Tag Archives: 360 video

Editing 360 video with Lenovo’s Explorer WMR headset

By Mike McCarthy

Microsoft has released its Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) platform as part of the Fall Creator’s Update to Windows 10. This platform allows users to experience a variety of immersive experiences, and thankfully there are now many WMR headsets available from many familiar names in the hardware business. One of those is from Lenovo who kindly sent me their Explorer WMR headset to test on my Thinkpad P71. This provided me with a complete VR experience on their hardware.

On November 15, Microsoft’s WMR released beta support for SteamVR on WMR devices. This allows WMR headsets to be used in applications that are compatible with SteamVR. For example, the newest release of Adobe Premiere Pro (CC 2018, or V.12.0) uses SteamVR for 360 video preview.

My goal for this article was to see if I could preview my 360 videos in a Lenovo headset while editing in Premiere, especially now that I had new 360 footage from my GoPro Fusion camera. I also provide some comparisons to the Oculus Rift which I reviewed for postPerspective in October.

There are a number of advantages to the WMR options, including lower prices and hardware requirements, higher image resolution and simpler setup. Oculus and HTC’s VR-Ready requirements have always been a bit excessive for 360 video, because unlike true 3D VR there is no 3D rendering involved when playing back footage from a fixed perspective. But would it work? No one seemed to know if it would, but Lenovo was willing to let me try.

The first step is to get your installation of Windows 10 upgraded with the Fall Creators Update. This includes integrated support for Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Once installed, you can plug in the single USB3 cable and HDMI port and Windows will automatically configure the device and its drivers for you. You will also need to install Valve’s Steam application and SteamVR, which adds support for VR content. The next step is to find Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR in the Steam store, which is a free installation. Once you confirm that the headset is functioning in WMR and then in SteamVR, open up Premiere Pro and test it out.

Working in Premiere Pro
Within Premiere Pro, preview and playback worked immediately within my existing immersive project. I watched footage captured with my Samsung Gear 360 and GoPro Fusion cameras. The files played, and the increased performance within the new version of the software is noticeable. My 4K and 5K 30fps content worked great, but my new 3Kp60 content only played when Mercury Playback was set to software-only, which disabled most of the new Immersive Video effects. In CUDA mode, I could hold down the right arrow and watch it progress in slow motion, but pressing the space bar caused the VR preview to freeze even though it played fine on the laptop monitor. The 60p content played fine in the Rift, so this appears to be an issue specific to WMR. Hopefully, that will be addressed in a software update in the near future.

The motion controllers were visible in the interface and allow you to scrub the timeline, but I still had to use space bar to start and stop playback. One issue that arose was that the mouse cursor is hidden when the display is snapped down into place over my eyes. I had to tip it up out of the way each time I wanted to make a change, instead of just peeking under it, which is a lot of snapping up and down for the headset.

I found the WMR experience to be slightly less solid than the Oculus system. It would occasionally lag on the tracking for a couple of frames, causing the image to visibly jump. This may be due to the integrated tracking instead of dedicated external cameras. The boundary system is a visual distraction, so I would recommend disabling it if you are primarily using it for 360 video — because it doesn’t require moving much within your space. The setup on the WMR is better; it is much easier and has lower requirements and fewer ports needed. The resolution is higher than the Oculus Rift I had tested, (1440×1440 per eye instead of 1080×1200), so I wanted to see how much of a difference that would make. The Explorer also has a narrower field of view (105 degrees instead of 110), which I wouldn’t expect to make a difference, but I think it did.

By my calculations, the increased resolution should allow you to resolve a 5K sphere, compared to the 3.9K resolution available from the Rift — 1440pixels/105degrees*360 vs 1080pixels /110degrees*360. You will also want a pair of headphones or earbuds to plug into the headset so the audio tracks with your head (compared to your computer speakers, which are fixed).

The Feel of the Headset
The headset is designed very differently from the Rift, and the display can be tipped up out of the way while the headband is still on. It is also way easier to put on and remove, but a bit less comfortable to keep on for longer periods of time. The headband has to be on tight enough to hold the display in front of your eyes, since it doesn’t rest on your face, and the cabling has to slide through a clip on the headband when you fold the display upward. And since you have to fold the display upward to use the mouse, it is a frequent annoyance. But between the motion controllers and the keyboard, you can navigate and playback while the headset is on.

Using the Microsoft WMR lobby interface was an interesting experience, but I’m not sure if it’s going to catch on. SteamVR’s lobby experience isn’t much better, but Steam does offer a lot more content for its users. I anticipate Steam will be the dominant software platform based on the fact that most hardware vendors have support for it — HTC, Oculus, WMR. The fact that Adobe chose SteamVR to support their immersive preview experience is why these new WMR headsets work in Premiere Pro without any further software updates needed on their part. (Adobe doesn’t officially support this configuration yet, hence the “beta” designation in SteamVR, but besides 60p playback, I was very happy.) Hopefully we will only see further increased support and integration between the various hardware and software options in the future.

Summing Up
Currently, the Lenovo Explorer and the Oculus Rift are both priced the same at $399 — I say currently because prices have been fluctuating, so investigate thoroughly. So which one is better? Well, neither is a clear winner. Each has its own strengths. The Rift has more specific hardware requirements and lower total resolution. The Explorer requires Windows 10, but will work on a wider array of systems. The Rift is probably better for periods of extended use, while I would recommend the Explorer if you are going to be doing something that involves taking it on and off all the time (like tweaking effects settings in Adobe apps). Large fixed installations may offer a better user experience with the Rift or Vive on a powerful GPU, but most laptop users will probably have an easier time with the Explorer (no external camera to calibrate and fewer ports needed).

Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

Editing 360 Video in VR (Part 2)

By Mike McCarthy

In the last article I wrote on this topic, I looked at the options for shooting 360-degree video footage, and what it takes to get footage recorded on a Gear 360 ready to review and edit on a VR-enabled system. The remaining steps in the workflow will be similar regardless of which camera you are using.

Previewing your work is important so, if you have a VR headset you will want to make sure it is installed and functioning with your editing software. I will be basing this article on using an Oculus Rift to view my work in Adobe Premiere Pro 11.1.2 on a Thinkpad P71 with an Nvidia Quadro P5000 GPU. Premiere requires an extra set of plugins to interface to the Rift headset. Adobe acquired Mettle’s Skybox VR Player plugin back in June, and has made it available to Creative Cloud users upon request, which you can do here.

Skybox VR player

Skybox can project the Adobe UI to the Rift, as well as the output, so you could leave the headset on when making adjustments, but I have not found that to be as useful as I had hoped. Another option is to use the GoPro VR Player plugin to send the Adobe Transmit output to the Rift, which can be downloaded for free here (use the 3.0 version or above). I found this to have slightly better playback performance, but fewer options (no UI projection, for example). Adobe is expected to integrate much of this functionality into the next release of Premiere, which should remove the need for most of the current plugins and increase the overall functionality.

Once our VR editing system is ready to go, we need to look at the footage we have. In the case of the Gear 360, the dual spherical image file recorded by the camera is not directly usable in most applications and needs to be processed to generate a single equirectangular projection, stitching the images from both cameras into a single continuous view.

There are a number of ways to do this. One option is to use the application Samsung packages with the camera: Action Director 360. You can download the original version here, but will need the activation code that came with the camera in order to use it. Upon import, the software automatically processes the original stills and video into equirectangular 2:1 H.264 files. Instead of exporting from that application, I pull the temp files that it generates on media import, and use them in Premiere. (C:\Users\[Username]\Documents\CyberLink\ActionDirector\1.0\360) is where they should be located by default. While this is the simplest solution for PC users, it introduces an extra transcoding step to H.264 (after the initial H.265 recording), and I frequently encountered an issue where there was a black hexagon in the middle of the stitched image.

Action Director

Activating Automatic Angle Compensation in the Preferences->Editing panel gets around this bug, while trying to stabilize your footage to some degree. I later discovered that Samsung had released a separate Version 2 of Action Director available for Windows or Mac, which solves this issue. But I couldn’t get the stitched files to work directly in the Adobe apps, so I had to export them, which was yet another layer of video compression. You will need a Samsung activation code that came with the Gear 360 to use any of the versions, and both versions took twice as long to stitch a clip as its run time on my P71 laptop.

An option that gives you more control over the stitching process is to do it in After Effects. Adobe’s recent acquisition of Mettle’s SkyBox VR toolset makes this much easier, but it is still a process. Currently you have to manually request and install your copy of the plugins as a Creative Cloud subscriber. There are three separate installers, and while this stitching process only requires Skybox Suite AE, I would install both the AE and Premiere Pro versions for use in later steps, as well as the Skybox VR player if you have an HMD to preview with. Once you have them installed, you can use the Skybox Converter effect in After Effects to convert from the Gear 360’s fisheye files to the equirectangular assets that Premiere requires for editing VR.

Unfortunately, Samsung’s format is not one of the default conversions supported by the effect, so it requires a little more creativity. The two sensor images have to be cropped into separate comps and with plugin applied to each of them. Setting the Input to fisheye and the output to equirectangular for each image will give the desired distortion. A feathered mask applied to the circle to adjust the seam, and the overlap can be adjusted with the FOV and re-orient camera values.

Since this can be challenging to setup, I have posted an AE template that is already configured for footage from the Gear 360. The included directions should be easy to follow, and the projection, overlap and stitch can be further tweaked by adjusting the position, rotation and mask settings in the sub-comps, and the re-orientation values in the Skybox Converter effects. Hopefully, once you find the correct adjustments for your individual camera, they should remain the same for all of your footage, unless you want to mask around an object crossing the stitch boundary. More info on those types of fixes can be found here. It took me five minutes to export 60 seconds of 360 video using this approach, and there is no stabilization or other automatic image analysis.

Video Stitch Studio

Orah makes Video-Stitch Studio, which is a similar product but with a slightly different feature set and approach. One limitation I couldn’t find a way around is that the program expects the various fisheye source images to be in separate files, and unlike AVP I couldn’t get the source cropping tool to work without rendering the dual fisheye images into separate square video source files. There should be a way to avoid that step, but I couldn’t find one. (You can use the crop effect to remove 1920 pixels on one side or the other to make the conversions in Media Encoder relatively quickly.) Splitting the source file and rendering separate fisheye spheres adds a workflow step and render time, and my one-minute clip took 11 minutes to export. This is a slower option, which might be significant if you have hours of footage to process instead of minutes.

Clearly, there are a variety of ways to get your raw footage stitched for editing. The results vary greatly between the different programs, so I made video to compare the different stitching options on the same source clip. My first attempt was with a locked-off shot in the park, but that shot was too simple to see the differences, and it didn’t allow for comparison of the stabilization options available in some of the programs. I shot some footage from a moving vehicle to see how well the motion and shake would be handled by the various programs. The result is now available on YouTube, fading between each of the five labeled options over the course of the minute long clip. I would categorize this as testing how well the various applications can handle non-ideal source footage, which happens a lot in the real world.

