Filming VR 360 video clips

This year i started filming with the latest and greatest gadget of this year, the Samsung Gear 360. Not bigger than a cricket ball and outfitted with two 190 degree lenses it can capture full 360 VR video in one take. Its small enough to carry on your holiday and its a snap to use. Getting the captured video from the Gear 360 to your editing software to make full video clips is quite another matter. Once you get the hang of it its ok, but you’ll have to keep aware of some limitations.

Samsung Gear 360
Samsung Gear 360

Obviously you will not capture the same quality video as a ball of 6 or more GoPro Hero camera’s. The Gear 360 only has 2 camera’s. Count on UHD (2560×1280) movies and 4K (7776×3998) pictures. If you are filming in bright light on the side of one camera and at the same time shadow rich environments on the other side, often the two images cannot be stitched seamlessly. Specifically not if one camera picks up a lens flare.
Another limitation is the handle and tripod that you can attach to the camera. If you hold the camera in your hand with the handle you will find that the two sides of your hand will be stitched in a freaky way. Once i got hold of simple extension sticks for the camera mount it changed everything. With a thin stick as a handle the stitched result ‘floats’ in the air. Just like you want it.
Camera mount extenders
Camera mount extenders

Once you’ve captured photo’s or video, you will find that the camera actually captured two fish eye images side by side. This is the raw picture format and you have to convert this to an ‘equirectangular’ form first in order to be able to upload this to Facebook or YouTube. This is where it starts to get tricky here you can see a raw picture and the stitched equirectangular image:
Fish Eye Avignon Soap Shop
Fish Eye Avignon Soap Shop

Stitched Avignon Soap Shop
Stitched Avignon Soap Shop

As you can see the stitching can be hit and miss. Samsung gives you two options. Stitching by the Samsung Galaxy S7(Edge) Gear 360 app or stitching on your PC with Gear ActionDirector software. The last one gives the best image quality results in good lighting situations. The phone gives you the most reliable overall stitching of images. Even with low light images or less than optimal captures. You will only know after capturing and stitching if your capture is ok. That’s the catch. Of course the app also allows you to remotely record and view the camera image. Vitally important if you don’t want to be in the movie yourself.
The Gear 360 ActionDirector software also offers very limited editing of your video, but that is not enough by far to make video clips. No titling, no effects, just mixing. In the next upcoming article i will focus on editing more.
The sound that the camera can record is acceptable, but susceptible to wind fluttering in. Don’t expect the quality to be adequate to record live music. Make sure you have separate sound recording and mix that in later. For me its quite ok, because in a clip you usually replace the sound with the song.
For now i think this is great for capturing more than just a video clip. Just pop your phone in a VR viewer and you and your viewers can really step into the clip and start experiencing it. How great is that? Of course, the resolution is limited, UHD quality and then divided by the screen resolution size of half your phone. The effect however, can already be very convincing. Stay tuned for the next episode!
Here you can checkout Stone (feat. Evelien) in glorious VR:

Keep track of versions of your Ableton projects with Git

This is by no means very new, but it might give you some practical hands-on for working with Git and Ableton. I am also aware that you can really integrate more with filters and helpers and all other kinds of tricks, but this article shows you that you can start with versioning your musical work by simple means.

What is Git

Git is about versioning. Keeping versions of your song while it is progressing to its final state. One of the most annoying things that can happen is losing the last best version of your song because of some mishap. DAWs can crash and then when you recover, what if you end up with crap? Aargh! You can accidentally delete stuff and later notice that some vital sound or effect got lost. How to get it back? Is Undo failing you? You did make backups or…?

A backup will bring you one version back, unless you are the kind of person that saves every version with a date/time stamp. And then what do these dates say? Is the Friday version better than the Saturday version?

My solution is to use Git. Git is software that allows versioning at a file level. It saves every file change in a specific folder, or sub folder, in a special internal store, together with a comment that explains what the purpose of the file changes was. Git is at its best with text files, but it can also handle binary files out of the box. Its purpose is grander than just versioning files in folders. It supports team collaboration on versions and its functionality goes well beyond my daily use for music.

How to use Git

The way i use Git is fairly basic. At the end of a session working with Ableton on one song or a set of songs i close down Ableton. Then i let Git take a snapshot of the folder that holds the project. Git can be instructed very specifically on the files to include in this snapshot and which files to leave out. Git calls this snapshot a commit. More or that later. Then i add a comment to this commit, like “Frozen Epica for better performance in the mix”. Ever since i started using this versioning of songs it has saved me many times from losing the “latest greatest” mix.

Git versioning

If you dive in to articles about Git, you will find that working with it is actually very technical, daunting even. For that purpose i use a shell around Git that makes it graphical and easy to use, SourceTree. It is free and can be installed in its most basic form with Git embedded. You do need to register.

Committing projects to your repositories

If you have it up and running you can start adding your projects to Git by creating new repositories for them. Click Clone/New and Create new Repository. Add the folder where your files are, give your repository a name and you are in business. Scanning the folder for files can take time and you might find that a list shows up with lots and lots of files. Maybe you only want to keep track of your “.als” file?

If you want to filter only essential files in the Ableton folders it is best to add a text file named “.gitignore” file in the root folder. My .gitignore file contains the following text:

# Rendered music #
##################
/*.wav
*.asd
*.sfk
/*.mp3
AbletonTmp-*

This leaves out temporary Ableton files and all rendered music files in the root of the folder. At this point Git will only check which files should be committed as part of the snapshot of your song. These files will be marked unstaged, at the bottom of the screen.

Git staging

Click the checkbox left to “Unstaged files” and the files will be moved to the box with staged files. This can also be reversed and set up to stage only individual files. Every staged set of files can then be committed with a comment in the “File Status” tab.

Git commit

If you made it to here, then you have made your first steps in to versioning. Congratulations! You can now go a version back by double clicking any commit in the list. Like what you hear, but not sure if this is going to be final? Make a branch and work on that branch to see if it gets you there. Or you go back to the original version and explore that. The main version is always on a branch named “master”.

Backup your versions

But does this also make a backup of your files? Yes and no. You will find that files will be stored into a special hidden file structure in the same folder (named .git). Are you happy with this as a backup? Well i’m not. If you lose your PC or entire drive you lose it all. Git or no Git. What i do is that i make a backup of all project folders, this also nicely saves the hidden .git file structure and also all versions of all songs. Nice eh?

If you want you can even commit your project changes to a cloud service that supports Git. One option is Github, this is only free if you publish your projects to the whole world. There are cloud storage options that understand Git and allow free and private service, but then you put your trust in a cloud service like Bitbucket. Its up to you. I keep a simple backup with copies of the files in my projects folder on separate disks.

Ups and downs

There is one downside. Ableton does not play nice and needs to be closed, every time you want to commit the latest changes. Also if you want to go back to another version of the song. Tough, but it still works for me. Want to give it a try? Keep me posted!

Starting the making music blog

Why start a blog about making music when there are so many blogs? When there is youtube where you can learn anything about everything in 10 minutes? This blog is more a reminder to myself. Making music is about inventing something new for every song.

Of course i hope that you can also find something here that inspires you, or helps you when you get stuck. This blog is about working in a small home studio and performing on stage. Also probably some words about publishing your music and having fun or frustrations doing so. Enjoy!