The team at TARGO decided to focus on VR because it’s a proven market, co-founder and VR director Chloé Rochereuil told INMA members in a master class on the creative use of Extended Reality (XR) for newsrooms.
“As we want to address audiences, XR is really a great way for us to distribute experiences,” Rochereuil said.
In defining XR, she explained that it is first-person content that might use Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR).
Because she hasn’t seen as many compelling experiences in 360-degree film and AR, the TARGO team decided to focus on Virtual Reality (VR). VR is a proven market, she said, with daily users, functional hardware, and growth. She also explained the difference between 360 film and 6DOF experiences.
“With 360 film, your view is fixed at the spot of the camera and you are able to move your head around in a 360-degree view, but you cannot move beyond the camera’s position. You can’t interact with the environment.”
6DOF, on the other hand, is more immersive and uses photogrammetry, allowing the user to hear and move around within the experience and space.
“It’s really disappointing to see a 360 video, so we’re focusing on VR,” Rochereuil said.
What is a VR documentary?
Rochereuil led INMA members through TARGO’s XR vehicle of choice: the VR documentary.
A good format for a VR documentary is 10 to 20 minutes in length. They usually contain one strong character with highly visual environments.
“People are definitely more engaged inside a VR documentary, so you can have a longer experience,” Rochereuil said.
She had some advice for newsrooms who want to create such journalistic experiences.
Before the shoot: Pick the right topic, write your story, and choose the right equipment.
During the shoot: Position your camera, find your place on site, and be creative.
After the shoot: Edit your story, guide the viewer, and do any needed post-production.
Choosing the right topic is vital, she said. Keep in mind that VR doesn’t replace real life, but rather allows the audience to live things they would not otherwise be able to.
Topic considerations include:
Immersion: highly visual environments.
Exclusive locations: discover places difficult to access.
Empathy: connect with people.
Embodiment: be someone else.
Experience: live new experiences.
Temporality: travel in time.
“VR doesn’t really replace real life. It makes you [be in] places you wouldn’t have been,” Rochereuil said. “The visuals and immersion are so important in VR. Your story has to be in highly visual environments.”
TARGO’s VR documentary, Solo to the South Pole, is an example of viewers experiencing a highly visual and unique environment. It’s centred around an explorer crossing the South Pole.
“Most of us would never go to Antarctica, but the viewer can experience it through the VR experience,” Rochereuil said.
VR is supposed to connect with people.
“When you connect with people and meet them, when you’re sharing the space with them, it’s really important to create empathy. You feel connected with them thanks to VR,” explained Rochereuil.
An example, TARGO’s Surviving 9/11 VR documentary, follows a woman’s story who was trapped in the rubble for 27 hours.
“You get to see inside the tower, then you go 20 years later to the memorial site,” Rochereuil said. “At the end of the documentary, you feel like she’s a friend and you actually know her. VR has the power to make you be someone else.”
Users can even become different physical sizes inside a VR experience.
For example, in TARGO’s nature immersion VR documentary, the viewer is shrunk to the size of the insects and experiences the VR world as the insects do.
Another topic for a VR documentary is experiences, such as the documentary The Freefall Dancer, where viewers can skydive with a world champion.
“It makes you understand how she feels and why it’s so important for her to do that because you’re actually doing it,” Rochereuil said. “If you’re just in front of your TV, you wouldn’t understand it the same way.”
“VR makes you travel in time,” she said. “You can go back in the past or go to places that aren’t there anymore.”
Surviving 9/11 is an example of a VR documentary where viewers can travel in time. Photos of the World Trade Tower centres from before the attack were used in the documentary, which gives people the experience of being inside the towers 20 years later, even though they are no longer there.
“It’s really powerful,” said Rochereuil.
Write your spacial story
Rochereuil advised newsrooms to imagine the shot ahead of time.
“Make sure when you go on site, everything is ready. VR is not flexible at all compared to a regular camera. Of course you’re going to be surprised by things that are happening there, but you have way less flexibility.”
When writing the spacial story, she had some recommendations:
Storyboard: What’s your narrative? Who are your characters?
Do a shotlist: Scout the places and imagine your shots.
Organise: Explain the technology and secure enough time on-site.
She gave some considerations when choosing and operating the right equipment:
Cameras: Stereoscopy vs. monoscopy, 360 degrees vs. 180 degrees, and consumer vs. professional.
Audio: Spacial sound and interviews.
Gear: Tripod, special gear, and lighting.
Position your camera
An important thing to remember is that a VR camera cannot be moved. “The viewer becomes the camera,” Rochereuil said.
There are three axes that are used when filming with a VR camera:
X: the distance to your point of interest.
Y: the height.
Z: the stitch line.
“Think about the three axes where you’re going to be able to move the camera,” explained Rochereuil.
The camera requires being operated a certain way or the viewer will be very disoriented and won’t have the right experience. It’s better to put the subject directly in front of the stitch line so there isn’t any stitching required afterwards.
There are artificial and spontaneous movements that can be done in VR.
“Because these are movements that are quite slow and controlled, these are movements that are OK to watch with the VR headsets. If it’s stable enough, it works,” Rochereuil said.
Find your place
Most of the time in 360-degree filming, Rochereuil advises the journalist to stay behind the camera.
“You have to make the choice between showing the journalist on the screen. At TARGO, we usually don’t show the journalist because we prefer to have no proxy between the viewer and the character,” she said.
That being said, TARGO does show the journalist sometimes, depending on the topic of the documentary.
“It’s useful when you’re talking about an environment that can be quite tricky for the viewer,” Rochereuil said.
An example is their reporting in Iraq, which can be quite intense for the viewer. Therefore, the documentary showed the journalist as he guided the viewer through the experience.
In regards to a crew, Rochereuil recommended a light crew of about two or three people. If more people are added, it can be more tricky because they just be hidden while filming.
“You have to be a natural [part] of the scene you are filming,” she said.
Edit your story
Stitching and stereoscopy are involved in the editing process, which is when one camera films for the right eye and another films for the left eye, then they are placed together.
The viewer is guided by the editing by using points of interest. Editing is done differently than in 2D because all of the shots are in one direction.
“Make sure you don’t miss anything. Make sure the next shot starts at the same spot you left your character,” Rochereuil recommended.
Sound and 2D elements (titles, photographs, maps, etc.) can also be used in the editing process to help guide the viewer.
You can also remove objects in post-production. Sometimes for example, erasing the drone or microphone, which can be distracting if the viewer sees these during the experience.