New Media, New Narratives - 360° Test Project Part 1

The forms in which we present visual media are changing all the time. From the development of 3D, to 360 degree cameras becoming more commercially available, and the evolving world of virtual reality. This opens up a whole range of new options for writers to create worlds, characters and narratives that don't fall into a traditional film or television frame. To be able to do this however a writer first needs to understand what is different about the medium in order to properly target their work towards it. In this post, and future ones, I will be looking at 360 degree films for use in live action narrative fiction storytelling. This will be done through the process of creating my own live action narrative using 360 degree stagecraft for 360 degree live action film. I have embarked upon a project to remediate (Bolter and Grusin, 2000) The Great Zoltar from the movie Big (1988). The plan is to place a 360 degree camera where the fortune tellers head would normally be so the audience see things as if from the machines point of view. One of the limitations of live action 360 degree video is that the camera is in a locked position. You can mount it on a moving platform but this can cause motion sickness when viewed through a headset. This is because the movement is not controlled by the viewer, so they will try and go one way but will be dragged another. Because of this static camera position the audience cannot physically move around the space, they can only change where, and what, they are looking at from their stationary position. The concept of mounting the camera in a Zoltar machine is to make this part of the narrative. The machine is fixed, it cannot move, this makes it feel less like a limitation and more part of the experience. The concept of 360 degree stagecraft goes back to the original theatre in the round concept that was popular in ancient Greece. The audience sat around the stage, thus limiting what props could be used on the stage as if they were too large, or too numerous it would block the audience's vision of the performance. In 360 degree stagecraft rather than sitting around the stage, the audience are in the centre of it. They can see in a sphere around that central point, meaning that if rigging, lighting or crew are in the room they can be seen. Unlike in traditional filmmaking when you can hide these things behind the frame, so to speak. This is a challenge when shooting live action 360 video as you need to ensure it is lit well, so the audience can see everything, but you can't have any lights in shot as it will drag the viewer out of the experience and ruin the immersion.

To get around this you either need to use a process called clean plating, where you shoot with your rigging and lights etc. in place, then again without them, and superimpose one image over the other to remove them in post. Or you hide equipment in shot, so it cannot be seen by the camera, such as behind shelves or around corners. Which method you choose to use depends on your location, your camera, and what shots you require and would have to be weighed up for each shoot.

In a later post I will be looking at cameras, audio and some elements of editing 360° footage. Bibliography

  • Big (1988) Directed by Penny Marshall [Film]. United States: 20th Century Fox.

  • Bolter, J.D. and Gruisin, R. (2000) Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge Massachusetts/London: MIT Press.

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