponded with which camera.
Sync or sink. Shooting with seven GoPros.
Successful spherical stitching begins with synced up cameras. When those puppies are even a few frames off, all hell breaks loose. That's why we record at the highest frame rate we can on the GoPro 3+ Silvers—60 frames per second. This provides us with more flexibility in post-production to get to a true sync point between the cameras.
Instead of clicking record on each camera, we use a GoPro WiFi remote. Before you get too excited about this efficient solution, I should mention that this remote triggering resulted in slightly out of sync cameras (5-10 frames on average).
As soon as the cameras start to record, we always give a solid clap as a sync point. This tiny trick is a game changer.
Expert tip: Before shooting, eyeball the front LCD panel on the cameras to make sure the settings all match. One bad camera will ruin your entire stitch.
Want to talk resolution? I thought you might. The sensor on a GoPro has a 4:3 aspect ratio. When you shoot 16:9 at 720p or 1080p resolutions, you're not utilizing the full size of the sensor, which results in cropping off some of the shot. So we shoot at 960p to utilize the entire GoPro sensor.
Mounting and camera placement
In order to use our regular tripod for shoots, I bought this add-on aluminum extension that screws into the rig. The angle of the hole makes mounting the camera a bit tricky, so we prefer to use a ball-mounted tripod head to compensate for any strange angles.
For best stitching results:
- Position the GoPro rig so that the majority of the cameras are flush with the horizon.
- Make sure your main points of action are directly in front of a lens (not between two cameras).
Here comes the beast—turning all of your footage into a 360 spherical stitch.
1. Take each SD card out of its camera and transfer the footage into folders labeled according to camera numbers.
2. Import the folders of footage into Adobe Premiere, and get the clips perfectly in sync. I rely on the audio from the cameras to make sure everything is perfectly lined up. I listen for my clap, use that as the in point, and drag it right into a new sequence.
3. Play all the sequences together to make sure everything sounds in sync.
4. Export each camera's angle individually.
5. Drag all of the perfectly synced files into Autopano Video.
6. Allow this magical software to automatically analyze each camera angle and stitch together an equirectangular projection (try dropping that term at your next dinner party).
7. Double click the stitch to open up Autopano Giga for some fine-tuning. Tweak to your heart's content.
8. Save your project in Giga, then export your stitched video from Autopano Video at the maximum resolution that h.264 can handle—4096 x 2048.
9. Follow steps 1–8 for all of your shots and any time you moved the rig position.
10. Bring all of your stitched shots into Premiere to edit them as you would with any other video—trim, reorder, add music, and export using the same settings as you did in Autopano.
11. Voila! Upload your equirectangular mp4 file to Wistia.
12. Once it's processed, head into Customize, and click the box labeled "360 degree video" in the Controls tab. Note: You must enable 360 video in the Beta Features section of your Wistia account for this option to appear.
13. Sit back and enjoy your 360 spherical video. Bonus: You can right click the player and select 4K, if you want to watch in the highest quality possible.
Benefits and limitations of the Ricoh Theta S
Now that we've gone through all of that… I'd like to introduce you to my little friend: the Ricoh Theta S.
This new camera shoots spherical video with two 180 lenses. That's five less lenses than our previous setup. And get this: The stitching is all automated with their included easy-to-use software or mobile app.
You might be thinking to yourself, "Why is Chris still bothering with that space-age GoPro rig thingy?".
One word—Resolution. The Ricoh Theta S is only capable of capturing 360 video at 1080p, while the GoPro rig can shoot resolutions even higher than 4k. This extra resolution will contribute to a more immersive experience that feels sharper and more realistic.
The short story: Robots will soon take over. Seriously though, it's only a matter of time before 360 video tech catches up and starts introducing higher-resolution image capture.
Go forth and explore
It's hard to keep track of all the new technology around 360 spherical video, but I promise you this: If there's a new gadget that I can get my hands on, I'll mess around with it and report back. We hope you'll do the same!
We're excited to hear about all the novel ways that businesses begin using this immersive medium. If you're geeking out as hard as we are about 360 video, we'd love to hear your ideas, questions, or suggestions in the comments.
Share links, ask questions, call out how wrong my workflow was… send me down a rabbit hole because this 360 stuff got me like: