What is the filming process like?
You have to ask yourself a lot of questions and always think ahead. You don’t know how the shot will come out because you don’t see it in realtime like you do in photography or regular film. You have to make an educated guess as to what makes a good shot and what doesn’t. You can’t frame something so you have to make sure that there is something mildly interesting to look at in all directions. Also everything gets in the shot so you have to be smart about where you position yourself. With some experience, you start to get a feel for it and recognizing good 360 opportunities. Bear in mind, those might be different shots from what might normally look good in regular 2D video.
Another thing you want to be thinking about is having one of the cameras always facing your subject to avoid having to deal with missing limbs or a floating head in post processing. That’s what I mean by thinking ahead. You also have to manually turn on all the cameras, check their settings to make sure they match and start and stop the recording (I’ve found that the wifi remote drains the battery too quickly). There are a lot of opportunities to mess up and I’ve made a lot of mistakes and had to scrap amazing shots, but it’s helped me develop a workflow.
What’s the editing/stitching process like? What programs do you use and how long does it take?
It takes ages! First you need to import your 6 mp4 clips (in my case because I use a 6 GoPro setup) into stitching software – the industry standard seems to be Kolor’s software which GoPro acquired. From there, you need to synchronize, stitch, stabilize and do some basic color correction. A lot of it is still manual and you need to go through and correct stitching errors. It’s difficult to optimize for both the foreground and background and it’s hard to get right (sometimes almost impossible without more advanced tools like After Effects).
I stick to 3 programs – Autopano Video Pro for stitching, Autopano Giga to mess around with control points and masks when the Autopano Video Pro doesn’t get the stitching right, and Premiere Pro for editing the individual clips together, adding music and making more customized adjustments.
The stabilization process takes quite some time and so does the rendering when you export. There’s a lot of waiting around for some steps to finish. For a short clip, you can expect to spend around 30 mins on it in the stitching phase. Some more complex ones in motion take even longer, but some of the issues I’ve described will soon become obsolete. Soon the software will get better and solve a lot of existing problems.
To give you an idea of how long this all takes, Coleman’s video had at least 20 different clips in it. I shot more and ended up not using a lot of them. If you spend at least 30 mins on each clip that brings you to 10 hours — That’s just the stitching! Then the editing process begins; this usually takes me a whole day working on-and-off. It’s a more creative process because this is where everything comes together and the storytelling begins.
NOTE: This was written when I was using a 6 go pro array. There are simpler workflows available now when using lower end cameras where the camera handles the stitching internally (at the cost of higher quality), or more straightforward manual stitching using 2 cameras instead of 6. Recently the insta360 pro came out which actually does 4k internal stitching – which is mind blowing at a ~3000$ price point
In Episode 7 I spend some time talking about stitching and camera placement for more details.