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How to storyboard for 360 VR?

Hey friend and welcome back to the Alex makes VR podcast. Today is episode number seven of my series where I take you step by step through the process on how to make a virtual reality film. In today's episode, we're going to talk about storyboarding. We're going to talk about how 360 and VR storyboards differ from film storyboards, traditional flat films as we call them in the industry. We're going to talk about how important your storyboard is not only to production, but also the post production of your virtual reality film, and lots more.

This is a full transcript of the podcast episode. Instead you can listen to it here:

Okay, so let's start by talking about why storyboarding is important to begin with, because I feel like this is maybe an overlooked part of the prep prep process and I'm not gonna lie, this was part of the production process that I used to think was a bit of a nice to have, I very naively used to go into shoots without a storyboard without a plan, because I just wanted to kind of go with the flow and see what happened in the moment and be a bit more improv and DIY about it, but what I failed to realise was that a 360 and a VR shoot are way too technically challenging to just wing it is all right, if you're a self shooting traditional filmmaker, where you know, you've got control over the camera, and everything's very easily set up. And ultimately, all you have to worry about is what is happening in front of that lens in that little 16 by 9, rectangle, but with 360, and VR, there's obviously so many things that could affect your post production, there are so many things that will basically just completely ruin a shot and make it only usable from a technical point of view. So you have to plan you have to prepare. And not only are you doing a storyboard, to kind of prevent any big technical catastrophes onset, you are also using that blueprint, as a kind of a signal to your crew members, to your production staff, to your team, that you know what you're doing. And I cannot stress this enough, this was something that I really overlooked. part of your job as the director of a piece is to give everyone else confidence that you know where you are steering that ship, okay, if you use the captain metaphor, you're the captain of the ship, it's your job to make sure that you are steering that ship. And you are giving your crew confidence that you know where you're going, where you are taking that ship, what is the end destination? If you rocked up and we're like - Dan, I got a vague idea, but we'll just make it up, you d stabilise every part of the production process, because you don't basically you don't have the confidence of knowing what you want to achieve. How on earth is anyone else going to have confidence in doing their job, because their decision making relies on yours. And if you've not made any decisions, then you see what a kind of a tailspin you can end up running into. So actually, making sure that you feel prepared so that you can go into a shoot and be confident in what you're doing is actually a really overlooked but very important and crucial stage of preparing to shoot a VR piece.

Now obviously, with a storyboard, you can change it, you can change it on the day, things always come up on location, that will kind of change your plans. You know, things will come up that feel better in the moment maybe like an actor suggests something, or maybe they accidentally, you know, do something that you hadn't planned for, but you actually really like it. And so you change things as you go. But at least if you've got a stable kind of like foundation idea of what you want to happen, you can move quickly and seamlessly. And so can your crew, your crew, you are giving them the confidence to do their job properly, because they can look to this storyboard as a blueprint for what you want them to do. Okay, so that's why it's important.

So let's talk about the differences the difference between a traditional film storyboard and a 360. Well, in the simplest terms, a traditional film storyboard is a sequence of 16 by nine rectangles that represent the final frames that your audience is going to see. If you think about a traditional film storyboard. It's kind of like a paper edits of your film. A 360. storyboard isn't like that, though. A 360. storyboard is less about what the final audience is going to see. Because as we know, a 360 and a VR audience can pick their own shots. There is no one version of your film. There's 1000s of different iterations of how someone will experience it because they get to dictate where they look. So it's less about what the final visuals are going to be and it's more about the practical kind of creative decisions, like for example, the choreography of your actors, the plan that you have for that they were the key props are going to be the the dead zones that you want to kind of hide your crew in and areas that must not be entered by actors, when you're recording. It's a much more kind of technical blueprint, as opposed to, like, say, the kind of the creative visuals that you would normally do in a traditional film storyboard. So again, in simplest terms, instead of just 16, by 9 rectangles, a 360. storyboard is usually a bird's eye view circle, which represents, as you imagine the full 360 that someone can look around. And so if you think of a bird's eye view of a circle, and then in the middle is your audience, aka your camera, if you're doing a 360 video production, but obviously, you can use this technique for not just 360 filmmaking, but creating an animation and anything like that. So it's a circle with a.in, the middle that represents your camera.

