Students Produce Virtual Reality Crime Film

New technology for 360-degree videos developed in a Pioneering Project at Bielefeld University

Bielefeld University belongs to the first institutions of higher learning in Germany to teach the technology and the production of 360-degree film. This new video format of-fers a 360-degree view in which viewers do not look directly ahead at a screen, but instead wear virtual reality glasses that give them the impression of being ‘inside’ the movie. The viewers decide for themselves, from minute to minute, in which direction they look. In the course of two semesters, the “Look Out! 360-degree Film”seminar produced a five-minute crime film that can be watched in 3-D with virtual reality glasses. The short film was screened on Saturday, 6 February 2016, at the CinemaxX movie theater in Bielefeld. Preparations for the film, including technical development and implementation, took place at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) at Bielefeld University.

 “360 carats,” a short crime film, was screened as part of the 40th UniVideoMagazins (Uni-Maz) film festival at Bielefeld University. The short-film competition for movies produced at Bielefeld University began at 8pm on Saturday. “360 Carats” was not part of the competition. This short crime movie is about a thief who wants to steal away from his accomplices after pulling off a jewel heist.

To teach the seminar “Look Out! 360-Degree Film,” instructors from the Faculty of Educational Science joined together with instructors from the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). The initiative originated with CITEC computer scientists Dr. Julia Fröhlich and Dr. Thies Pfeiffer, who enlisted the support of filmmaker Fabio Magnifico and media designer Paul John. The four instructors led the 2-semester seminar since April 2015. A total of 50 students studying computer science, media studies, and educational science took part in the seminar.

“The technology for a 360-degree film is still very new. One of our goals was therefore to develop the technology for a 360-degree film,” says Julia Fröhlich. The instructors and students could not look to film projects being done at other universities for guidance because “It appears that we are the first university in Germany to address the topic of 360-degree films and actually produce a virtual reality 360-degree movie,” explains Fröhlich.

“Another aspect of working in this uncharted territory was finding the right script: Ultimately the film will be viewed differently than a normal film played on a screen or TV,” explains Fabio Magnifico. “Before this point, it was mostly just settings that were filmed for such 360-degree videos, without including the viewer. Currently, the 360-degree videos that do exist are mainly of landscapes or live events, such as concerts.”

In the first part of the seminar, the instructors worked with the students to conceptualize a 360-degree camera, paying particularly close attention to the technical capabilities of the camera. “We utilized a custom-built camera rack – a ring around which a total of 12 cameras are installed and placed to film the surroundings,” says Fröhlich. “In order to generate the 3-D effect in the film, each set of two cameras is placed as far apart as the distance between two human eyes.” Along with this hardware comes software that compiles the recordings from each of the 12 cameras and is used for film editing. “For this reason, one group of students trained in the software, which would later enable the individual recordings to run simultaneously in the film,” explains the computer scientist. During camera and software testing, the instructors and students also investigated the limits of this technology: “For example, we found out that the people being filmed have to keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters from the camera. Otherwise, they will not be fully visible in the 360-degree video,” explains Julia Fröhlich. In the second part of the seminar, the students wrote a screenplay, filmed the movie, and edited the material with the video editing software.

During the screening on Saturday at CinemaxX, a pre-recorded version of the film was shown, which depicts how a viewer experiences the film while wearing virtual reality glasses. Some individual visitors will also have the chance to experience the crime film for themselves in 360-degrees by wearing a pair of Oculus Rift virtual reality glasses.

After presenting this film, the four instructors would like to continue their work on 360-degree video in the future. “For instance, we are thinking about filming laboratories using 360-degree videos. This technique enables much more authentic and vivid depiction than is possible in normal videos,” says Julia Fröhlich. 

More Information Online at:
40. UniVideoMagazin (Pressemitteilung vom 31.1.2016):
Informationen zum Seminar im Vorlesungsverzeichnis der Universität Bielefeld: