The story behind creating Virtual Reality of airshows and aerobatic training in 360 video
Author: Scott Nebeker
Every field needs to be shaken-up from time-to-time. History has repeatedly shown this. If something stops developing or changing, it'll become irrelevant (or worse, quaint).
Two things that prove that point are immensely important but go equally unnoticed by most.
First is the field of Astronomy. You can break down the entire goal of the field to one thing: to look up and wonder.
What plays out in our sky is the grandest, most breathtaking thing we have. It has literally shaped humanity into what we are. One simple proof of that is to look at the flags of the world's nations. How many have stars on them? How many have constellations or the sun? Break that down into provinces or states. How many of those have celestial representations?
The sky is us. We've written our history there and because of the shake-ups in that field, we now know that Orion's sheathed sword is actually a stellar nursery where stars and planets are being born right now.
People like Giordano Bruno, shook-up the field with his vision of a vast and infinite universe and paved the way for Galileo to shake it up again just a generation later by showing that there need not be belief because it was all there for anyone willing to look up and make observations.
Astronomy is chock-full of ground-shaking people and ideas. There are big names that we all know, people like Galileo Galilei and Edwin Hubble get most of the attention but there are less known names like Katherine Johnson and (a personal favorite) Henrietta Leavitt. Katherine’s work on orbital mechanics is still used by most space agencies/companies. Henrietta's classification of stars enables us to measure our distance to faraway galaxies.
Another example of a field that has seen it's shake-ups is right beneath our feet and I mean that in the most literal way.
I've sometimes wondered, why do we cover our feet? Evolution has given us these incredible, spring-loaded feet that are so fine-tuned and balanced that losing something so seemingly trivial as a pinky toe can completely destabilize a person, forcing them to learn a new way to walk.
(I imagine most shake-ups in footwear starting with the word: "ouch!")
We've taken that field from woven stands of plant material to some of the most advanced synthetic materials ever conceived of by mankind. Aside from your mobile device, your shoes are most likely the most technologically advanced things you have with you every day.
So where does that leave us? What's my point?
I've taken us from the awakening and growth of humanity to pinky toes but we're really here to talk video.
I can make my point with two words as the keystones: "experience" and "experiential."
Our ancestors would sit down at the end of a long day, take off there sandals and tell the stories written in the sky. While nobody actually experienced those stories (they're all myth), they were told in a way that was experiential to the listener. They used their imaginations to feel what the storyteller wanted them to feel.
This happens now just as it did then. In the videos we create, we are the storytellers. The only major change is in HOW we tell the stories.
Right now, the primary method of how we consume stories, via video, is through watching someone else experience something. Yes, it can be experiential but very rarely. That's because we're stuck at the whim of the person holding the camera (or cameras). We're simply not allowed to take-in the entire scene.
Think of it like this: What if you didn't want to look at what the camera is showing?
That's where watching an experience no longer cuts it for certain things. There are subjects that simply deserve to be experiential. There are things better served by releasing the camera to the viewer and THAT is where 360° cameras come to play.
I can demonstrate this with my own work. These two videos are of the exact same thing. They were filmed simultaneously (in fact, we chose the pilots sunglasses to make it less apparent which camera he's looking at). One is standard video with me choosing what you see and when you see it. The other is completely up to you. YOU choose what you see because it's done with a 360° camera (it's done with a Vuze+ camera so it's actually 3D as well).
360° 3D version filmed with Vuze+:
In the first, you're seeing what the pilot is experiencing and through years of training and experimenting I’ve learned how to do that in a way that is engaging and MIGHT make it experiential for you.
In the second, it's totally different. It's me, as the storyteller, totally stepping out of the way and giving you total control. It's far more visceral and it lets you not just watch him experience it, you experience it with him. That video is far more experiential and is something that I simply cannot compete with using standard video. I have the numbers across all major platforms. They're not even close. The 360° version always outperforms the other.
So where does this take us?
I started by showing that shake-ups are what drive things to be better or to help us understand.
Right now we're seeing one of those shake-ups in the field of video. We're moving from watching an experience with standard video, to experiencing for ourselves with 360° video. It's a powerful tool.
I don't want to leave the impression that 360° video will replace standard video. It simply won't happen. There's a place for everything and room for it all.
Just as people still wear sandals and people still talk about Orion in his heroic pose in the night sky, standard video will be just fine.
For those of us that have seen something experiential in 360 degrees, we get it. We have seen the shake-up and we know just how powerful this one is.