On January 10, 2017 VRScout Studios teamed up with Radiant Images, vantage.tv, Nokia OZO, and The White House to make history, executing a multi-platform livestream of President Obama’s Farewell Address in 360°.
It was the first broadcast of its kind, as not only the first Presidential farewell preserved in 360°, but also the first 360° simulcast to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter / Periscope. We put together this recap to share what we learned with VR creators in hopes that it will be helpful as you continue to push the limits of immersive content production and live broadcast.
How it Came Together
The VRScout team began discussions with The White House back in October. Barrack Obama has been an early adopter of new technologies since the beginning of his time in office. He was the first to tweet from @POTUS on Twitter, to go live on Facebook, to use a filter on Snapchat. He also became the first VR President in Through the Ages by Felix & Paul. Our charter was to give him one more technological milestone before he left office.
Obama tries Google Cardboard in Hanover, Germany April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
We put together a few different ideas for The White House, including one of our favorites from the cutting room floor, HOLOBAMA. The idea was to shoot the President’s farewell in a volumetric capture studio ahead of the event and preserve it in holographic form.
Pro tip: Avoid excessive use of words like shoot and capture when pitching The White House.
After months of coordination and approvals across various press, digital, and security groups within The White House, we were granted approval to stream the address live in 360°. That was January 1, 2017, ten days before the event. Fortunately the VR community is a tight knit group and we were able to enlist a few friends to help pull off a miracle. A million thanks to Radiant Images, vantage.tv, and Nokia for joining us to pull all the necessary equipment and resources to make all of this a reality.
How it was Shot
Our camera of choice was the Nokia OZO, a professional VR camera combining directional 360×360 surround sound with 360° spherical video coverage. If you can’t afford the $45,000 price tag, you can rent one through Radiant Images by the day. Tell them VRScout sent you.
We flew into Chicago a few days before the event to meet with White House officials (I love saying that) and align on camera placement at McCormick Place. We had three OZO cameras to place, and one more as a backup. Security was super tight, so we had limited time to set up once our positions were confirmed. The diagram below illustrates the camera positions we were shooting for and where we ultimately ended up.
The camera positions we lobbied for and our final locations
Key Takeaway: Fight for camera placement.
It’s something you’ll hear from anyone shooting events in 360°. Most of the people you’ll come across won’t understand the importance of placing cameras in the middle of the action. They’re used to working with cameras that zoom, not ones that see all around from a fixed perspective.
In early conversations with the White House, we asked for at least one of the cameras to be placed within 12 feet of the President. Once we landed in Chicago, it was a constant effort to maintain compelling angles as secret service and other departments worked to keep the press in the press section. Ultimately, we were very fortunate to be the only media company granted access inside the seating area.
Light and Sound
These are two more major factors for live 360 production. Sound ended up being very straightforward for us. Rather than utilize the OZO’s built-in 360 audio, we opted for a direct audio line from President Obama’s microphone. For obvious reasons, it made more sense to optimize for the speech over environmental audio.
The view from camera #2
Lighting was something we had little to no control over. The stage and main bleachers were flooded with light while the seats and press section were much darker. You’ll notice that our shots from camera #2 are the darkest, so we ended up switching to it less frequently. Camera #3, on the other hand, ended up being one of our best vantage points as it was front and center in the bleachers next to the President.
How it was Streamed
The only channel that was straightforward going in was YouTube, who announced 4K 360° livestreaming in December. So that’s the stream we embedded on our landing page and right here for your viewing pleasure:
You can also check out the Facebook and Twitter / Periscope feeds. We had to do some digging to enable these ones. The Periscope 360° feature is in Beta for select partners and Facebook’s product is still in Alpha. Prior to this stream, National Geographic was the only publisher allowed to test it.
Since the production was created with Nokia OZO, we were able to utilize OZO Live, a solution that includes real-time 3D 360° stitching software, reference hardware, and allows for live virtual reality broadcasting. If you want to dive deeper into this pipeline and workflow, check out the OZO LIVE resource library for detailed instructions.
The vantage.tv crew ran our video village, which we set up under the press risers. They monitored the stream and switched between cameras throughout the broadcast like surgeons in an operating room. There was a whole lot of broadcast equipment outside the frame of the photo below. We won’t give away their secret sauce, but somehow they managed to keep all three streams up without a glitch.
The view from our video village
Thanks to Radiant Images, we were running the feed through three Elemental encoders – one for each stream. We also had Wowza as a backup, which would have allowed us to transrate, transcode, transmux, and encrypt in the cloud from a single encoder.
Why it Worked in 360°
The best use of 360° video is putting viewers where they can’t be. In this case, it was a chance to give everyone a chance to sit in the crowd for President Obama’s Farewell Address and feel the energy as he delivered his final words to the people of Chicago.