I didn’t feel that any of the stitching options were perfect solutions, so hopefully we will see further developments in that regard in the future. You may want to explore them yourself to determine which one best meets your needs. Once your footage is correctly mapped to equirectangular projection, ideally in a 2:1 aspect ratio, and the projects are rendered and exported (I recommend Cineform or DNxHR), you are ready to edit your processed footage.

Launch Premiere Pro and import your footage as you normally would. If you are using the Skybox Player plugin, turn on Adobe Transmit with the HMD selected as the only dedicated output (in the Skybox VR configuration window, I recommend setting the hot corner to top left, to avoid accidentally hitting the start menu, desktop hide or application close buttons during preview). In the playback monitor, you may want to right click the wrench icon and select Enable VR to preview a pan-able perspective of the video, instead of the entire distorted equirectangular source frame. You can cut, trim and stack your footage as usual, and apply color corrections and other non-geometry-based effects.

In version 11.1.2 of Premiere, there is basically one VR effect (VR Projection), which allows you to rotate the video sphere along all three axis. If you have the Skybox Suite for Premiere installed, you will have some extra VR effects. The Skybox Rotate Sphere effect is basically the same. You can add titles and graphics and use the Skybox Project 2D effect to project them into the sphere where you want. Skybox also includes other effects for blurring and sharpening the spherical video, as well as denoise and glow. If you have Kolor AVP installed that adds two new effects as well. GoPro VR Horizon is similar to the other sphere rotation ones, but allows you to drag the image around in the monitor window to rotate it, instead of manually adjusting the axis values, so it is faster and more intuitive. The GoPro VR Reframe effect is applied to equirectangular footage, to extract a flat perspective from within it. The field of view can be adjusted and rotated around all three axis.

Most of the effects are pretty easy to figure out, but Skybox Project 2D may require some experimentation to get the desired results. Avoid placing objects near the edges of the 2D frame that you apply it to, to keep them facing toward the viewer. The rotate projection values control where the object is placed relative to the viewer. The rotate source values rotate the object at the location it is projected to. Personally, I think they should be placed in the reverse order in the effects panel.

Encoding the final output is not difficult, just send it to Adobe Media Encoder using either H.264 or H.265 formats. Make sure the “Video is VR” box is checked at the bottom of the Video Settings pane, and in this case that the frame layout is set to monoscopic. There are presets for some of the common framesizes, but I would recommend lowering the bitrates, at least if you are using Gear 360 footage. Also, if you have ambisonic audio set channels to 4.0 in the audio pane.

Once the video is encoded, you can upload it directly to Facebook. If you want to upload to YouTube, exports from AME with the VR box checked should work fine, but for videos from other sources you will need to modify the metadata with this app here.  Once your video is uploaded to YouTube, you can embed it on any webpage that supports 2D web videos. And YouTube videos can be streamed directly to your Rift headset using the free DeoVR video player.

That should give you a 360-video production workflow from start to finish. I will post more updated articles as new software tools are developed, and as I get new 360 cameras with which to test and experiment.

Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

GoPro intros Hero6 and its first integrated 360 solution, Fusion

By Mike McCarthy

Last week, I traveled to San Francisco to attend GoPro’s launch event for its new Hero6 and Fusion cameras. The Hero6 is the next logical step in the company’s iteration of action cameras, increasing the supported frame rates to 4Kp60 and 1080p240, as well as adding integrated image stabilization. The Fusion on the other hand is a totally new product for them, an action-cam for 360-degree video. GoPro has developed a variety of other 360-degree video capture solutions in the past, based on rigs using many of their existing Hero cameras, but Fusion is their first integrated 360-video solution.

While the Hero6 is available immediately for $499, the Fusion is expected to ship in November for $699. While we got to see the Fusion and its footage, most of the hands-on aspects of the launch event revolved around the Hero6. Each of the attendees was provided a Hero6 kit to record the rest of the days events. My group was provided a ride on the RocketBoat through the San Francisco Bay. This adventure took advantage of a number of features of the camera, including the waterproofing, the slow motion and the image stabilization.

The Hero6

The big change within the Hero6 is the inclusion of GoPro’s new custom-designed GP1 image processing chip. This allows them to process and encode higher frame rates, and allows for image stabilization at many frame-rate settings. The camera itself is physically similar to the previous generations, so all of your existing mounts and rigs will still work with it. It is an easy swap out to upgrade the Karma drone with the new camera, which also got a few software improvements. It can now automatically track the controller with the camera to keep the user in the frame while the drone is following or stationary. It can also fly a circuit of 10 waypoints for repeatable shots, and overcoming a limitation I didn’t know existed, it can now look “up.”

There were fewer precise details about the Fusion. It is stated to be able to record a 5.2K video sphere at 30fps and a 3K sphere at 60fps. This is presumably the circumference of the sphere in pixels, and therefore the width of an equi-rectangular output. That would lead us to conclude that the individual fish-eye recording is about 2,600 pixels wide, plus a little overlap for the stitch. (In this article, GoPro’s David Newman details how the company arrives at 5.2K.)

GoPro Fusion for 360

The sensors are slightly laterally offset from one another, allowing the camera to be thinner and decreasing the parallax shift at the side seams, but adding a slight offset at the top and bottom seams. If the camera is oriented upright, those seams are the least important areas in most shots. They also appear to have a good solution for hiding the camera support pole within the stitch, based on the demo footage they were showing. It will be interesting to see what effect the Fusion camera has on the “culture” of 360 video. It is not the first affordable 360-degree camera, but it will definitely bring 360 capture to new places.

A big part of the equation for 360 video is the supporting software and the need to get the footage from the camera to the viewer in a usable way. GoPro already acquired Kolor’s Autopano Video Pro a few years ago to support image stitching for their larger 360 video camera rigs, so certain pieces of the underlying software ecosystem to support 360-video workflow are already in place. The desktop solution for processing the 360 footage will be called Fusion Studio, and is listed as coming soon on their website.

