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Director, creative director of the social project VRability, programme director of the Immersive Movies Festival EMC VR Film Festival Georgy Molodtsov told Holographica about what post-production of spherical videos is, why is it needed, and why it’s handy to use Mettle’s products for that.

This article is mainly aimed at people, who have only recently got acquainted with the capabilities of 360 video and are looking for a way to make their works more professional and of a higher quality. You can contact the author via email: info@vrability.ru.

In traditional video, tele and cinema production one can rarely meet a finished product made without processing. Even editing by itself and simple frame cropping are essentially initial processing. And color correction/titles/effects/transitions – all of these determine the overall quality of a product.

In the field of spherical video things are different: initially flat, wide angle and “in focus” image is left as is and is joyfully submitted to all video hostings. This was happening this way at least until Mettle’s plugins – Skybox Studio for After Effects and Skybox 360/VR Tools for Adobe Premiere, without which I can’t imagine post-production not only of serious works, but also amateur ones, – became the worldwide industry standard.

Mettle Skybox Studio for After Effects

Mettle Skybox Studio is a plugin for After Effects, which allows to easily navigate your 360-degree material and work with it: titles, logos, special effects, clean up (cleaning of a tripod and excess elements), tracking and composing of 3D and 2D objects in a handy interface with usual 3D plugins (Plexus, Trapcode Particular и Form, Video Copilot Element 3D, etc), including for monoscopic and stereoscopic material.

But for this you will first of all need an already merged equirectangular file, which you can easily import into After Effects / Premiere.

In the case of Samsung Gear 360, Nikon KeyMission 360, Ricoh Theta S and others such file will be provided either by the camera or by bundled software for video merging. In the case of multi camera systems based on GoPro and other devices Kolor Autopano Video, VideoStitch and PTGui can help.

Why is it needed?

This is how a usual equirectangular file looks like in editing software:

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Because this file will be further shown in spherical format, it has a special wrap, which will later allow to compile it into a cube/sphere. This screenshot shows, in which region and with what distortion every object can be found.

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From this screenshot one can understand that the snowboarder is located exactly behind us (B — Back), while the house is a bit to the left from the center where we will be looking when we put glasses on (F — Front). L and R — left and right, U — Up, D — Down — what we see above and below. It’s a very useful tool, I advise to use Equirectangular Grid in your work to understand in what zone what is located. The undistirted by the video player video is shown in the usual format. That means you see this in front of you:

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And this – when you turn your head back:

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As you saw in the outline over a frame, the image is specifically distorted.

And any title, logo, or image can be inserted only after distorting it, otherwise the player will treat it as distorted and will wrap it onto a sphere considering the equirectangular format.

Because of that a simple title turns in the player into distorted one:

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At the same time Mettle’s tools allow to place text anywhere and anyhow:

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The first tool Skybox Studio V2 — Skybox Composer.

To be short, this plugin creates a virtual camera and allows to watch and work with image in spherical space. One had to do everything in a less handy equirectangular projection and watch the result with a special external player before, but now all work of adding 2D objects and filming errors correction (for example, removing a tripod) is done right in the editor. More info about that in the tutorials:

Adding 2D object

Removing redundant elements 

Skybox Project 2D — is a handy element for work with adding 2D logo/text and other right onto equirectangular projection before editing it in Composer.

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Mettle has added the function of distorting of objects by all possible axes and in any direction and also the ability to create stereo effect (in case of stereoscopic image), which means to add 2D pseudo volume to 360.

Skybox Rotate Sphere is another “must use” tool. It allows to smooth/distort horizon in your projection, , including the stereoscopic one (this is also an update in comparison to the first version of the Studio, because it’s quite hard to work in 360).

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Thus, image that was merged with your camera or app can be partly stabilized using this tool. Also one can add the artificial camera rotation – not the easiest one for VR, but sometimes needed tool.

Advice: if all you need is to change the point of view, then Facebook offers to do this by yourself when uploading. If you want to physically change the orientation from front to back (to put what is behind as what the user sees when puts the glasses on), then you can use the Offset tool that is available in any basic editing software or in Photoshop for free. You don’t need plugins for that.

Skybox Converter — export video spheres in various file formats, including everyone’s favorite tiny planet/little planet (through Fish Eye), and also in the formats of the most popular platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Gear VR, etc.

  Russian project Cosmos 360's videos have been watched more than 21 million times

You can read about other functions of Skybox Studio V2 for After Effects at Mettle’s site.

Mettle Skybox 360/VR Tools for Adobe Premiere

For as for director who works in Premiere most of the time the need to switch to AE for a quite simple composing and titles placing with right distortion all the time is quite tiresome. That’s why I consider 360/VR Tools as a much more demanded tool, especially considering all the features.

By the way, Adobe Premiere has the ability to freely look around and rotate spherical image in an integrated display since the version 2015.3.

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The function has a setting for monoscopic and stereoscopic material:

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In this mode you will quite soon realize what is happening where, but Equirectangular Grid will be useful here, too.

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Because we already have a player for playback, we only have to go through the functions.

These are already known Project 2D and Rotate Sphere, which work in the same way as in After Effects (although requiring more resources for processing). Although, the basic package of the plugin for Premiere has something that in After Effects is made as a separate plugin Post FX.

Mettle Skybox Sharpen — the ability to adjust sharpness after the final color correction without the fear to destroy the spherical image and get a noticable seam – that’s a pro of Mettle. You can’t use regular sharpness, because the app doesn’t understand that the image will be spherically wrapped-unwrapped. This plugin allows to use sharpness in such way that the image has no seams.

For comparison – zone with usual sharpness applied:

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And with Skybox Shapren:

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This small white line can ruin all the fun.

Apart from that, traditionally 360-degree cameras film not very sharp images. The sharpness increasing function can be present in cameras, but it artificially edits images. And in my opinion it’s better to film a “clean” image first and work with it using professional color correction tools, and only then apply sharpness, than to get a ruined source.

Mettle Skybox Blur — soft blur that doesn’t ruin spherucal images, very good for transitions and masks. Because your image is very sharp in all zones (front, middle, back), blur can help to highlight details and become an artistical device.

Mettle Skybox Glow — «glowing», «flare» that also keeps the completeness of image at seams – the joint between the left and right sides of a file. Basically, it’s a regular Glow that knows that you have a spherical image.

Mettle Skybox Denoise — works accurately, but one should rather look for the combination with Sharpness, otherwise the result is very “plastic”.

One of our videos, promo-film for the “Dream Skis” programme was made completely in Premiere using only 360/VR Tools. The job is not easy, of course, but it still shows quite well how easy a good and interesting video can be made:

Currently, Skybox — is almost the only tool that allows independent studios and rookie cinematographers to quickly and professionally work in 360. The plugins are of course not free: Mettle Skybox Studio V2 costs $229, Mettle Skybox 360/VR Tools — $189. The package of seamless plugins for After Effects — Post FX — costs $149, as does Skybox 360/VR Transitions (presets for creative transitions for Premiere).

Personnaly, I make transitions “manually” and I think that transitions only take the attention away from the story, but mant will like them. For that one has Skybox 360/VR Transitions for Premiere Pro.

But license for the plugins is not the product. The thing is, Mettle has created a whole community around their products, they regularly organizes photo sessions with the authors of the most popular works, and their blog is a source of knowledge of creative production in the world of spherical videos. By buying the license you get the ability to post the info about your project on the blog.

I consider the most interesting speeches the ones from the NAB panel:

But new videos on the channel also always allow to quicly see “what do they have”. And I read in their blog about some of the works that were shown at my spherical films festivals

Of course, spherical video doesn’t come cheap. Minimal resolution of 4K, the volumes of data and effects for editing require a lot of computing power. But the impression is also different than the one from traditional works.

If you want to buy the plugins – follow the sales; there have been a lot of discounts throughout last year.

Additionally, at the September conference MIXAR the MIXAR AWARD was given for the best spherical video, and Mettle supported the award by presenting Planetpics, the winner, the full package of their products. And the authors of works from the short-list – Prosense and Customview — received one of their products. You also have a chance.

We can also partly help you with that, because we are partners with Mettle. You can get a 15% discount by contacting us before making the purchase and by doing it through these links:

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