Virtual Reality Filmmaking: The Tools you Need to Map Out Your VR Project

by Amy DeLouise

Ready to take a stab at telling stories in VR? Previsualization will be an essential tool in your VR filmmaking preproduction planning.

”Previs” = Prep

There is one major VR challenge for any director coming out of traditional media – AKA all of us! With VR, the environment surrounds the viewer and does not rely on traditional “framing” of the shot. So how do you plan your sequences? How do you assess where to place the camera and plan for the action around it?

The previsualization, or “previs”, process allows you to map out your story using 3D computer modeling. Through previs, a director can play with camera angles, plan scene transitions, and design shot sequences.

If you’re working at a major studio or game design company it’s easy to get the tools you need to do this. For small companies and independents, an expensive 3D animation process is not an option.

So, what about the rest of us?

Finding the Right Camera

I recently took a research trip to Nova Scotia for a project in a large historic Victorian home. The gorgeous home has high ceilings, a sweeping staircase and amazing artifacts in every room. An excellent space for a VR project! I had to find some affordable tools to help me with previs while I was in the space.

On a recent tour with LA animation and previs studio The Third Floor (Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), Head of Business Development Dane Smith suggested two low cost 360° cameras – the Ricot Theta and Samsung Gear 360. I opted for the Samsung because it can record photos and 4K and will work with the Galaxy S7.

Samsung Gear 360 camera with app.

Samsung Gear 360 camera with app.

(I’m not an i-Person, as I like to call them, but don’t worry if you are! Gear360 is also available for iOS, although I understand that the resolution of video is reduced.)

The Gear360 app allows for pictures, 4K video, and live broadcast. You can also hook your camera to a laptop with a handy USB-C port for remote control.This is essential because turning the camera on with the button just below the front lens results in “big hand” as it’s called by 360-ers!

VR Filmmaking Tools Beyond the Camera

I found a gorilla pod tripod to be quite handy, with the legs compressed into a monopod, as I often wanted to hold the camera over my head. The new stabilizer in this upgraded camera works pretty well.

Want to edit your previs footage? My favorite software is Collect. You can cycle through your clips, do color grades, make selects, even add music. And it’s free!

The Importance of Storyboarding

But what about mapping out storyline?

The video or photo scenes you shoot with your small 360 camera are very helpful, but you need some kind of storyboarding layout to place them in the right sequence to communicate with your team. A number of VR experts I spoke to have told me they create their own 180° “T” storyboards that outline the point of viewer/user focus.

Why only 180°?

As producer Amanda Shelby explained to, “no one wants action coming at them from behind their head.”

VR Filmmaking Storyboard Example from Amand

VR Filmmaking Storyboard Example from Amanda Shelby

For a broader example of a VR storyboard click here to see an example from Alton Glass, Glass Rock Experiential.

When asked on Quora about how he storyboards 360, 3D Filmmaker Boston McConnaughey recommended adding a top-down view on every board. This helps you keep track of where the action or travel will be. He describes this as looking like a “bullseye” with the camera at the center.

Consider adding audio notes to this layout. Audio cues are essential to drawing the audience into the story.

VR Proof of Concept Videos

This POC video is from New Americans 360 which was started as part of the Oculus Launch Pad program. It’s a documentary series exploring the multifaceted stories of refugee communities who have recently arrived in the United States. Shot on a Nikon Key Mission.

Heading the 360 project is Cigdem Slankard, MFA Assistant Professor School of Film & Media Arts Cleveland State University.


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About the Author

Amy DeLouise is a writer/producer/director of short-form nonfiction content for large live events and displays and is author of The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Routledge Press). More of her tips can be found at


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