360 Sound for 360 Video

If you’re active in the television / film industry today, you have probably become aware of the rapid growth of 360 video. This is an explosive section of our industry, and yet the technology and workflow processes for it are still in their infancy. Camera technology is changing rapidly, with manufacturers beginning to release dedicated 360 cameras, vs. the myriad of GoPro rigs you may see in use today. Post production houses are having to reimagine their workflows with the 360 sound space created for them by the location sound mixer, and location sound mixers themselves are actively inventing the existing standards for 360 field workflows. 

Along with the changing landscape of 360 video comes my focus, which is the changing landscape of 360 sound. These projects present a unique set of challenges for the location sound mixer. The primary and most immediate consideration any location sound mixer will immediately face is that neither the location sound mixer, nor any of the other crew or their equipment can be in the shot. And the shot is the entire 360 degree space around the camera setup.

If you're a mixer yourself, your first thought was probably; "No booms?"

In the traditional sense of the term 'booming', yes that's correct, no booming. But plant mics and lavalier mics are your friend in this situation and honestly it's very fun, challenging work. You must be imaginative to create the three dimensional sound space that your director is looking for, and to do that you will wind up using every tool in your kit to hide mics in plain sight, mount them on talent such that you get very clean lav tracks that are natural sounding, and even employ 5.1 capable surround sound microphones into the mix for the camera position.

Some of the many considerations of 360 sound, just to scratch the surface are:

  • No crew or gear may be in the shot, and the shot is 360. You’ll need to plan your plants and gear staging carefully for each project.
  • Many 360 shots will be one-shot deals, with no edits possible in post. The nature of 360 video is such that some scenes may simply not be edited together. This presents great challenges to a sound mixer attempting to control many sound sources and shape a sound space with one shot and many hidden microphones.
  • What does your director want for the finished product’s sound space? You can create a sound space that fits your director’s desires very effectively with a little communication and an open mind.
  • Sometimes talent may be out of range of your wireless or plant mics - and I’m talking miles, not feet or inches here. Each project will be radically different in this regard. You must properly plan for wireless range, antenna distribution, etc. in advance.
  • You may still need to create a usable mix track, if for nothing else other than the many clients sitting in the next room monitoring. So don’t plan on just setting up 15 mics and leaving them hot all the time. That’s a lot of background / unwanted noise.
  • The Post mix. What are the capabilities of the post production team, and will they know what to do with your tracks? Remember that many post production houses have still never worked on a 360 video project. That is how new this technology is. Some of your projects will be handled in-house by the video team who shot the video, some will not. It is my greatest hope that post production re-recording mixers reach out directly to location sound mixers when they have questions on these projects or suggestions for better future workflows.
  • TC syncing all cameras and metadata for Post. Big deal for these projects. There is a lot going on. It is a full-time task and it must be done properly.

Those are just some of many things to consider when approaching a 360 project. There are many more, and they should all be considered carefully and with an open mind. 

This is fun stuff. It really is. 

Each job will present its own set of challenges, and the most recent jobs I have done have required me to use Zaxcom recording transmitters as the primary digital recorders for multiple talent while they perform quite physical activity far out of wireless range. I say that to reinforce the concept that as a location sound mixer you must have a plan going into any 360 job. If you assume a 360 job is just another job but with more wireless, you do so at your own peril.

To sum it up, 360 video jobs are fun, challenging and complex, but also very rewarding. It’s exciting not only to be working in a field I love, but to be working with cutting edge technology that is changing as we speak.

If you’re a 360 production company or camera team and you’ve just read this article, I encourage you to contact me to capture the sound space for your next project.