This month, I want to offer you some inspiration for the most accessible type of immersive media: spherical video, viewed with a smartphone (and no headset). I’ve picked three recent 360 videos that I particularly like because they demonstrate the form’s unique narrative potential.
First, some notes on the form. This type of spherical video is called ‘magic window’. This is a great name because it really feels like a special window from our world, into another. Your smartphone becomes a little portal that you can peek at another reality through. Pretty cool, right?
Because spherical video and virtual reality came along about the same time, and often use the same technology to create, it’s understandable why they tend to get lumped together. However, the user experience and context for magic window is really quite different. Although virtual reality is much more immersive, magic window has its own virtues. Watching magic window videos can be way more spontaneous. They can be watched on the go, and, because more than one person can see the screen at once, they can be far more social. And of course, your audience don’t need a headset. This is probably why these films can regularly get views in the millions; there isn’t that significant barrier to entry.
Here are the films:
Directed by Milica Zec, available on the Within platform.
Inspired by her childhood in war-torn Serbia, Zec created this critically acclaimed film last year, premiering it at Sundance. It takes its audience into a basement with a family desperately trying to distract their daughter from bomb blasts, which draw ever closer. The parents create, for their daughter, a fantastical tale about a giant stomping around the city above. A moving must-see that explores the power of storytelling in the most terrifying of circumstances.
Directed by Daniel Askill, available on YouTube.
Commissioned by the New York Times, this piece takes its audience from the nighttime city streets of New York up, up up and away. It is as if your body has lost all of its gravitational pull.
Once you’re up, you come across a star studded cast including Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender and Rooney Mara. The experience also features an eerily gorgeous choral soundtrack, composed by Max Richter. Take Flight may be short, at around 3 mins 30, but in that time it does a lot, really pushing the power of presence and the sublime as narrative devices.
What I love about Take Flight is how it lets you, the viewer, interpret your own narrative on to the situation. To me it feels like a near death experience, but I know others have taken something completely different away with them.
The Future of Music
Directed by Greg Barth, available on Vimeo.
This is the only mockumentary in 360 that I have ever seen. But it is brilliant – so kooky, bizarre and unique. In this piece you meet the eccentric musical genius Carré Bleu, who claims his gravity and time defying ‘instruments’ are both the future of music and the origin of grime. You can watch him ‘play’ these instruments whilst learning about his cutting edge craft.
The kitsch visual style is also very different from any other 360 video I have seen, giving it a light, playful quality. This playfulness allows for a subtle mockery of the 360 medium itself. Of course the futuristic, eccentric, fictional character that is Carré Bleu would want his documentary to be produced in 360 degrees! This film is lots of fun; I’d recommend it for some light lunch break entertainment.