The Basics of VR with Emily Cooper


Last month, I sat down with the talented VR production coordinator and director, Emily Cooper, and learned a thing or two about her path into Virtual Reality (VR), the immersive technology that is rocking the world right now. Emily works in Live Action Production at the Virtual Reality Company (VRC), a premier VR company that is helping pave the way for VR to come to the masses. This month, Emily helps those of us with limited knowledge of VR as she lays out some basics.

Q: Can you describe the basics of VR to someone who knows little to nothing about it?

A: It seems like such a simple question but so many people have such a different interpretation of what VR is. I think to define it and to understand what VR is right now is to look at the landscape. To me, VR is an experience you can immerse yourself in. You will often hear people talk about 360 video, [which]are scroll and click videos that you can watch on You Tube or Facebook. You can take your mouse and scroll around and look at all different angles. That’s a 360 video. You can take that same output and put it into a gear VR [which is a headset for mobile]and it’s the same video but it’s wrapped around a 360 sphere. It’s not 3D but wrapped around a 360 sphere so we’re taking you and putting you in the middle of an environment. At that level, you can’t interact with your environment. There are ways to build virtual reality experiences so you can interact with the environment, your movement is tracked, game play is involved. At a certain level, dependent upon what type of HMD (head mounted display) you are using, there are multiple levels of interactivity and degrees of freedom. The basic, for me, is where VR is an experience that immerses you into another world, or environment or landscape.

Q: Because the technology is quite new, are there a lot of problems with VR?

A: You’re coming across a learning curve. VR’s been around for a while but the past few years, the technology has caught up to what people want to do in VR. The technology still has a way to go but it’s rapidly changing and evolving and catching up and soon, problems in live action VR will be alleviated.

Q: What is a typical timeline for a VR project?

A: It’s utterly dependent upon the project. Are you shooting 360 video? Do you want it to be shot in 2D monoscopic? Do you want it to be truly 3D and have it be stereoscopic? Do you want interactive elements? [It all depends.] If you want to go out and make a VR film and you want to play and get your feet wet, take a consumer camera or build your own Go Pro rig [and]you can use a stitching software. You go, you shoot, you download your footage, you stitch it together, you output it and watch it in your gear VR. If you want to start working in VR, you can turn things around pretty quickly. If you want to do a massive project, it can take anywhere from one to 8 months.

Q: What is “stitching”?

A: Live action Virtual Reality rigs are made up of multiple lenses or cameras – when we talk about stitching, we are referring to bringing those multiple images together to create one 360 image.

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Q: Can you tell us about some work you’ve done?

A: I’ve shot over 30 hours of VR. I’ve been working in mostly docu-style, travel-style. I’ve been in the studio with several different artists and I shot at the World Series of Beach Volleyball. With all this, you’re working in an uncontrolled environment and that’s really challenging because you need really good lighting for VR because the majority of cameras are lowlight cameras. You have to watch your stitch line. You really have to make a choice about the POV. You have to decide if you are okay with the possibility of your crew being in the shot, your audio guy might have to be visible in the shot- again, that goes to the style and POV of your project. I’ve been intrigued lately with – what if you shot a documentary or a hybrid [and]you filmed it from one person’s perspective and then you can film it from the other person’s perspective and you can jump back and forth [through built-in interactivity.]

Q: What’s your favorite part of the VR experience?

A: I think [it’s] the making of, the directing of, the knowing that I’m hopefully creating stories that people are going to find riveting and intriguing and compelling. I’m part of a new landscape. It’s been an honor for people to let me into their lives, into their cultures and to know that I’m making this work where people are opening their communities and their cultures. [Another] thing I love about what I do working in VR is being at the intersection of multiple industries – entertainment and technology and beyond. I love being a part of a community that is helping shape the way we view and interact with content in the future, and appreciative for those who laid the groundwork in years past.

Emily is currently working on several docu-style projects at VRC. When our interview neared the end, she offered me an opportunity to experience VR with The Martian VR experience. It was amazing! At first, I stumbled with the interactivity of it but with Emily’s guidance, I started to grasp it and immersed myself in it. It was unlike anything I had experienced. I could look all around and be taken to another environment in a way I had never experienced before. It made me very excited for the future…

Big thanks to Emily for giving us an amazing overview of VR and its role in the current landscape!