Now, your job, like I say, is to kind of on that page, and put in things like where are your actors? And again, I use it. I mean, you can do like you could do stick people. I know, like friends of mine have directed with like Lego pieces, but essentially, you're now using that as a bird's eye view. I keep using the word blueprint, but that is definitely what it feels like, of things like - which way do you want your audience to be facing? So you know, I would usually do like little dash lines, in the kind of like 90 degree kind of angle that I imagine most people will be looking at, I think, I think because the way you think about is is what the field of view is in the VR headset, I think it's actually more than 90 degrees, I don't know what it actually is, but I'm gonna say 90, but you might want to look at what headset you're going to be porting your experience to because maybe your field of view might be a little bit bigger, so you can kind of widen that area, but essentially, you're going to kind of have an idea of where you want your audience to be looking. But obviously, you also have to account for the fact that they might be looking elsewhere. So key props, any lighting, rigging, and obviously, where your actors are going to be in relation to the camera, all of those things are really important and then the way that I would storyboard is quite simple, I would just mainly be outlining where my characters are, and any key movement that they're going to be doing. So I would use arrows. So say for example, if you're looking bird's eye view of a circle, so if you do that now, like look down, imagine that you're seeing a circle, in the middle is a dot that represents the camera. Let's say you've got a main character in front of you. And I'm going to characterise them with a red dot so, I've got red dot right in front of you and my dashed lines are kind of like facing that way. So you know that I'm expecting the viewer to be looking that way. And then maybe I have a character come from behind on the left hand side. So if you imagine you've got the red dot in front of you, and then I've got a blue dot to, the kind of bottom left hand side of the circle. And I'll draw a little blue dot there that represents the second actor and I'll draw an arrow that points that kind of like the arrow draws to the red circle. So what I'm implying by that is that my second character is going to walk into the the shots is going to walk from where they are over to my first character, and then they're both going to end up in front of me, they're going to end up in front of the camera together. So that would be a really basic example of how I might storyboard something. And then like I say, I might have like a dead zone for like 90 degrees, or maybe a little bit smaller than that 45 degrees, maybe directly behind the camera to represent where the crew is going to be hiding or where I might hide the equipment. I might have, you know, kind of a different colour to highlight where I think the lighting setup might need to be if there's any windows in the scene that we need to be careful of for post production, I might highlight them. And also maybe mark that as a bit of a dead zone if I don't want people to cross over into that area. So it's basically you're kind of mapping out your choreography and your key production details on your storyboard. So it's less so about creating a video, or your representation of what your film will look like in the end, although you can obviously do that as well, if you like I've done that on previous productions. But past me, I think that bit is a little bit useless when it comes to 360, because it can be nice to see an idea of what it might end up looking like. But the very nature of the fact that your audience can choose where to look kind of kind of defeats the point of trying to guess what those shots will look like. And of course, I mean, I'm talking about storyboarding in a very traditional sense on a piece of paper but you could if you wanted to, if you've got access to a VR headset, you could even storyboard in something like Tilt Brush, you could you could storyboard in a 3D environment. If you're building your VR film in like a game engine or in animation, maybe actually doing it in a 3D environment would be would be really exciting and really beneficial. And so maybe in Tilt Brush, you could actually, you know, 3D kind of design some of those storyboards that would be really cool. I mean, I've never done that. But that would actually be speaking out loud, that's actually a really good idea.

So there's loads of different ways you could do it, but the key information that you need on your paper storyboard is those kind of key decisions about choreography, because as we've said in previous episodes, and filmmaking in VR, 360 is much more like theatre than film. It's all about the choreography and the the personal space in terms of how close people are to the camera, than it is about the actual shot sequence. Because oftentimes, you won't be cutting around your shot. So let's say I've got one scene that's five minutes long, that might consist of like six different circles for my storyboard. But the cameras always in the same position, it's just the movement of the people I'm changing, you know, whereas obviously, in a traditional storyboard, you might have six different frames. That are all different shots that are all one scene. Does that make sense? Now, again, that's my personal preference. I do not like VR pieces that jump around in one scene, I just think doesn't work, it breaks immersion. I personally just don't like that. But obviously, if you're going to choose to do that, you can do that. And you should have probably a good reason to do that and test that out on audiences, because I guarantee you that will disorientate them, unless that's your point, the point of doing that, but like I say, a lot of the time, your scene will be static in terms of your camera will be in the same position. If you're going to do things like camera movement, then obviously, you can use the same principle of using like arrows to demonstrate the kind of camera positioning and what your camera is going to be doing, and obviously, you can make a note on the side.

