Say Hello To Immersive Video News

    The Open Lab's first video collaboration is live. And it is fantastic. Here's the story of how we made our first 360-degree video, a walk through the fire-ruined town of Middletown, California.

    The embers were out and most local newsrooms had stopped talking about California’s massive Valley Fire, but we knew that Lake county was still a long way from rebuilt, and it seemed like a perfect place to test out a 360-degree camera rig.

    Drones aren’t great in crowded places -- they’re really loud, for one thing, and they can fall on people, for another. But they’re pretty perfect for getting footage of places that aren’t safe to walk, like inside fire damaged structures. Not everything was shot from a DJI Phantom -- parts of the video were shot on a Ricoh Theta, which Pat Hand carried through the remains of her Middletown property.

    Open Lab Fellows Ben Kreimer and Ainsley Sutherland worked with BuzzFeed News reporter Alex Kantrowitz and made a couple of trips up to Middletown to report out the piece that BuzzFeed Motion Pictures released this morning. Along the way, we figured quite a bit out about telling stories in VR environments. In retrospect, it might seem obvious, but editing 360-degree video is a very different undertaking from a conventional view frame. Cutting from one scene to another gets complicated when a viewer who is looking up or down sees something altogether different from a viewer who is looking straight ahead or off to the right. Stitching video from two different cameras together is a lot more complicated, too, when a cut has to work from every angle. We were super lucky to have the help of MIT Grad Student Deniz Tortum for the final round of edits -- he was a huge help in thinking through how to make the cuts work smoothly.

    The final product is up at BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. Let us know what you think!

    This is exactly the kind of collaboration that we’re hoping the lab will make possible. And if you want to shoot some 360-degree video of your own, take a look at the plans that Ben used to build out his rig.