They have a pretty slick demonstration of flat image extraction from the video sphere, which they are marketing as “OverCapture.” This allows a cellphone to pan around the 360 sphere, which is pretty standard these days, but by recording that viewing in realtime they can output standard flat videos from the 360 sphere. This is a much simpler and more intuitive approach to virtual cinematography that trying to control the view with angles and keyframes in a desktop app.

This workflow should result in a very fish-eye flat video, similar to the more traditional GoPro shots, due to the similar lens characteristics. There are a variety of possible approaches to handling the fish-eye look. GoPro’s David Newman was explaining to me some of the solutions he has been working on to re-project GoPro footage into a sphere, to reframe or alter the field of view in a virtual environment. Based on their demo reel, it looks like they also have some interesting tools coming for using the unique functionality that 360 makes available to content creators, using various 360 projections for creative purposes within a flat video.

GoPro Software
On the software front, GoPro has also been developing tools to help its camera users process and share their footage. One of the inherent issues of action-camera footage is that there is basically no trigger discipline. You hit record long before anything happens, and then get back to the camera after the event in question is over. I used to get one-hour roll-outs that had 10 seconds of usable footage within them. The same is true when recording many attempts to do something before one of them succeeds.

Remote control of the recording process has helped with this a bit, but regardless you end up with tons of extra footage that you don’t need. GoPro is working on software tools that use AI and machine learning to sort through your footage and find the best parts automatically. The next logical step is to start cutting together the best shots, which is what Quikstories in their mobile app is beginning to do. As someone who edits video for a living, and is fairly particular and precise, I have a bit of trouble with the idea of using something like that for my videos, but for someone to whom the idea of “video editing” is intimidating, this could be a good place to start. And once the tools get to a point where their output can be trusted, automatically sorting footage could make even very serious editing a bit easier when there is a lot of potential material to get through. In the meantime though, I find their desktop tool Quik to be too limiting for my needs and will continue to use Premiere to edit my GoPro footage, which is the response I believe they expect of any professional user.

There are also a variety of new camera mount options available, including small extendable tripod handles in two lengths, as well as a unique “Bite Mount” (pictured, left) for POV shots. It includes a colorful padded float in case it pops out of your mouth while shooting in the water. The tripods are extra important for the forthcoming Fusion, to support the camera with minimal obstruction of the shot. And I wouldn’t recommend the using Fusion on the Bite Mount, unless you want a lot of head in the shot.

Ease of Use
Ironically, as someone who has processed and edited hundreds of hours of GoPro footage, and even worked for GoPro for a week on paper (as an NAB demo artist for Cineform during their acquisition), I don’t think I had ever actually used a GoPro camera. The fact that at this event we were all handed new cameras with zero instructions and expected to go out and shoot is a testament to how confident GoPro is that their products are easy to use. I didn’t have any difficulty with it, but the engineer within me wanted to know the details of the settings I was adjusting. Bouncing around with water hitting you in the face is not the best environment for learning how to do new things, but I was able to use pretty much every feature the camera had to offer during that ride with no prior experience. (Obviously I have extensive experience with video, just not with GoPro usage.) And I was pretty happy with the results. Now I want to take it sailing, skiing and other such places, just like a “normal” GoPro user.

I have pieced together a quick highlight video of the various features of the Hero6:

Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

Making the jump to 360 Video (Part 1)

By Mike McCarthy

VR headsets have been available for over a year now, and more content is constantly being developed for them. We should expect that rate to increase as new headset models are being released from established technology companies, prompted in part by the new VR features expected in Microsoft’s next update to Windows 10. As the potential customer base increases, the software continues to mature, and the content offerings broaden. And with the advances in graphics processing technology, we are finally getting to a point where it is feasible to edit videos in VR, on a laptop.

While a full VR experience requires true 3D content, in order to render a custom perspective based on the position of the viewer’s head, there is a “video” version of VR, which is called 360 Video. The difference between “Full VR” and “360 Video,” is that while both allow you to look around every direction, 360 Video is pre-recorded from a particular point, and you are limited to the view from that spot. You can’t move your head to see around behind something, like you can in true VR. But 360 video can still offer a very immersive experience and arguably better visuals, since they aren’t being rendered on the fly. 360 video can be recorded in stereoscopic or flat, depending on the capabilities of the cameras used.

Stereoscopic is obviously more immersive, less of a video dome and inherently supported by the nature of VR HMDs (Head Mounted Displays). I expect that stereoscopic content will be much more popular in 360 Video than it ever was for flat screen content. Basically the viewer is already wearing the 3D glasses, so there is no downside, besides needing twice as much source imagery to work with, similar to flat screen stereoscopic.

There are a variety of options for recording 360 video, from a single ultra-wide fisheye lens on the Fly360, to dual 180-degree lens options like the Gear 360, Nikon KeyMission, and Garmin Virb. GoPro is releasing the Fusion, which will fall into this category as well. The next step is more lens, with cameras like the Orah4i or the Insta360 Pro. Beyond that, you are stepping into the much more expensive rigs with lots of lenses and lots of stitching, but usually much higher final image quality, like the GoPro Omni or the Nokia Ozo. There are also countless rigs that use an array of standard cameras to capture 360 degrees, but these solutions are much less integrated than the all-in-one products that are now entering the market. Regardless of the camera you use, you are going to be recording one or more files in a pixel format fairly unique to that camera that will need to be processed before it can be used in the later stages of the post workflow.

