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Computer Science Department collaborates with BBC on 360° documentaries

Dr Peter Passmore has been working with the BBC to make a series of 360-degree films

Peter Passmore filming a 360 film with the BBC (credit: Martin Mossop)The Computer Science Department in Middlesex University's School of Science and Technology has been working closely with the BBC to produce a series of 360-degree films.

Senior Lecturer Dr Peter Passmore, a specialist in computer graphics, has been working in a technical consultant and post-production role for BBC R&D and BBC News Labs – the broadcaster's journalism formats, data and technology incubator – as they develop a series of 360 videos.

Filmed using six GoPro cameras mounted together on a special rig, the footage is stitched together in post-production to create a 360 film that viewers can literally look all around.

Most recently, the collaboration resulted in a film for The Food Chain programme on the BBC World Service and Radio 4 which takes viewers around restaurants in London's Chinatown district.

This followed a film in Calais which explored the migrants crisis from inside the 'Jungle', and an initial 'proof of concept' documentary following artist Martin Mossop around his studio in east London.

"This is an exciting time for virtual reality as the coming year will see the advent of consumer virtual reality devices," says Dr Passmore.

"A major component of virtual reality is 360 video which is a new medium for content producers which involves rethinking everything from how content is made to its distribution and consumption.

"It changes everything and technologists, broadcasters and filmmakers are struggling to pioneer the new medium.  It has been fascinating working with the BBC on this over the last year."

YouTube and Facebook both support 360 video, with different devices displaying the video in different ways. Using the smartphone app allows viewers to move their phone to change the perspective, while a mouse is used to drag the camera around if viewed on a desktop browser.

Virtual Reality (VR) headsets such as Oculus Rift and the much cheaper Google Cardboard can also be used to turn the 360 video into a fully immersive VR experience, making the viewer feel as though they are at the heart of the action.

"Apart from the many research opportunities around computer generated content, 360 video is a new medium which introduces multidisciplinary research challenges," adds Dr Passmore.

"The Computer Science Department has recently invested in some VR equipment and we are open to collaboration."

To find out more about Dr Passmore's work with BBC News Labs, visit the BBC News Labs blog:
How to tell a story in VR, using 360 filming - Location and presence
How might 360 filming/VR change the role of the reporter/presenter?

Photo: Peter Passmore filming in 360, courtesy of Martin Mossop

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