Characters and Environments in 360 Film

A Filming Guide for VR and 360-Degree Films — Part 3

Joe Camilleri
6 min readApr 26, 2018

Where do the characters enter and exit the environment from in a 360 film?

Part 3 of 5

The face of this Turkish soldier has been dirtied with makeup and actual wet soil for the filming of ‘First Contact’ (a 360 film written, produced, filmed and edited by myself, the author, and Tony Camilleri, the only man I trust with editing and SFX in any 360 production I am involved in!). Even such a subtle change, will point towards a development in events, without actually having to explain it in complex and time-consuming ways.

Another interesting factor that needs contemplation in the evolution of film-making using 360-degree cameras and binaural microphones is the entrance and exit of your subjects. Who are your subjects? Which subjects should be seen at a particular moment in time in the film? Where should your subjects stand within the 360 space? In which direction should they be moving, so that the viewer’s gaze would intersect with their path? These questions have long been answered in traditional filming techniques, but applying them to 360-degree film is an entirely different story.

In traditional film, the process of leading the viewer into a shot is fairly straightforward, though not easy in any way, given that the director has a good sense of suspense, flow and a solid knowledge of narrative technique. Over the years of development of film as a medium of storytelling, through the works of major directors, film has bridged the gulf of immersion and empathy.

‘About Time’, billed as a romantic comedy, goes beyond that, and explores the notion of love in a quite unconventional and believable way. Unorthodox, yet believable.

The other day I was watching a movie; ‘About Time’, and I was seriously impressed. I was not impressed due to the actors that gave clout to the movie, as in major Hollywood movies. Neither was I impressed due to the continuous special effects (SFX) that garnish most movies out of Hollywood nowadays. And, I am not being too generic here, nor unkind; That is the sad story here. They do not make movies anymore like they did in the days of Scorsese, Kubrick and Welles. But this movie echoed the works of these mighty lords of film technique. One of the strong points of these directors, whose names have been etched in the annals of history, was definitely the narrative. That is how the story was given life. And, ‘About Time’, had a narrative which served to pull me inside the silver screen and create in me an empathy for 2 whole hours. Hours which I never noticed passing. One of the elements of narrative that made this movie so empathetic, was the believable environment and the even more believable characters which matched (or jarred) perfectly with the environment. Why were the characters so believable? Because I could relate. I related continuously to their story, their life, the way they tackled problems, (or created worse problems). The characters were simple to understand, yet so complex in their buildup. I could have reached out and touched them at some points, their creation and buildup was so believable. These characters were built from the inside out, like Leonardo Da Vinci’s, ‘La Gioconda’, also known as, ‘La Mona Lisa’. From the bones, to the gristle, to the flesh and veins to the skin and hair. The complexity of the character creation, rendered the immersive quality of these characters immediate and simple for the viewer … as should be.

Even better, the subjects, so intricately woven, would enter the shot at the perfect timing and placement, creating in the narrative a continuation which would enhance the story’s prospects and the viewers’ needs. There were no hiccups resulting in possible loss of belief and hence detachment. It was sublime. I believed it all. I was totally immersed. I empathized. I even cried.

In the case of 360-degree filming, this situation postulates a very tangible problem indeed. The ‘where’ in this case is the most important question one should be asking. Have you ever entered a room, a room that you have never been inside before, and immediately feel the urge to look around and acquaint yourself? VR and 360 filming both work on this innate premise within the human psyche. ‘The Ring — VR Experience’, a fan-made horror flick based on the famous franchise, ‘The Ring’, manages to do away with most of this room for error. It is very interesting how, although the viewer holds the control of where to look, the effects included in the editing are subliminal in passing on a covert message to the viewers to move the HMD around each time a glitch appears inside the viewers’ filed-of-vision. Once the viewers turn their head, they will be met with a change in the scenario which should increase the scary element in this experience. Even though the viewers might not find the new subject immediately, they have been subliminally trained to look for something, hence the viewers would turn their heads around, knowing that something should be cropping up, until they eventually find it. This element of ‘training’ your audience by inserting cues, immediately includes and increases the interactive measure in the experience. The viewer does not need to make use of any appositely programmed buttons, focal points, or any other external device, which would ultimately interfere with the immersive process, except for the innate, hence natural head-turning, that would interfere very little, if at all, with the immersive qualities intended.

The leather straps worn by this Turkish soldier foreshadowed the use of bows or flintlocks at a future point.

So, in brief, plan the entrance of your subjects. Cue their entrance through foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a highly effective plot device that makes the story plausible. It consists of an implication or introduction early in the movie of something that will be extremely relevant as the plot unfolds. In Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991), the gun that inflicts a wound in Act I is introduced much earlier, during the first ten minutes of the film.

In Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), the foreshadowing is more subtle, but equally worthy. Somewhere in Act II, Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) trips on a pressurized air tank, which he curses. In Act III, Brody shoves the same tank into the shark’s mouth and makes it explode.

In James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984), an early scene shows the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) talking into a police radio imitating a dead policeman’s voice, thus establishing this gimmick. Later in the film, the Terminator reproduces Sarah’s (Linda Hamilton) mother’s voice in order to discover Sarah’s location.

Foreshadowing worked perfectly in traditional film. It is a technique which establishes elements which are of a strong importance at a later stage, sometimes even at a sequel stage. Foreshadowing brings forth the belief necessary, and that is desperately needed in a good movie to establish immersion. Once the viewer believes, the viewer is immersed. Loss of this belief, will jolt the viewer out of the narrative and hence immersion is lost.

In 360 film, foreshadowing is even more important than in traditional film. It is the technique which drags the viewer’s eyes, and/or head around to where the action has been placed within the 360 environment. In traditional film narrative, foreshadowing is employed to explain an object, or a skill or talent, or a behaviour. In 360 film, all this still applies, while careful attention must be given to build more cues to enhance the movement guidance within the experience.

Such a technique can be very subtle or loud or brash. That, all depends on what kind of 360 movie you are working upon. The dependence would remain wholly in the hands of the director and how he/she chooses to execute their narrative.

An interestingly original rendering based on the movie ‘The Ring — A VR/AR Experience’

More about filming in 360 in Part 4 of this blog — What lighting would best aid the creation of the world that is being developed?



Joe Camilleri

360 film specialist/lecturer, with a flair for visual narrative & storytelling techniques. ”"