I recently discovered just how easy 360° videos are to make – with Blender, or really, practically any 3D modeling programs or game engine. If you already know how to animate (fair disclosure: I’m still lurnin’), there’s absolutely nothing standing between you and interactive video like this little recent thing I made (click+drag, or better yet, watch it on your phone – Youtube and Facebook’s  gyroscope-as-motion sensor implementation is impressive):

 

So, what does it take to turn your project into a Full-On VR* Experience™? Only two things:

Choosing the right camera for the job, and a way to tell the platform you’re hosting your video on (Youtube / Facebook).

  1. The right camera

Basically, for this to work, you need eyes on your back. There are several popular ways to go about capturing full environments (real or virtual) with a  camera, and each comes with its own terminology and advanced allergy-inducing 3D maths. Let’s avoid all that and stick with what we actually need to know for this method to work: we want an Equirectangular camera, which will project our entire scene onto its frustum, always rendering the full 360° over the X-axis and 180° over the Y-axis (you can read more about it in the docs).

First, choose your camera. In the properties window, simply click on the camera icon, and under “Lens”, make sure you’re in “Panoramic” and select the “Equirectangular” Type.

1

 

This will mess with your ability to view things in render view, so be sure to only do this as a last step, after you’re essentially ready to render.
Consider the difference between:

 

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 9.53.44 PM
Pictured: mmm, this will soon be filled with delicious jell-o

 

And:

 

Pictured: OH JESUS LORD WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO MY SCENE?!
Pictured: SWEED MOTHER OF GOD WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO MY SCENE?!

Guess what? As far as Youtube and Facebook are concerned, there’s very little difference between “regular” videos and 360° videos. They just need to be told – at the file metadata level – that each frame in your video encompasses 360 degrees, rather than a standard static “view”. Once they’re informed of that, via a quick and painless metadata injection, everything else is done for you. So, once your camera is in place, set your usual render settings (nothing special rendering-wise in terms of our equirectangular camera, although I’ve heard several people insist on super-high-res, high-quality settings for maximal immersion – but it’s not mandatory, as you’ll see in my own Pixar-esque, masterful, unbelievably photorealistic example). Now you can start rendering frames per usual. Take a month-long break till it finishes rendering (what? I don’t have a shmancy GPU), then combine said frames into a movie as you normally would. Again, all-max-settings-everything will serve you well.

Finally, download YouTube’s Spatial Media Metadata Injector (A sexy acronym woulda killed them?) and run it according to the instructions; it’s fairly straightforward and super quick. Once you’re done – voila! Upload your new video to Youtube or Facebook and both platforms will instantly recognize that you’re not just a simple videographer, you’re a world maker; i.e, your video will automatically be available in full, glorious 360 degrees:

Super easy, right? Now go forth and make your stuff in 360°! (And leave questions, ideas and moneymaking ponzy schemes in the comments.)

More tips:

  • Facebook tends to downgrade video quality in comparison to youtube. I think this is generally true, and certainly applies to 360 videos, at least in my experience.
  • Carefully plan the way you move/rotate (or don’t) your camera. Remember you’re essentially giving the viewer the liberty to look wherever they want, which means that every animated camera rotation (as opposed to transformation) will feel forced, unnatural and instinctively wrong. One approach that works really well for these types of videos is to use splines (or “paths”) to set the camera movement “on rails”, without interfering with the rotation, so that you get the best of both worlds; guided movement and independent directional viewing. Oculus Rift’s “Best Practices for VR Development” are mostly irrelevant here (see disclaimer at the bottom) but still have a few useful notes on movement and camera placement.
  • What if you want to export your scene, but didn’t animate anything? Even easier! Set up and export a single frame per the instructions in item #1, then stretch it in your video editor to whatever video length you want. Keep in mind, however, that in the case of 3D scene traversal there are several other tools that are just as platform-friendly if not more, while giving you way more control over the presentation of your work.

 

*disclaimer: I have a pet peeve with regards to the common practice of calling 360° videos VR. It’s not actually Virtual Reality; you can’t interact with the environment in any meaningful way, or actually traverse your surroundings. You can just look around you. While 360° videos are currently enjoying a renaissance similar to virtual reality, the terms are not interchangeable but it makes for good clickbait.

 

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