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VR, 360° Video, and Cinematic Language

By: Michael Blair

With the introduction of more accessible technology and the pace of innovation, the interest around VR and 360° video is as palpable as ever.  The practical and creative possibilities of these new technologies are undeniably exciting.  As a lifelong video producer and editor, I’m especially curious about how immersive experiences interact with our current understanding of cinematic language and visual storytelling.

There are plenty of resources about how to shoot and edit 360° video but far less about how to think about shooting and editing 360° video. As content creators, it’s important to be familiar with equipment and postproduction workflows. It’s equally important to think about how those tools can be used to best communicate the themes, stories or experiences we are trying to create.

An obvious place to look for inspiration is the community of artists and filmmakers experimenting in this emerging field. The people who are throwing it up against walls, breaking it apart, putting it back together and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

So far, the most useful guide I’ve found is the work and writing of Jessica Brillhart, former VR filmmaker at Google. Her series of essays, In The Blink of a Mind, is a thoughtful exploration of how to start thinking critically about these fresh mediums in the face of over a century of cinematic convention. You can read the essays, along with some others, on Medium and view her work on her website.

The research team eleVR produced a practical and equally helpful series of articles. They make a compelling case for the role of editing in VR and dig into ideas about how cinematography choices apply to 360° video.

Finally, as with traditional cinema, film festivals are a good place to see how people are approaching the technology in interesting ways and look for inspiration. Sundance, Tribeca, South by Southwest and many other festivals now include an “immersive” category. One piece I’ll highlight is Notes on Blindness, which premiered at Sundance in 2016.  It’s beautiful and approaches the idea of immersion and storytelling in an unconventional way.  Especially in the world of academia and pedagogy, it’s exciting to think about how these experiences could introduce students to not only new or unique physical spaces but psychology spaces while delivering compelling content at the same time.

As with any newly introduced medium or genre, the conventions and boundaries are still being discovered and continue to evolve. I, for one, can’t wait to see where it goes.

Please point out other good writing or cool projects in the comments. I’m always looking for new ideas to chew on.

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