The key details that you want to illustrate in your 360 storyboard is active movement, key prop positioning, any kind of visual effects considerations, and any kind of dead zones that you don't want people to be at. That is basically all a 360 storyboard is. And if you've record your location beforehand, obviously, you're gonna have a really good idea of where all of those kind of key details are. And that's why I said in the recce episode, that potentially that would be a good idea to do a draft storyboard whilst you are there on set because you can visualise some of those things, or at the very least take photos or 360 photos so that you can step back into that location and see some of those key details because like I said, a storyboard in 360 is as much to prevent technical catastrophes as it is to display your kind of creative decisions. So those are the main details.

Now I did mention at the beginning of the episode, that the storyboarding process impacts post production as much as it does the production itself. And what I mean by that is, you can edit your 360 piece on paper, just like you would do a traditional film storyboard. But the editing process for 360 and VR is obviously very different in the fact that you don't know where people are going to be looking. But what you can do is you can use your choreography very cleverly, to kind of preempt to where you think people are going to be looking. And there's a great article that was written by Jessica Brill Hart, who was she used to be the lead VR filmmaker for Google. She wrote this piece called I think it's called in the blink of an eye. And if you just search 360 editing in the blink of an eye, Jess bro heart, you will see her medium article where she basically shows you like in diagrams her edit process in 360. And she uses a very similar method to I do as I do with the whole bird's eye view circles. But what she does is lines up her points of interest. And she might have several points of interest. But what she'll do is in terms of editing between, she calls them worlds, I would call them scenes. But in terms of editing between scenes between worlds, you would line up your points of interest, so that when you cut scene, you are lining up that next shot.

So for example, if we go back to the example of the fact that I've got my red character right in front of us, I've got my blue cam character behind us, that blue character walks into that front facing bit of the shop to join the red character, they're now both in front of us. When I edit my next one, I like kind of cut to my next scene, when I edit to the next part, I'm going to choose to put, I don't know, a key Prop, let's say, a horse, I'm going to put a horse right in front of you where those characters just were, because if I've put both of my characters in front of you, and they're talking, and I'm going to bet 99% of the time, an audience will be looking that way. So when I add it to my next shot, I'm going to line up my next action with where the viewer is looking. Okay, so two characters chatting in front of you. And then the next scene cuts and you've got this horse exactly where those two characters just were. Okay, so in terms of what that would look like, on paper, I've gone from having this scene where reds in front blues behind blue arrow, and then in the next scene, red and blue next to each other. In the next circle, sorry, blue and red next to each other, and then seem to it's the same exactly where those blue and red dots where I'm going to replace them with a big brown dot to represent the horse and it's going to be in the same position as my blue and red dots just wear because it represents that they are in the same place, kind of to the front and to slightly to the left, as my characters just were and this is a way of kind of directing audience attention is by using again, that choreography, those that placement of props and people to dictate where people are going to be looking.

Okay, so when I said that storyboarding is important for post production, what I mean by that is that, although you can't 100% know for sure where your audience is going to be looking, you can definitely have a good idea of where you want your audience to be looking by lining up scenes, and you're in your edit lining up where your points of interest are going to be aka characters, aka props, etc, etc. So that's it for this episode, I feel like it was quite difficult to communicate such a visual part of the process in audio form. So let me know if this episode was helpful. And like I said at the beginning, and debating on whether to hit pause on this series, or whether to carry on talking you through the different parts of the process. So reach out and let me know on both both things, it would mean the world to me if you enjoyed this episode, or if you found it useful. So again, those details are @alexmakesvr on all social medias including Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and if you're already a member of the newsletter, just reply to any of my newsletters to let me know whether I should carry on with this series for now or hit pause and you can sign up to the newsletter at www.alexmakesvr.com All right, I have got serious dry mouth guys. So I'm going to go down a litre of water. I hope that you're having a great day wherever you are in the world. And I will speak to you very soon.

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