It’s Got 360 Problems, But Immersiveness Isn’t One

by: Chris Vinan

The purpose of this article is to consider the different perspectives on the position of 360 film. We will investigate some opposing views and then some optimistic ones.  We will then full circle (more like a sphere) back to the questions I will be asking after this sentence. Where is 360 film today? While 360 film promises an immersive experience like none before it, creatives are still figuring out how to best tell stories with this technology.

Today, 360 film is mostly contained within the minds of its conceivers. Artists still have not discovered how 360 film can become a marketable, entertaining, immersive entity. Since, there hasn’t been too much development towards the full realization of this technology, all we can do within the confines of this article is speculate.

The critics of 360 film argue that it does not allow users to access the great features that the VR technology lends. Since one can only watch, 360 film viewing becomes another passive consumption practice. Where is the immersion? When does a user’s volition come into play? Well, it doesn’t to the extent that some would like and it probably shouldn’t.

360 films, as you can tell from the words that constitute it, are shaped by the mediums that came before it. Movies themselves put your attention at the disposal of the director. You look wherever the director points his camera. You think what the character’s actions imply. Seeing becomes the only form of agency in both traditional and 360 film. But, a 360 camera will capture everything and everyone. A lighting coordinator or an audio grip will show up in the scene, breaking the fourth wall that divides a created world from the real one.

So telling a 360 story is hard. In essence, the audience has to create its own story. They have to decide when to look left or right. And this can detract from the goals of traditional film. Viewers become the director, the editor, and the audience. Immersiveness is the destruction of the distinguishing divisions between the traditional roles that traditional forms of content production have normalized. Viewers will now have too much power. 360 film allows users to look wherever they want, which is a challenging feature for the 360 director to conquer. The trick of tomorrow’s trade will lie in how well a director can manage the expectations of the former medium. This will take time for creatives to master, but it is possible and necessary to transition and transform the audience of today into the audience of tomorrow. But, maybe the standards of film are irrelevant. Isn’t this entirely new? A 360 viewer is nothing like the static viewer of regular film.

The confines of the current conundrum will be crushed.Since this may be in fact an entirely new medium: How much of it will be constructed by remediated metaphors of a past medium? The very fact that I am asking these questions means that somewhere else someone is developing the answer. Film itself was extremely experimental when it first began. The avant-garde movements of the 20s and 30s brought forth many of the techniques we still use today. Juxtaposition, violent camera swings, and handheld techniques were all mastered before film became the master of communicative mediums. Let the experimenters experiment. Let the development develop.

Another argument against the potential of 360 films lies in its pricing and technological caveats. Quality, as of now, is extremely limited. Most of the cameras accessible to the general consumer today lack the quality necessary to match their expectations. Meanwhile, traditional filmmaking has become incredibly accessible. With the advent of DSLR’s, amateur video producers can produce high-quality content. Beautiful images with a high range of colors. 360 film currently lives next to the qualitative coffin of the flip camera. But at least it is somewhere. The more that people buy these products, the more likely the companies that guide them are to improve. They need capital to capitalize on their successes. However, it is important to note that if the public refuses to accept the sub-par quality of the Ricoh theta and Samsung 360 they will inevitably improve themselves to capture the reluctant market.

Now, let’s flex these critical muscles and look at the strengths of the seemingly weak technology. Firstly, the technology has to become more accessible and it is. Startups are starting up everywhere. Creatives are creating accessibility. Companies like Fishball and Liveplanet believe that 360 film will become the driving force of VR. Fishball, for instance, wants to bring the 360 view to our smart phones. And Liveplanet wants to make live streaming as easy as pie! As of now, the bracket of potential developers is limited to those that can afford to afford the expensive setups needed to create worlds for VR. But with 360 film, months of development in Unity 3D are unnecessary. 360 content can happen today. Within the time that it took me to write this sentence, someone somewhere could have captured 15 seconds of incredibly incredible immersive footage. All we need is great content to keep consumers content. If development is slow, then adoption will be slow. Fast methods of content production are, therefore, necessary for the propagation of the entire immersive industry. So, if you are looking to dedicate time and energy into a growing field, choose this one. 360 film will happen when it happens. Until then, it needs assistance from investors to further commercialize the product. It is not too early because its future state will not arrive until we invest in it.

So, 360 film today is still stuck in tomorrow. However, comparing it to previous consumption mediums is unproductive since we are possibly dealing with something that might change everything. It is probably best to allow the population to make sense of all this noisy nonsense. Democratizing 360 film will allow that. Let us figure it out. Let us let the advance guard advance into new fields of vision.