On June 16th, I decided to make a spherical video everyday. You can watch them all on BlinkPopShift. Vi asked me a bunch of questions about the project to help me write this post so heres an inter-eleVR interview! I am currently only 55 or so videos into this adventure so lets talk about early insights.
Why daily videos?
Because quality vs quantity is a false dichotomy. Sure, optimizing for quantity in the long run gives you billions served, but just letting yourself make a giant pile of probably not very good drawings or gifs or stories or spherical videos in order to learn what works leads to some sweet skillz. Or at least that’s the reason I give when “I wanted to be the person who has made the most spherical videos” seems like a less than lofty research/artistic pursuit.
What have you learned so far?
Turns out flat video lends itself to talking head presentational styles in a way that spherical video does not. 1st person web video has developed a style in which the maker/performer insinuates themselves into the scene of the video while still controlling the frame. There is an edifice to them, they are about something: a topic, a song, a prank. But the more I try to shoehorn that style into a spherical format the more it resists. Many of the daily spherical videos so far feel more like ‘Come hang out with me while I do this thing I would be doing anyway,’ the largest number falling into the ‘I am making art and the camera is running’ category which reveals a lot about how I spend my life, something I never let happen when I was making flat video. In flat video I kept video Emily and RL Emily very separate, but not so in spherical. Its feels like documentation without translation into textual or verbal language and the non-framed non-presentational all seeing eye of the camera makes me feel more relaxed, more open, and frankly just more adventurous and laissez faire about what I can shoot with it. Nothing gets cropped out, nothing gets left behind.
Do you feel like you’re better at making spherical videos than you were at the beginning?
Extra yes. The speed of iteration means it finally feels like getting good at shooting and editing spherical video instead of just getting good at finding workarounds for fussy software or stitching or building camera rigs. All of that background research has been crucial to my understanding and approach of the medium but I also feel liberated from the time consuming quagmire hardware and software battles to try things I am pretty sure will fail.
What’s your favourite video you’ve made for this project?
I love a small handful including 3 mins o’ y’stad’y: Climbable drawing because it is exactly what I wanted. A stark, high contrast, graphical image, a physical line drawing coated onto the sphere. 3M0Y: This is a song about Steve because it was totally unexpected and sweet and could only have happened that way in a spherical video. #MOY: Dance Dance with a Teen Turtle at VidCon because I set out to capture one thing, me trying to learn how Dance Dance revolution works, but the camera saw more than I was aware was even happening at the time.
What’s your least favourite?
There are several videos I don’t like simply because I am pointing things out you can’t see because of the resolution, or I’m trying to show something in a room thats too dark, or that are just boring, but my actual least favorite is 0:03 yesterday: I hate that word, deconstruction. It feels forced and artificial and flat. Its not that you can’t talk to a spherical camera the way you might talk to a flat camera, I’m sure that is much of how this technology will be used in fact, its just that I know I can find better more interesting things to make with it than leaning on that particular crutch.
How often are you surprised by the results of your video? Which was most surprising?
The ease that comes from the lack of a frame makes spherical shooting far lower impact than shooting flat both socially and cinematographically. Missing the action is pretty hard. It allows for greater serendipity and flexibility and creative course correction mid recording. All of the most surprising results have come from this tendency to the fortuitous: tiny dance parties with Steve, unexpected appearances of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, sudden downpours and playing with dancers.
How do other people react when you’re filming in spherical in public?
Socially it’s lower impact because without the feedback of a screen the camera melts into the background. I ask for consent to record people before I whip out the camera but I have noticed that because of both the Thetas size and because I am not pointing it at anyone, it quickly becomes invisible to those around me. Flat video adheres to that good ol’ uncertainty principle which states we can not observe something without changing it. People put on their best faces, angle themselves to the camera, get just the right light, fuss with their hair and clothes, and look at themselves in the screen if one is facing them. But a tiny handheld spherical camera elicits none of those learned camera-is-present behaviors. This of course may change as spherical recorders become commonplace and we develop new behaviors to deal with them but I will enjoy the uninhibitedness in the meantime.
Do you ever go back and watch your old daily spherical videos? What’s your reaction?
I have gone back a watched a bunch of the old daily spheres. Once I have a few weeks seperation I can see them more as art and less as a things that just happened in my life. It reminds me actually of a piece I read recently by Joan Jonas, a visual artist and early pioneer of video and performance art in America, titled Transmission in Women, Art & Technology by Judy Malloy. In the introduction she talked about her switch from studying “how illusions are created within a frame” in paintings and film to her study of performance. “Performance,” she wrote “is not a space separate from ongoing activities of daily life.” Much of her early work was made improvising, just playing around in the city with the camera, and I want to try more of that as this project continues.
What camera do you use? What camera do you wish you could use?
This project is currently being shot on a Ricoh Theta M15 which shoots video at 15 frames per second and 1920×960 which sounds close to HD until you realize it the resolution is stretched out over an entire spherical FOV. I am itching for the day when they fit 4K at 30FPS or higher into that same sleek handheld form factor.
Do you prefer to watch them in VR, or in a flat spherical player like the YouTube player?
I prefer watching them using the Wearality Sky HMD but only if the camera was steady during the shoot, otherwise a mobile web player with gyroscope and swipe for tracking is my favorite.
What reactions have you gotten? How do you feel about them?
One viewer, Hussien Salama (@hussiens), particularly liked ‘#MOY: Sausage Legs at VidCon’ because it maximized viewer choice. “Usually a lot of the time the action of the moment is just in one spot at a time, but here I was able choose to concentrate on the conversation that you had with Betty (articulationsvlog) or just watching maliaauparis concentrating on the baby.” That video is really busy but it’s interesting that instead of being overwhelmed Hussien felt free to focus on what interested him instead of trying to catch it all.
What is fulfilling about this project?
- That I have a much clearer understanding of the tools that need to exist to make better videos: what would make the camera better, the stitching, editing, compositing, effects, web compression, the playback, all of it.
- I love there’s not that much to go on. I like the open ended puzzle of it, the try it and see what happens, the weird, unformed, liminal sprawl of it all.
How long do you think you’ll keep doing this?
For a while at least. Maybe when I have made 1000 videos I will know what the heck spherical video really is.
How do you manage to do this in addition to all your other projects? Are you some kind of magic human or something?
Shh, don’t tell nobody.