Google Filmmaker’s Insights Outline Path For Trailblazing 360 Video Creators

by Ian Hamilton • June 7th, 2016

Google’s recent developer conference delivered a treasure trove of useful insights and guidelines for people exporing VR. One of these 30-minute sessions we’re just digesting now was given by Jessica Brillhart, principal filmmaker for Google VR.

She’s worked at Google for more than 6 years, but about a year ago engineers gave Brillhart an early prototype Jump camera composed of 16 GoPros. The system captures 360 degrees of footage to be assembled, or stitched, using computer vision algorithms and cloud computing to crunch the information. The results are easily viewable on YouTube across practically all devices.

Brillhart is working at the core of Google’s dive into the VR market, helping guide one of the company’s most important properties into a new medium. She put together 750 shots over the course of a year representing more than 3 million frames of stitched footage. The volume of footage makes Brillhart one of VR’s most prolific filmmakers.

“Stitiching has always been this really annoying time suck for VR creators,” Brillhart said. “Being able to film and not worry about that process is a really big deal.”

The talk embedded above is well worth the watch, but if you don’t have the time here is a summary.

Reframe the world about points of interest

Brillhart noted traditional filmmakers may be threatened by VR because of the loss of framing, which is what defined movies for more than a century. In VR, someone can look wherever they want. Brillhart suggested that losing control of framing a scene is something for creators to embrace. Also, that a “shot” in VR needs to be thought of as a “world” instead, with likely “points of interest” sprinkled throughout each world. With potential for audio that can react to where your head is turned, those POIs can also be cued up using sound.

Cameras are made of people

Building on this first insight, VR filmmakers need to think of the camera as a person with an identity. How tall is this person? Is there a reason why the person is standing in a certain spot in the room? What relationship do the people in the scene have to the person?

A fascinating example Brillhart noted is some early footage produced from the engineering team working on Google’s stitching technology. It shows engineers walking back and forth and moving in and out through a 360-degree scene, laughing and smiling the whole time. Brillhart pointed out the engineers were proud of their creation, excited to see their hard work on the camera and stitching technology pay off. Their excitement is imbued upon the “visitor”, as Brillhart calls someone viewing the video in VR.

The world is flat

circles-google

Dots on a circle can represent points of interest in a 360-degree scene., almost like a map. Concentric circles can be used to represent a person moving through different scenes in an experience. Lining up the dots can make moving between the scenes less jarring.

Brillhart discussed several trippy ideas during the session, including concepts like the “multiverse” and the fact that she uses “crazy” circles to map out points of interest in a scene. It sounds a little far out at first, but it also makes a lot of sense too. When you think of the camera as a person and what you’re capturing as a world, with points of interest scattered throughout, then a flat circle with dots on it can function as a map of this particular world. Each dot is a point of interest in that world.

As a rudimentary form of VR editing, creators line up the points of interest from one world to the next. If done correctly, chances are the “visitor” went from looking at one interesting thing to another interesting thing. Without attempting to line up these “worlds” from one to another, when the transition happens the “visitor” might go from looking at something interesting to suddenly looking at something boring, which could be jarring.

The idea is that creators should try to understand a “visitor’s likely interaction with the world around them.”

Additional Insights

Near the end of her talk, Brillhart offered a brief comment about the value of this medium:

“In our lives we know ourselves and we are us. I mean, that’s just how it is. But in VR we can experience different ways of being and we can experience the world beyond ourselves and beyond the way we have evolved to perceive it.”

She talked about a solitary confinement experience as an example.

The insights are wrapped up by Brillhart with the simple idea that the “visitor” in VR is the storyteller now, and VR developers “are the makers of storytellers.”

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