How Academy of Art University Prepares Students for the Virtual Reality Era
Academy of Art University (AAU) is one of the first art schools in the United States that offer virtual reality production classes. In this coming era of virtual realty, students from AAU prepare themselves by getting hands-on experience, working with different camera rigs, stitching footage together, and exploring storytelling techniques. Stefanie Shao and Yansong took MPT 498 (Virtual Reality and 360 Production) in AAU this semester, and created a tourism video about Napa Valley. Join us today to know more about the backstory of this video.
VeeR: Tell us about yourself and your major. How do you think VR video making can be combined with your major?
Stefanie: I’m Stefanie Shao. I’m study Advertising, concentrating on creative strategy. VR is all about immersive experience, which I believe is a trend that can be applied to many advertising formats. It benefits not only the customers (they have fun and memorable moments), but also brands and business because it will promote brand awareness. As a creative strategist, I think VR can be a very innovative way to tell a story and create better interaction between consumers and brands.
Yansong: I’m Yansong. My major is Advertising as well. I think a lot of brands are looking for innovation for advertising, and VR is definitely a new way of storytelling.
Academy of Art President Stephens at the VR installation, Spring Show 2016
VeeR: What drove you to start shooting VR in the first place and how does it fits into your future career?
Stefanie: I heard about VR, AR, and MR before I came to study at AAU. Those technologies fascinate me, and AAU provided us VR class right on time, so I decided to learn and experience it. I wanted to know the whole process of the production.
As of the future, I wrote a report on how VR, AR and MR will shape the future of advertising. There will definitely be more VR content soon and I will provide VR strategies to my clients for its interesting and engaging content.
Yansong: Living in SF, I’m close to new technology. AAU has a dedicated VR major, and as a storyteller, I immediately became wrapped up in the immersive experience. With what I’ve learned in class and witnessed in daily life, I believe VR is a promising field not only in advertising but also in other industries such as entertainment or even science.
VeeR: Is the Napa Valley your first video? What was the initiative behind the Video?
Stefanie: No, it was not my first VR video. My team and I created more experimental VR videos before we made this. We went to Napa Valley many times to shot footage for practice. We wanted to share the beautiful view of Napa Valley to the world by our VR production. Besides, VR is very suitable for tourism videos. People can have the experience without actually being there.
Yansong: This was my first attempt at VR. We think VR is perfect for tourism advertising, so we chose Napa Valley to try our hand at VR.
Yansong working on the VR video Napa Valley Tour
VeeR: What’s the biggest challenge you had in creating the Napa Valley Tour?
Stefanie: We had a couple of challenges before, but in this video, sound was the biggest challenge. It was our first experience in producing motion pictures. We had to learn it by ourselves to make sure we do it right. The Napa piece, the sound was not quite matching the pace of our scene. We had a very difficult time to do ADR. We needed to coordinate with music specialists and sound design specialists, who were really hard to find.
Yansong: The biggest challenge would be sound design. We didn’t have much time for post-production in sound, so we didn’t refine that part very well.
VeeR: In the video, you mostly used fixed shots and got the beautiful lady giving customers the tour guide. What’ s the advantage of this form compared with FOV in VR video shooting?
Stefanie: It was very hard to get more than one perspective in 360-degree video. We wanted to tell the story creatively, but this only can be achieved in the post production part. POV in the Napa valley video was the way we want viewers to follow. You need to plan out before shooting how to guide your audience and what you want them see.
Yansong: I think we wanted to tell the story in third-person, more like a date scene with the host, creating an intimate atmosphere with the viewer.
Stefanie and Yansong working on the VR video Napa Valley Tour
VeeR: What are the 360 cameras that you used and what would you recommend for beginners?
Stefanie: We used Kodak 4K pro, this one need be to customized when actually shooting. I would recommend Samsung Gear 360 or Ricon Theta S for beginners.
Yansong: For professional teams, Go Pros or Kodak and OZO might be better choices.
VeeR: How long have you studied VR shooting and editing? What is the hardest part in creating and why?
Stefanie: I studied for one semester on both shooting and post production. The hardest part is stitching footage, because we need to make sure there is no stitch line in the video to damage our 360 degree, immersive experience.
Yansong: I’ve taken two classes on shooting and editing for two semesters. For me, the story is always the hardest part, since VR storytelling is not like traditional storytelling. There are a lot of elements that need to be considered to cue the viewers to look around.
Shooting in Napa Valley
VeeR: Tell us about how you feel about the curriculum at AAU with regard to VR creation? What are the specific courses that you like about and why?
Stefanie: I think AAU is quite ahead of the industry. When there is something new and trendy, we always have a class about it. Especially VR production, we have an entry level class and an advanced level class for people truly deem themselves in. We also have a class for drone 360 degree video and production, which is quite nice.
Yansong: I like both beginner and advanced class. Beginner class actually teaches more about storytelling in VR. The advanced class is more about technical stuff like editing, stitching and operating.
VeeR: what are some of the resources for studying VR shooting (websites, tools, blogs, etc) and share your advice with people who are new to this arena.
Stefanie: I watched a lot videos from Jaunt when I started, knowing and trying to understand how to tell the story based on different content. We have a AAU facebook VR group for students who are like to know more about this industry and we share everything related to this field. It really helps, especially for beginners to get into this.
Yansong: There are websites like Youtube, and VR apps like Zeality. There are a few Youtube bloggers who are making VR content, for example, Kevin Kunze. He’s also teaching VR in AAU. He does a lot of VR streaming and introduces new tech in VR.