In February 2023, a small team of MyWorld partners researched the use of 360 videos to document shows at the Bristol Old Vic theatre. Our project aimed to create a full length 360 film of a stage show at Bristol Old Vic and offer a test audience the opportunity to watch it while wearing a virtual reality headset.

Test One captured a performance of theatre company Complicite’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, using Insta360 R-One cameras with 2 lenses. MyWorld Research Fellow Ben Samuels liaised between the research group and Complicite. Naomi Smyth and Rachel Pownall from the Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries at Bath Spa University took charge of the filmmaking. When viewed using the VR headset, the footage from these cameras was not good enough in the low light of the theatre to work on the same level of quality as the normal video livestream.

For Test Two, the team went back to Bristol Old Vic with a new camera. We used the Insta360 Pro 2, with 6 lenses, that shoots higher resolution footage and handles low light better. Ben Samuels recorded sound with ambisonic microphones to improve the immersive viewing experience. BOV’s Digital Producer Giles Chiplin and MyWorld Creative Producer Tim Powell planned and executed the test ‘performance’, moving around the stage to allow us to see a range of potential performer and camera positions.

Test Two resulted in much higher quality footage when viewed in a VR headset, especially with the addition of immersive sound, and gave a great sense of the theatre space. Camera positions are more crucial with 360 video than conventional video as the viewer feels they are ‘in’ that position. You must move them carefully and slowly to avoid motion sickness.

We concluded that 360 video has great potential for documenting immersive experiences, where there is something for the audience to see in every direction. However, the best places for 360 cameras to be positioned in Bristol Old Vic Theatre to capture a show for a virtual audience would get in the way of a good experience for an in-person audience. In the future, 360 recordings at Bristol Old Vic and in-person shows would both benefit from being developed separately so that the experience is immersive for both audiences.

This raises interesting issues that all hybrid physical/digital live events are likely to encounter.

Blog by Naomi Smyth