Affordable cameras

The simplest and cheapest 360 camera option I have found is the Samsung Gear 360. There are two totally different models with the same name, usually differentiated by the year of their release. I am using the older 2016 model, which has a higher resolution sensor, but records UHD instead of the slightly larger full 4K video of the newer 2017 model.

The Gear 360 records two fisheye views that are just over 180 degrees, from cameras situated back to back in a 2.5-inch sphere. Both captured image circles are recorded onto a single frame, side by side, resulting in a 2:1 aspect ratio files. These are encoded into JPEG (7776×3888 stills) or HEVC (3840×1920 video) at 30Mb and saved onto a MicroSD card. The camera is remarkably simple to use, with only three buttons, and a tiny UI screen to select recording mode and resolution. If you have a Samsung Galaxy phone, there are a variety of other functions that allows, like remote control and streaming the output to the phone as a viewfinder and such. Even without a Galaxy phone, the camera did everything I needed to generate 360 footage to stitch and edit with but it was cool to have a remote viewfinder for the driving shots.

Pricier cameras

One of the big challenges of shooting with any 360 camera is how to avoid getting gear and rigging in the shot since the camera records everything around it. Even the tiny integrated tripod on the Gear 360 is visible in the shots, and putting it on the plate of my regular DSLR tripod fills the bottom of the footage. My solution was to use the thinnest support I could to keep the rest of the rigging as far from the camera as possible, and therefore smaller from its perspective. I created a couple options to shoot with that are pictured below. The results are much less intrusive in the resulting images that are recorded. Obviously besides the camera support, there is the issue of everything else in the shot including the operator. Since most 360 videos are locked off, an operator may not be needed, but there is no “behind the camera” for hiding gear or anything else. Your set needs to be considered in every direction, since it will all be visible to your viewer. If you can see the camera, it can see you.

There are many different approaches to storing 360 images, which are inherently spherical, as a video file, which is inherently flat. This is the same issue that cartographers have faced for hundreds of years — creating flat paper maps of a planet that is inherently curved. While there are sphere map, cube map and pyramid projection options (among others) based on the way VR headsets work, the equirectangular format has emerged as the standard for editing and distribution encoding, while other projections are occasionally used for certain effects processing or other playback options.

Usually the objective of the stitching process is to get the images from all of your lenses combined into a single frame with the least amount of distortion and the fewest visible seams. There are a number of software solutions that do this, from After Effects plugins, to dedicated stitching applications like Kolor AVP and Orah VideoStitch-Studio to unique utilities for certain cameras. Once you have your 360 video footage in the equirectangular format, most of the other steps of the workflow are similar to their flat counterparts, besides VFX. You can cut, fade, title and mix your footage in an NLE and then encode it in the standard H.264 or H.265 formats with a few changes to the metadata.

Technically, the only thing you need to add to an existing 4K editing workflow in order to make the jump to 360 video is a 360 camera. Everything else could be done in software, but the other thing you will want is a VR headset or HMD. It is possible to edit 360 video without an HMD, but it is a lot like grading a film using scopes but no monitor. The data and tools you need are all right there, but without being able to see the results, you can’t be confident of what the final product will be like. You can scroll around the 360 video in the view window, or see the whole projected image all distorted, but it won’t have the same feel as experiencing it in a VR headset.

360 Video is not as processing intensive as true 3D VR, but it still requires a substantial amount of power to provide a good editing experience. I am using a Thinkpad P71 with an Nvidia Quadro P5000 GPU to get smooth performance during all these tests.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we focus on editing 360 Video.

Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been working on new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

Review: Blackmagic’s Fusion 9

By David Cox

At Siggraph in August, Blackmagic Design released a new version of its compositing software Fusion. For those not familiar with Fusion, it is a highly flexible node-based compositor that can composite in 2D and 3D spaces. Its closest competitor is Nuke from The Foundry.

The raft of new updates in Version 9 could be categorized into one of two areas: features created in response to user requests, and a set of tools for VR. Also announced with the new release is a price drop to $299 for the full studio version, which, judging by global resellers instantly running out of stock (Fusion ships via dongle), seems to have been a popular move!

As with other manufacturers in the film and broadcast area, the term “VR” is a little misused as they are really referring to “360 video.” VR, although a more exciting term, would demand interactivity. That said, as a post production suite for 360 video, Fusion already has a very strong tool set. It can create, manipulate, texture and light 3D scenes made from imported CGI models and built-in primitives and particles.

Added in Version 9 is a spherical camera that can capture a scene as a 360 2D or stereo 3D image. In addition, new tools are provided to cross-convert between many 360 video image formats. Another useful tool allows a portion of a 360-degree image to be unwrapped (or un-distorted) so that restoration or compositing work can be easily carried out on it before it is perfectly re-wrapped back into the 360-degree image.

There is also a new stabilizer for 360 wrap-around shots. A neat feature is that Fusion 9 can directly drive VR headsets such as Oculus Rift. Within Fusion, any node can be routed to any viewing monitor and the VR headset simply presents itself as an extra one of those.

Notably, Blackmagic has opted not to tackle 360-degree image stitching — the process by which images from multiple cameras facing in different directions are “stitched” together to form a single wrap-around view. I can understand this — on one hand, there are numerous free or cheap apps that perform stitching and so there’s no need for Blackmagic to reinvent that wheel. On the other hand, Blackmagic targets the mass user area, and given that 360 video production is a niche activity, productions that strap together multiple cameras form an even smaller and decreasing niche due to the growing number of single-step 360-degree cameras that provide complete wrap-around images without the need for stitching.

Moving on from VR/360, Fusion 9 now boasts some very significant additional features. While some Fusion users had expressed concerned that Blackmagic was favoring Resolve, in fact it is now clear that the Fusion development team have been very busy indeed.

