Camera movement is so common in traditional filmmaking that for many filmmakers it is practically a requirement. Shifting the camera can be done in many different ways for many different effects: the natural unsteadiness of a hand-held clip, the smooth pan or zoom of a dolly or rail shot, the energy of a whip pan, tracking movement within a scene, and so on. These techniques are a tried and trusted part of filmmaking that help the cinematographer and director develop the visual narrative, control the audience’s view and increase the impact of their work.
All of these techniques are based on traditional ‘rectilinear’ filming where what’s captured is a standard cropped, framed view, the director’s viewpoint. But that’s in the traditional filming world; in immersive filmmaking many of the things normally taken for granted are not as relevant and can sometimes be actually wrong.
Moving the camera during regular rectilinear shooting is such an article of faith that it's hard for people to switch off that instinct when approaching 360 video. For traditional shooting there are essentially no bad consequences caused by moving the camera, but it's very different for immersive work, in both 180 and especially 360 media. In this, moving someone’s entire perception of reality has a much greater impact; there is nothing to anchor an immersed viewer to a stable reality. When what their eyes tell them and what their inner ear tells them doesn’t match up (simultaneous “you’re moving” and “no you’re not”) the result can be discomforting and distracting at least, and it can build to actual nausea. No matter how good the work may be, that will turn people off watching.
This doesn’t mean that any camera movement in immersive productions is always wrong. Felix and Paul’s ‘Traveling While Black’ uses a slow slider in one scene that works very well, and Jeb Corliss’s ‘Grinding the Crack’ is essentially one long, very fast wingsuit flight. The Traveling While Black example is sensitively done and never threatens to upset anyone’s inner ear. The movement in Grinding the Crack is really dramatic, but it is entirely in context and, slight flight corrections aside, it’s basically all in one general direction and there’s no problematic acceleration to disturb viewers. These are exceptions of course, but they show it can be done and work well. Just remember how different things are for an immersed audience and be conservative.
When planning shots for immersive video production start by being extra cautious and assuming there will be no camera movement at all. Then if you still want to incorporate moving the camera during a particular scene, follow these guidelines:
- If it moves there should be a strong reason for that, not just ‘I want it’
- Keep the motion linear, or as close to linear as possible
- Don’t use rotation movements at all as that’s a shortcut to nausea for many people
- Slow can work well, but if it’s just at perception thresholds it can be a little disturbing
- Don’t string multiple movement shots together; give the viewer some recovery time