“I want to make VR stuff like you do. How can I get started making content if I can’t afford tons of cameras and equipment?”
People ask us variations of this question all the time. And it makes sense, because being able to build your own thing and own a creation and show it to people and say “I did that” is one of the most empowering things for people. I love things that give me the opportunity to figure things out, expand on that, and then create something of my own. There’s a reason why my favorite video game, Chuck’s Challenge, is a puzzle game with a detailed and easy to use level editor that players can use to create and share their own levels.
At eleVR, we come at video from a “Youtube” background rather than a “Hollywood” background. We want VR to be accessible to lots of people all making their own unique content. For that reason, I’m very excited by the various Kickstarter campaigns for affordable panoramic video cameras like bublcam and 360cam that stitch for you, even though these cameras can’t do stereo video (a much harder problem). But, what if you want to get started right now, or you don’t want to have to shell out for a panorama specific video camera. What can you create right now?
One option is to create a remix video, like Vi blogs about doing here.
I’ve been exploring in an entirely different direction. You might remember that I really like the idea of phone VR. There’s something really compelling about having a single little box that can do everything for you. A magical device that you can use to check your email, watch cat videos, take pictures, view VR content, and maybe even talk on the phone. But, you know, if that magical device is really going to do everything, you had better also be able to make your VR content on it.
And, handily enough, there are already tools for creating VR content on your phone. Still panoramas can easily be made with a variety of phone apps. For example, Google’s Photo Sphere application allows you to quickly and easily capture a fairly high resolution equirectangular still panorama on your phone. In fact, a high enough resolution image that it’s actually too large to be used as a texture by webGL on my computer without downsizing it a bit! You can check the max texture size that is supported by your setup by going to this url: https://www.khronos.org/registry/webgl/conformance-suites/1.0.2/conformance/limits/gl-max-texture-dimensions.html. For my computer the max texture size is 4096px, so any image with a larger dimension than that needs to get downsized before it can be used as a webGL texture.
I first played with panorama applications a few years ago, but without VR, I didn’t really find them compelling. Mousing around the world and looking at a tiny slice of it on a phone screen made for frustrating ways of looking at pictures, and the raw image with it’s weirdly distorting equirectangular projection was just not that easy to look at. And, even with VR, it’s not necessarily immediately obvious why mono photo panoramas are particularly compelling, but I’ve actually been having a ton of fun experimenting with them.
To make it easy to see what I’m describing, I’ve also created a fork of the eleVR web player to show panoramic images, with a series of panoramic images that show these ideas. Just like the eleVR video player, the eleVR Picture Player works with the Oculus on webVR enabled browsers. It also works with Google Cardboard on your webGL enabled iPhone or Android device.
Go check out the eleVR Picture Player here to see the example images that I describe below. If you make your own panoramic images you can look at them in the picture player as well, by loading them using the file load button in the bottom right. Just make sure your image resolution doesn’t exceed the maximum texture size for your device!
Here are 10 fun and easy things you can make in VR using phone panoramas as your starting point. You can look at examples of the still panorama ideas by choosing the appropriate image from the image selection dropdown on the eleVR Picture Player. Although I mention some ways to create video and stop motion using still phone panoramas as a starting point below, I’m going to save examples and thoughts on those for later blog posts.
- Take and share awesome VR vacation photos. “Kirby Cove” is an example of this. This is the easiest thing you can do (it’s really what phone panorama apps were intended for), and it’s way more fun than just sharing old school flat photos.
- Create an “I spy” or “Where’s Waldo” type experience. Hide things around the scene, then take your panorama, or have a friend move around to different places as you take the panorama so that they show up multiple times. Share it with people and try to see if they can find all the places that things or people are hiding. Vi shows up at least a baker’s dozen times in the “Utrecht Canal” panorama. Can you find all of them?
- Apply an image filter to turn your image into a surreal universe. For example, I used a “sketchification” tool called “My Sketch” to make the “Mosaic Math Art” panorama look more like a sketched universe. A fun side effect of “sketchifying” the panorama is that it makes the stitching errors look more like artistic decisions than problems.
- Combine different parts of multiple panoramas to create a scene that could never exist in the real world. I combined a Mars panorama from Nasa with a night sky to make the “Mars with Stars” image. This picture was inspired by one of the demos on the new Samsung/Oculus Gear VR.
- Try taking a couple of panoramas from the same point but starting the panoramas just slightly offset from each other, and then combining them one on top of the other. It’s possible to do some adjustments as you line them up as well. This is really hard to do well, although it does work better freehand than you might expect. “phone stereo test” is an example of this. Ideally phone panorama taking software could actually stitch stereo panoramas for you, but nothing can do that right now. Pro tip: You can shift an equirectangular panorama left and right without affecting it’s ability to get stitched back into a sphere, so you can line up the panoramas as you put them on top of each other.
- “Photoshop” in something interesting. I like cats, so in “Denver Botanical Gardens”, I have gratuitously added some cats from my earlier blog post on projections to the scene.
- Take a series of panoramas where you always starting looking at the same point, but move slightly each time to create a stop motion-y VR hyperlapse experience.
- Experiment with other ways to create stop motion videos using your phone panorama as a starting point and moving things around in the scene (probably using some photoshopping software).
- Make a remix video like Vi’s incorporating panoramas that you have taken yourself.
- Combine your panorama with a green screen video to create an easy VR video experience without needing tons of cameras. I love the idea of using a simple pair of stereo cameras to capture video over a green screen and then putting that video into a still panoramic background to easily create a “stereo” VR video experience.
Obviously, this is just brushing the surface of things that anybody can create with just a smart phone (and sometimes also a computer), but I hope that it gives people who have been wanting to try creating their own content in VR, but feel like they don’t have the skills or money a starting point to explore from.