Camera Tracker
First up is an embedded camera tracker and solver. Such a facility aims to deduce how the original camera in a live-action shoot moved through the scene and what lens must have been on it. From this, a camera tracker produces a virtual 3D scene into which a compositor can add objects that then move precisely with the original shot.

Fusion 9’s new camera tracker performed well in tests. It requires the user to break the process down into three logical steps: track, refine and export. Fusion initially offers auto-placed trackers, which follow scores of details in the scene quite quickly. The operator then removes any obviously silly trackers (like the ones chasing around the moving people in a scene) and sets Fusion about the task of “solving” the camera move.

Once done, Fusion presents a number of features to allow the user to measure the accuracy of the resulting track and to locate and remove trackers that are adversely affecting that result. This is a circular process by which the user can incrementally improve the track. The final track is then converted into a 3D scene with a virtual camera and a point cloud to show where the trackers would exist in 3D space. A ground plane is also provided, which the user can locate during the tracking process.

While Fusion 9’s camera tracker perhaps doesn’t have all the features of a dedicated 3D tracker such as SynthEyes from Andersson Technologies, it does satisfy the core need and has plenty of controls to ensure that the tool is flexible enough to deal with most scenarios. It will certainly be received as a welcome addition.

Planar Tracker
Next up is a built-in “planar” tracker. Planar trackers work differently than classic point trackers, which simply try to follow a small area of detail. A planar tracker follows a larger area of a shot, which makes up a flat plane — such as a wall or table top. From this, the planar tracker can deduce rotation, location, scale and perspective.

Fusion 9 Studio’s new planar tracker also performed well in tests. It assessed the track quickly and was not easily upset by foreground objects obscuring parts of the tracked area. The resulting track can either be used directly to insert another image into the resulting plane or to stabilize the shot, or indirectly by producing a separate Planar Transform node. This is used to warp any other asset such as a matte for rotoscoping work.

Inevitably, any planar tracker will be compared to the long-established “daddy” of them all, Mocha Pro from Boris FX. At a basic level, Fusion’s planar tracker worked just as well as Mocha, creating solid tracks from a user-defined area nicely and quickly. However, I would think that for complex rotoscoping, where a user will have many roto layers, driven by many tracking sources, with other layers acting as occlusion masks, Mocha’s working environment would be easier to control. Such a task would lead to many, many wired up nodes in Fusion, whereas Mocha would present the same functions within a simper layer-list. Of course, Mocha Pro is available as an OFX plug-in for Fusion Studio anyway, so users can have the best of both worlds.

Delta Keyer
Blackmagic also added a new keyer to Fusion called the Delta Keyer. It is a color difference keyer with a wide range of controls to refine the resulting matte and the edges of the key. It worked well when tested against one of my horrible greenscreens, something I keep for these very occasions!

The Delta Keyer can also take a clean plate as a reference input, which is essentially a frame of the green/bluescreen studio without the object to be keyed. The Delta Keyer then uses this to understand which deviations from the screen color represent the foreground object and which are just part of an uneven screen color.

To assist with this process, there is also a new Clean Plate node, which is designed to create an estimate of a clean plate in the absence of one being available from the shoot (for example, if the camera was moving). The combination of the clean plate and the Delta Keyer produced good results when challenged to extract subtle object shadows from an unevenly lit greenscreen shot.

Studio Player
Studio Player is also new for Fusion 9 Studio; it’s a multi-station shot review tool. Multiple versions of clips and comps can be added to the Studio Player’s single layer timeline, where simple color adjustments and notes can be added. A neat feature is that multiple studio players in different locations can be slaved together so that cross-facility review sessions can take place, with everyone looking at the same thing at the same time, which helps!

Fusion 9 Studio also supports the writing of Apple-approved Pro Res from all its supported platforms, including Windows and Linux. Yep – you read that right. Other format support has also been widened and improved, such as faster native handling for DNxHR codecs, for example.

Summing Up
All in all, the updates to Fusion 9 are comprehensive and very much in line with what professional users have been asking for. I think it certainly demonstrates that Blackmagic is as committed to Fusion as Resolve, and at $299, it’s a no-brainer for any professional VFX artist to have available to them.

Of course, the price drop shows that Blackmagic is also aiming Fusion squarely at the mass independent filmmaker market. Certainly, with Resolve and Fusion, those users will have pretty much all the post tools they will need.

Fusion by its nature and heritage is a more complex beast to learn than Resolve, but it is well supported with a good user manual, forums and video tutorials. I would think it likely that for this market, Fusion might benefit from some minor tweaks to make it more intuitive in certain areas. I also think the join between Resolve and Fusion will provide a lot of interest going forward for this market. Adobe has done a masterful job bridging Premiere and After Effects. The join between Resolve and Fusion is more rudimentary, but if Blackmagic gets this right, they will have a killer combination.

Finally, Fusion 9 extends what was already a very powerful and comprehensive compositing suite. It has become my primary compositing device and the additions in version 9 only serve to cement that position.

David Cox is a VFX compositor and colorist with 20+ years experience. He started his career with MPC and The Mill before forming his own London-based post facility. Cox recently created interactive projects with full body motion sensors and 4D/AR experiences.

Recording live musicians in 360

By Luke Allen

I’ve had the opportunity to record live musicians in a couple of different in-the-field scenarios for 360 video content. In some situations — such as the ubiquitous 360 rock concert video — simply having access to the board feed is all one needs to create a pretty decent spatial mix (although the finer points of that type of mix would probably fill up a whole different article).

