Storyboarding in 360°

Originally published by Christophe Merkle. Article reposted with permission.

One difficult aspect in cinematic VR is planning the shots. In conventional films (also known as ‘flatties’), some filmmakers use storyboards. These contain multiple frames on one page. Each frame usually contains a drawing that describes how the shot should look like. The crew gets important information about what happens in this frame, what is the shot size, etc. Additionally, we get information about which shot comes before and after, so we have an idea of how the final film could look like.

Create worlds, not frames.

In cinematic VR, 360° films or spherical films, we do not have different shot sizes and camera angles. The viewer decides where he wants to look. He or she is not an observer of the medium as in ‘flatties’, he’s a participant. So we should, in my opinion, not create frames and try to guide the observer, we should instead create worlds and let them discover stories. He or she participates in a reality that is virtual and therefore can change in a blink of an eye. This means, that we should consider everything that happens in the world in the storyboard. Maybe even change the word storyboard into ‘worldboard’ or ‘sphereboard’.

Together with the researcher Stefan Fraefel from the CC Visual Narrative of the University of Applied Sciences of Lucerne, we tried to find new ways of how to conceptualize a scene in 360° in order to better communicate the planned scene with crew members. We have seen interesting articles like Andrew Leitch’s Article on 360° storyboarding and, of course, from Jessica Brillhart ❤. We would like to take these ideas further.

I am going to show you our experiments with the help of one scene from a fictional 360° film that I co-realized with the help of the Swiss National Television (SRF) team. The name of the film is Inspector Crazy Schuss & Kuss.

The first scene goes from the beginning until 03:36. This scene contains a lot of steps to remember for the actors and needed a lot of rehearsing. Therefore, it is very important that the director sees the whole scene in his head in 360° — like mental VR View — so he can clearly express what kind of performance he wants from the actors.

One key element for creating variations in the mise-en-scène and visualization could be drawing the scene or, if you have the budget, to go on the location and rehearse or improvise for days until you created something interesting. In our case, we were all for the first time in this warehouse and had only three hours to shoot the whole scene.

I will explain the reason why the scene is so long and shot only from one point of view in another blog entry.

To visualize the scene, I did following quick sketch:

Translation from left to right: Moped, Hostage, Camera, Muscle Camera, shut down motor, long explosion

Translation from left to right: Moped, Hostage, Camera, Muscle Camera, shut down motor, long explosion

While this sketch is very basic, it helped me to visualize the scene. I could explain to the director and actors how I wished to block the scene and how they should move around the 360° camera. This sketch, however, needs my explanation and can not be shared with other people without it. Otherwise more confusion would be created.

Shooting Inspector Crazy Schuss & Kuss. The Crew was 1 director 1 A.D. & “spherotographer” (me), 1 sound engineer, 4 actors and one intern

Shooting Inspector Crazy Schuss & Kuss. The Crew was 1 director 1 A.D. & “spherotographer” (me), 1 sound engineer, 4 actors and one intern

To be able to share it without having to explain, the sketch should contain more information about the environment. Stefan and I tried to find a new way to draw this with perspective. Stefan learned draughtsman and showed me a new technique from this field. It’s called isometric drawing

Template created by Stefan. It will be shared soon

Template created by Stefan. It will be shared soon

Then you need transparent paper and you can start drawing the scene by putting the transparent paper over the template. I found it helpful to draw different layers. For these, I used the script which was not much different than a theatre script and numbered the steps or story beats. We were influenced by a storyboard from Syd Cain. He drew an action scene for 007 “Goldeneye” and integrated several steps in one big frame.

Bond by Design ( 2015, p.238) Drawing by Syd Cain for 007 Goldeneye

Bond by Design ( 2015, p.238) Drawing by Syd Cain for 007 Goldeneye

Here is a quick sketch of all the steps from the first scene of Inspector Crazy drawn on transparent paper

Then you could do multiple layers on top of each other. For example, one for the set department or one for technical department. This could be where you can put the multiple cameras, hide the crew or place the different Microphones. See this example below. You could even draw the estimated entry and the exit points from the viewer

Another example with multiple layers drawn on transparent paper that could be placed on top of each other:

Translation: Level 1 could be for set design, level 2 for the acting and level 3 for technical placement

Translation: Level 1 could be for set design, level 2 for the acting and level 3 for technical placement

An alternative for storyboarding in 360° could be the App ShotPro. You can recreate the scenes really fast using 3D objects and models. Then you can set the same FOV of a GoPro and you can see the scene from this point of view and rotate the camera. This app has been developed for ‘flatties’ but if enough people would ask them for VR support then maybe they’d consider integrating it.

Inspector Crazy Schuss & Kuss planed with the ShotPro app

Inspector Crazy Schuss & Kuss planed with the ShotPro app

I have seen another cool solution from the team of Ben Wheatley. In his new movie called Free Fire, they planned their super long warehouse action scene in Minecraft and created storyboards afterwards. That’s pretty impressive.

Penrose Studios developed a luxury solution named maestro. This solution is more made for animation films, but imagine a similar concept with the help of 360° pictures or even videos.

While there are a lot of different solutions for this, I guess the best thing is to try things out and adapt it for your project. The best thing to do, in my opinion, in fictional cinematic VR right now would be planning the shot however you like and just shoot it. Then stitch and let the whole crew experience it with a Head Mounted Display (HMD). Finally, talk about it and redo the whole planning and shooting process. I think that it would help to create 360° Experiences that are truly made for this medium if the whole crew has seen the result on a HMD. Therefore every crew member is better able to abstract the planned scene from a drawing and know the difference between watching a film and experiencing a 360° film. Right now we still are on a very early stage of the medium and not a lot of people have seen 360° films and even less so on a HMD. So they have difficulties to abstract drawings and scripts. With this new medium we have to rethink everything that we learned and think works on flatties and start from zero. The more experience someone has in flatty-filmmaking, the more difficult it will be to transition to spherical filmmaking. A good example of flatty thinking punched into a spherical medium is the series “Invisible” by Jaunt.

Of course, it is possible to do a transition, but that effort is usually underestimated by people. So a constant reminder, that the project is not flat, it’s spherical has to be set. At this stage of VR, I have set the following quote next to my screen:

“Everything I do today, is wrong tomorrow.” — Quba Michalski

So could be this article. Let me know how you plan your shots in 360° and we could take this idea further together and create something that lasts. Thanks for reading.

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Thanks you to Christophe for allowing us to repost this great article. Christophe is a backer of the OSSIC X, and an avid cinematic VR filmmaker. You can check out more of his work on his website at http://christophemerkle.com/

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