I was entirely unprepared for what happened after clicking what looked like a normal video.

Sure, the caption stated it plain and clear:

“We spent some time over the weekend capturing footage with a 360 camera,” read the post, made by local videography studio Yarn. “If you haven’t experienced the wonder that is watching 360 footage you can interact with it and look around as it plays! Try it!”

But all new tech comes with a spoonful of skepticism, right. And the video starts out looking simple enough. A dog in a garage. A person in the background. Then words pop up that read,

“For mobile, move your device to look around.”

So I did. And my mind was blown.

Suddenly, I was in the garage. I was with the dog, with the people there, I could look around and see everything. Even more than I would if I had been present. I stood up, mouth agape, as the scenes shifted to outside, and I could look around at the sky, the grass, the dog below me, its tail behind me.

This is the world of 360 video, an emerging video tech that is making its way into the market.

Rob Burke, founder of Yarn, brought his Ricoh THETA 360 video camera to talk with me about the capabilities of this new creative outlet. The camera, just a bit thicker than a Wii remote, is one of the cheapest in the market at about $350. To get anything higher quality, Burke said it can cost up to $30,000.

360 camera

“There’s no in between right now,” he said.

However, the NAB show, known as the mother of all filmmaking and video conferences, happened this week. Burke expects a number of 360 cameras in the $2,000 to $5,000 range to be announced.

His 360 camera, which he carries in his backpack at all times, uses dual lenses to capture a 360 view of the world around you. When viewed on your phone, it utilizes the internal accelerometer — the thing that allows your phone to detect movement, like if it’s horizontal or vertical — to explore the footage to your hearts content.

The experience is very similar to that of virtual reality. In fact, it was his first experience trying the Oculus Rift that piqued Burke’s interest in the world of 360 cameras, he said.

Right now, however, Burke sees the technology as still in the “gimmicky stage.”

“It’s like in cinema, when that was first created, there was the shock and awe of just watching a train pull up,” Burke described. “That’s the stage we’re in now with 360 cameras.”

However, on the other side of the gimmicky stage is an entirely new way to tell stories, Burke said. On one hand a 360 camera does make the art of ‘creating the perfect angle’ a bit obsolete. But it also challenges directors to be aware of what is all around the camera, and of how they can draw the audience’s eye a certain direction.

“It’s very much about the directing and the actors blocking,” Burke said. “It definitely takes away some of the control. But it also opens up a new avenue of art. You have to know how you’re going to manipulate your audience to turn their heads, and interact with what they’re watching.”

360 camera

Burke is already dipping his toe into the capabilities of a 360 artistic experience with the help of local freelance videographer and actress, Amber Morgan. Together they are working on writing a short story that will be filmed with 360 video.

The story will feature a child who is raised in foster care and then reclaimed by her parents unexpectedly. It’s something they both feel passionately about, Burke said, and something they want people to experience.

And by experience, he means much more than just watching it.

Recently, Burke came across a piece of journalism called “The Displaced” by the New York Times, wherein they used a 360 camera to tell the stories of three refugee children. Burke followed the children through their lives. He looked up at the sky and watched the planes fly overhead to drop food.

“It was so powerful,” he said. “You watch this happening.”

The 360 camera can’t replace cinematography, Burke said; but it does offer a new way to connect the viewers with the video.

“I think there’s specific things that this [360 video] will immerse you in better than cinematography can, because actually feel like you’re there,” Burke said. “You can be more empathetic.”


Photos courtesy of Emerging Prairie.

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Marisa Jackels