This work began as an attempt to understand the underlying principles of 360 video that give editors an idea of how to edit. Taking both analytical and pragmatic approach revealed greater generalities in the analytical side of things, which eventually became a proper definition of the space this type of storytelling exists in: immersive storytelling.
For the principle work, stuck in spheres, the objectives set forth were the following:
Examine and explain the operating principles behind immersive storytelling.
Serve as a guide for those interested in creating 360 videos. To answer questions regarding how to approach, think about, and analyze spherical video storytelling.
At the end of the day, this work is about understanding storytelling.
This work has successfully completed both of these missions, although there is a lot left to do.
Summary Of Findings
A brief summary of the findings:
Audience Experience Driven Analysis
The heart of this thesis is analyzing a medium from the perspective of audience experience. Many analytical methods for understanding stories - from film theory to narratology models to game design principles - are ill suited to help creators understand immersive storytelling. "Understanding" means being able to analyze a story, shot, scene, or sequence, and come to intelligent and supportable conclusions as to why something does or does not work.
This approach risks being too abstract or too general, but in the end, with appropriate assumptions, it was shown to be an effective perspective that achieved otherwise inaccessible insight.
The Space Of Immersive Storytelling
This work defined 'Immersive Storytelling' as a type of storytelling with interactivity in the "telling" of the story, but not interactivity in the "story" itself. This loose and broad definition may need further refinement but serves well to cover not just a variety of storytelling possibilities through emerging mediums, but other established mediums that may share traits with immersive stories.
360 Video Concepts and Tools
The section, 'Stuck In Spheres' was divided roughly into two sections, why to do things and how to do them - concept and theory. The concept, primarily centered on the audiences perceived role, their relationship to a story, their engagement, and utilizing tension and curiosity in a variety of ways to channel 'where' and the audience looks to where we want.
The tool section may be, at first glance, the weakest. Considering how this entire work originally was to only be a tool section - an examination of 360 video editing primitives - there is less here than there could have been. I focused on fundamental issues: blocking, cutting, and points of interest.
It would be useful to look into additional UI controls that let a user navigate native spherical video while being quite lazy, or to allow 360 content to be more accessible to those with physical impairments.
This work did not consider content designed for users explicitly in certain postures or environments. What about a 360 "superman" flying experience that asks you to lie on your stomach, or lie on your back and watch stars/clouds overhead? How can audience proprioception and physical situation be utilized to support a narrative?
One assumption I worked off of is to avoid the poles of 360 video. I did not really look into the nature of using up/down head positions. I observe that craning one's neck up or down for extended periods of time is uncomfortable. Video near the poles tends to be of the worst quality due to stitching artifacts and/or the nature of equirectangular projection. The nadir also tend to be where the camera stand is visible. I recently stood in front of a large group of VR artists (beginning a 360 video assignment) and confidently told them to "cover up your sphincters!". The "floor sphincter's" (nadir) or "ceiling sphincter's" (zenith) are the poles of the video. Covering them up includes putting black disks or logos at the poles. I stand by that claim, as a rule-of-thumb. I am very excited to be proven wrong by an awesome, neck-craning, experience.
As mentioned in the introduction, this work does not explore adaptive mediums, and future research into this space is exciting and full of potential.
As a rough "language" of norms and codified signals continue to develop slowly over time amongst audiences, it would be a worthwhile effort to identify and write these down. Not just as a resource for creators, but it may be very interesting to watch it evolve and change. In the past 12 months, I have seen 360 Videos language evolve, taking more risks and utilizing more camera movement. An examination of this would be fascinating.
This thesis presents a new perspective to help analyze stories, but other models for understanding storytelling are not replaced. If the story doesn't work for narrative reasons than one should adopt a narrative lens to analyze them with. This work defines and offers an audience-experience based approach, a toolkit of sorts, for analyzing immersive media and coming to conclusions about why and how an immersive medium may or may not be working.
360° Video is examined in great detail, and this work hopefully removes the mystery, confusion, or doubt that one may have in telling a story with this medium. Many of the insights presented here are not obvious, yet not particularly advanced. I hope this removes the barriers of entry one may have before approaching a 360 film, even if this barrier is just a mental "but I don't know how it works?"
By working from top-down principles, and breaking apart the underlying logic powering each piece of advice, this work will remain reasonably bulletproof to the path and developments that 360° video take. If things go a different way than I predict, then my underlying assumptions are incorrect or there are uncounted for scenarios and situations.
There will be, of course, exceptions. I hope so. If one sticks with just what was presented here while making 360° videos, then more complex or more involved films won't be possible.
I also consider many cases in isolation. As these different tools conflict and compound on one another, then decisions need to be made. Cut to favor blocking, timing, or flow of head movement? These are the types of decisions that editors make constantly while putting together traditional films, and the same is here. I made few recommendations towards particular conflicting situations, but I trust that by understanding the logic that leads one to choose one creative avenue or another, one is at least making these decisions with more insight and craft.
360° Video is here. It is here today, on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo. I urge creators to grab their tools and start making things. With the mystery of it gone, I hope, a creator can start watching films with a critical eye and get a sense for what does and does not work, developing their own intuition and approach to this medium.
360° Video has been shown as a "VR" category at film festivals and similar environments. I implore creators to not worry too much about the festival circuit, so to speak. Financial concerns aside, 360 video exists on distribution platforms that provide the playback engine technology (YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo). Embrace these platforms! Videos on them tend to be short and tend to be watched in isolation. Audiences are frequently forgiving of technical execution and expensive-gear-driven shot possibilities. Many videos that do well stand on community and authenticity.
360° Video is right down this alley. Viewing alone? No other options. Short videos? Don't want to get nauseous. Authenticity? What better a way to get to authentic life experiences than a medium that gives us that sense of "being there"?
It may seem paradoxical that I spent this entire thesis trying to raise 360° video up, in craft, as high as I could; only to conclude on a call to action that embraces a less technical execution. You aren't wrong, but another way of thinking is this: I have been trying as hard as I can to get rid of any excuse not to try creating in 360 video. With the conceptual, the technical, and - I hope - the perception of distribution barriers. There is no need to try to take a huge risk or assemble a budget and make something that will blow everyone away. Relax. It costs nothing to put a video on YouTube, and consumer level 360 video cameras are already fairly cheap.
All that stands in your way between making a great 360 video is some experimentation, some iteration, and having a story to tell.
Let's go tell some stories.