But what if you’re shooting in an acoustically interesting space where intimacy and immersion are the goal? What if you’re in the field in the middle of a rainstorm without access to AC power? It’s clear that in most cases, some combination of ambisonic capture and close micing is the right approach.

What I’ve found is that in all but a few elaborate set-ups, a mobile ambisonic recording rig (in my case, built around the Zaxcom Nomad and Soundfield SPS-200) — in addition to three to four omni-directional lavs for close micing — is more than sufficient to achieve excellent results. Last year, I had the pleasure of recording a four-piece country ensemble in a few different locations around Ireland.

Micing a Pub
For this particular job, I had the SPS and four lavs. For most of the day I had planted one Sanken COS-11 on the guitar, one on the mandolin, one on the lead singer and a DPA 4061 inside the upright bass (which sounded great!). Then, for the final song, the band wanted to add a fiddle to the mix — yet I was out of mics to cover everything. We had moved into the partially enclosed porch area of a pub with the musicians perched in a corner about six feet from the camera. I decided to roll the dice and trust the SPS to pick up the fiddle, which I figured would be loud enough in the small space that a lav wouldn’t be used much in the mix anyways. In post, the gamble paid off.

I was glad to have kept the quieter instruments mic’d up (especially the singer and the bass) while the fiddle lead parts sounded fantastic on the ambisonic recordings alone. This is one huge reason why it’s worth it to use higher-end Ambisonic mics, as you can trust them to provide fidelity for more than just ambient recordings.

An Orchestra
In another recent job, I was mixing for a 360 video of an orchestra. During production we moved the camera/sound rig around to different locations in a large rehearsal stage in London. Luckily, on this job we were able to also run small condensers into a board for each orchestra section, providing flexibility in the mix. Still, in post, the director wanted the spatial effect to be very perceptible and dynamic as we jump around the room during the lively performance. The SPS came in handy once again; not only does it offer good first-order spatial fidelity but a wide enough dynamic range and frequency response to be relied on heavily in the mix in situations where the close-mic recordings sounded flat. It was amazing opening up those recordings and listening to the SPS alone through a decent HRTF — it definitely exceeded my expectations.

It’s always good to be as prepared as possible when going into the field, but you don’t always have the budget or space for tons of equipment. In my experience, one high-quality and reliable ambisonic mic, along with some auxiliary lavs and maybe a long shotgun, are a good starting point for any field recording project for 360 video involving musicians.

Sound designer and composer Luke Allen is a veteran spatial audio designer and engineer, and a principal at SilVR in New York City. He can be reached at luke@silversound.us.

Timecode and GoPro partner to make posting VR easier

Timecode Systems and GoPro’s Kolor team recently worked together to create a new timecode sync feature for Kolor’s Autopano Video Pro stitching software. By combining their technologies, the two companies have developed a VR workflow solution that offers the efficiency benefits of professional standard timecode synchronization to VR and 360 filming.

Time-aligning files from the multiple cameras in a 360° VR rig can be a manual and time-consuming process if there is no easy synchronization point, especially when synchronizing with separate audio. Visually timecode-slating cameras is a disruptive manual process, and using the clap of a slate (or another visual or audio cue) as a sync marker can be unreliable when it comes to the edit process.

The new sync feature, included in the Version 3.0 update to Autopano Video Pro, incorporates full support for MP4 timecode generated by Timecode’s products. The solution is compatible with a range of custom, multi-camera VR rigs, including rigs using GoPro’s Hero 4 cameras with SyncBac Pro for timecode and also other camera models using alternative Timecode Systems products. This allows VR filmmakers to focus on the creative and not worry about whether every camera in the rig is shooting in frame-level synchronization. Whether filming using a two-camera GoPro Hero 4 rig or 24 cameras in a 360° array creating resolutions as high as 32K, the solution syncs with the same efficiency. The end results are media files that can be automatically timecode-aligned in Autopano Video Pro with the push of a button.

“We’re giving VR camera operators the confidence that they can start and stop recording all day long without the hassle of having to disturb filming to manually slate cameras; that’s the understated benefit of timecode,” says Paul Bannister, chief science officer of Timecode Systems.

“To create high-quality VR output using multiple cameras to capture high-quality spherical video isn’t enough; the footage that is captured needs to be stitched together as simply as possible — with ease, speed and accuracy, whatever the camera rig,” explains Alexandre Jenny, senior director of Immersive Media Solutions at GoPro. “Anyone who has produced 360 video will understand the difficulties involved in relying on a clap or visual cue to mark when all the cameras start recording to match up video for stitching. To solve that issue, either you use an integrated solution like GoPro Omni with a pixel-level synchronization, or now you have the alternative to use accurate timecode metadata from SyncBac Pro in a custom, scalable multicamera rig. It makes the workflow much easier for professional VR content producers.”

Comprimato plug-in manages Ultra HD, VR files within Premiere

Comprimato, makers of GPU-accelerated storage compression and video transcoding solutions, has launched Comprimato UltraPix. This video plug-in offers proxy-free, auto-setup workflows for Ultra HD, VR and more on hardware running Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

The challenge for post facilities finishing in 4K or 8K Ultra HD, or working on immersive 360­ VR projects, is managing the massive amount of data. The files are large, requiring a lot of expensive storage, which can be slow and cumbersome to load, and achieving realtime editing performance is difficult.

Comprimato UltraPix addresses this, building on JPEG2000, a compression format that offers high image quality (including mathematically lossless mode) to generate smaller versions of each frame as an inherent part of the compression process. Comprimato UltraPix delivers the file at a size that the user’s hardware can accommodate.

Once Comprimato UltraPix is loaded on any hardware, it configures itself with auto-setup, requiring no specialist knowledge from the editor who continues to work in Premiere Pro CC exactly as normal. Any workflow can be boosted by Comprimato UltraPix, and the larger the files the greater the benefit.

Comprimato UltraPix is a multi-platform video processing software for instant video resolution in realtime. It is a lightweight, downloadable video plug-in for OS X, Windows and Linux systems. Editors can switch between 4K, 8K, full HD, HD or lower resolutions without proxy-file rendering or transcoding.

“JPEG2000 is an open standard, recognized universally, and post production professionals will already be familiar with it as it is the image standard in DCP digital cinema files,” says Comprimato founder/CEO Jirˇí Matela. “What we have achieved is a unique implementation of JPEG2000 encoding and decoding in software, using the power of the CPU or GPU, which means we can embed it in realtime editing tools like Adobe Premiere Pro CC. It solves a real issue, simply and effectively.”

“Editors and post professionals need tools that integrate ‘under the hood’ so they can focus on content creation and not technology,” says Sue Skidmore, partner relations for Adobe. “Comprimato adds a great option for Adobe Premiere Pro users who need to work with high-resolution video files, including 360 VR material.”

Comprimato UltraPix plug-ins are currently available for Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Foundry Nuke and will be available on other post and VFX tools soon. You can download a free 30-day trial or buy Comprimato UltraPix for $99 a year.

Last Chance to Enter to Win an Amazon Echo… Take our Storage Survey Now!

If you’re working in post production, animation, VFX and/or VR/AR/360, please take our short survey and tell us what works (and what doesn’t work) for your day-to-day needs.

What do you need from a storage solution? Your opinion is important to us, so please complete the survey by Wednesday, March 8th.

We want to hear your thoughts… so click here to get started now!



Review: Mettle VR plug-ins for Adobe Premiere

By Barry Goch

I was very frustrated. I took a VR production class, I bought a LG 360 camera, but I felt like I was missing something. Then it dawned on me — I wanted to have more control. I started editing 360 videos using the VR video viewing tools in Adobe Premiere Pro, but I still was lacking the control I desired. I wanted my audience to have a guided, immersive experience without having to be in a swivel chair to get the most out of my work. Then, like a bolt of lightning, it came to me — I needed to rotate the 360 video sphere. I needed to be able to reorient it to accomplish my vision, but how would I do that?

Rotate Sphere plug-in showing keyframing.

Mettle’s Skybox 360/VR Tools are exactly what I was looking for. The Rotate Sphere plug-in alone is worth the price of the entire plug-in package. With this one plug-in, you’re able to re-orient your 360 video without worrying about any technical issues — it gives you complete creative control to re-frame your 360 video — and it’s completely keyframable too! For example, I mounted my 360 camera on my ski helmet this winter and went down a ski run at Heavenly in Lake Tahoe. There are amazing views of the lake from this run, but I also needed to follow the skiers ahead of me. Plus, the angle of the slope changed and the angle to the subjects I was following changed as well. Since the camera was fixed, how could I guide the viewer? By using the Rotate Sphere plug-in from Mettle and keyframing the orientation of the shot as the slope/subject relationship changed relative to my position.

My second favorite plug-in is Project 2D. Without the Project 2D plug-in, when you add titles to your 360 videos they become warped and you have very little control over their appearance. In Project 2D, you create your title using the built-in titler in Premiere Pro, add it to the timeline, then apply the Project 2D Mettle Skybox plug-in. Now you have complete control over the scale, rotation of the titling element and the placement of the title within the 360 video sphere. You can also use the Project 2D plug-in to composite graphics or video into your 360 video environment.

Mobius Zoom transition in action.

Rounding out the Skybox plug-in set are 360 video-aware plug-ins that every content creator needs. What do I mean but 360 video-aware? For example, when you apply a blur that is not 360 video-content-aware, it crosses the seam where the equi-rectangular video’s edges join together and makes the seam unseemly. With the Skybox Blur, Denoise, Glow and Sharpen plug-ins, you don’t have this problem. Just as the Rotate Sphere plug-in does the crazy math to rotate your 360 video without distortion or introducing artifacts, these plug-ins do the same.

Transitioning between cuts in 360 video is an evolving art form. There is really no right or wrong way. Longer cuts, shorter cuts, dissolves and dips to black are some of the basic options. Now, Mettle is adding to our creative toolkit by applying their crazy math skills on transitions in 360 videos. Mettle started with their first pack of four transitions: Mobius Zoom, Random Blocks, Gradient Wipe and Iris Wipe. I used the Mobius Zoom to transition from the header card to the video and then the Iris Wipe with a soft edge to transition from one shot to the next in the linked video.

Check out this video, which uses Rotate Sphere, Project 2D, Mobius Zoom and Iris wipe effects.

New Plug-Ins
I’m pleased to be among the first to show you their second set of plug-ins specifically designed for 360 / VR video! Chroma Leaks, Light Leaks, Spherical Blurs and everyone’s favorite, Light Rays!

Mettle plug-ins work on both Mac and Windows platforms — on qualified systems — and in realtime. The Mettle plug-ins are also both mono- and stereo-aware.

The Skybox plug-in set for Adobe Premiere Pro is truly the answer I’ve been looking for since I started exploring 360 video. It’s changed the way I work and opened up a world of control that I had been wishing for. Try it for yourself by downloading a demo at www.mettle.com.

Barry Goch is currently a digital intermediate editor for Deluxe in Culver City, working on Autodesk Flame. He started his career as a camera tech for Panavision Hollywood. He then transitioned to an offline Avid/FCP editor. His resume includes Passengers, Money Monster, Eye in the Sky and Game of Thrones. His latest endeavor is VR video.