Videos in 360º Stereoscopic VR Video

My Dallas video production company, Top Pup Media, had an opportunity last summer to capture some 360º VR video for the reggae band, Rebelution. We captured a few songs in Virtual Reality video and started the process of stitching, color grading and editing.

Here’s a couple of the videos for you to check out. For the YouTube video, you’ll need to use a Chrome browser to view in 360º. You can also open the YouTube link on your smartphone to view it while moving your phone around.


Note: You need to watch this in a Chrome browser to experience 360º movement.
Go to YouTube Version


GoPro Hero 3D + Oculus Rift = Stereoscopic Video VR

I learned about the Oculus Rift last year. My son is an avid gamer and currently enrolled at the University of Texas at Dallas studying to be a game designer. He was telling me about Oculus, and it piqued my interest. Could it be used with video?

After digging a bit deeper, I now believe that video is a very viable application for a Virtual Reality (VR) Headset with lots of amazing potential. There are numerous applications and ways to enjoy visuals stories in the Rift.

Two Different Types of VR Video

There are two very distinct ways to playback video in the VR Headset:

  1. Immersive 3D with Head Tracking
  2. Flat 3D Movie Playback

Immersive 3D Video

This kind of video allows viewers to look around and see the video from whatever perspective they choose. You can look up, down, in front, behind, whatever, and the video plays all around you. Head tracking is required so that you can look around, and the video playback matches your head movement.

The folks at ConditionOne created an Immersive 3D short film called ZeroPoint. And, it’s a good example of immersive 3D. There are a few scenes in the short film that are pseudo immersive, but still demonstrates the concept.

Creating this type of Immersive 3D experience is not easy. Here’s why:

  • Capturing 360 degree video requires a lot of cameras.
  • Capturing 360 degree video in 3D requires a lot of cameras times 2.
  • Each of those cameras have to be stitched together to form the 360 degree viewing area.
  • All the cameras require lots of memory, so you will have GBs of video to edit and work with.
  • Another aspect is camera movement. You have to significantly limit your camera movement with immersive 3D.

I’ve been looking into what it would take to capture 360 degrees of video. One way would be use something like this: 360 Hero 3D holder. Using this holder with 14 GoPro Hero 3 cameras, you can capture 360 degrees of 3D video. But, it’s expensive. First, you have to buy 14 GoPro Hero 3’s ($4,200), then the holder ($1,000) and then the stitching software ($1,000). Add to that the memory cards for the cameras and some hard disk space to hold on the footage. It’s an expensive solution.

The folks at Jaunt have created a one-piece 3D camera specifically designed to capture this kind of video as well.  Here’s a longer article about what they are planning to do with this camera. It’s unclear whether or not they plan to sell their camera or just produce the content.

Flat 3D Movie Playback

This kind of video is more similar to what we have today. A VR Headset simply shows one image to the left eye and another image to the right eye. This is the nature of 3D imaging. For flat movie playback, you simply show the 3D video in VR headset. Looking around has no effect, so head tracking is not required.

Some folks have created a type of hybrid VR video viewing, where you are sitting in a theater and a movie is up on a screen in front of you. Through head tracking, you can look around the theater, but in my opinion, that just seems like a waste of space and technology.

Another reason I believe this flat 3D movie playback will emerge as the dominant VR video type is that we can easily adapt existing 3D movies to simply playback in a VR headset. The medium already exists today.

GoPro 3D and Oculus RiftMy First 3D Movie in Oculus Rift

I wanted to see if I could, from start to finish, create a 3D video to playback in my Oculus Rift DK2. Yesterday, I succeeded. Here’s what I did:

First, I needed a way to capture 3D video. I have lots of camera gear since I own a video production company. But, I didn’t have two cameras that were exactly the same. After some quick research, I found that GoPro made a 3D holder specifically designed to capture 3D video. Perfect!

I only had one GoPro Hero 3+ and needed a second. So, I ordered my second GoPro, and then I ordered the GoPro Dual Hero. The setup is actually really solid. It’s more than just a holder. There is a special cable system that allows you to sync the cameras. It manages the files cleanly, and gives an easy way to start and stop recording.

3D VR SampleI matched the recording setup for each camera (size, field of view, and frame rate need to match). Then, I went around and capture some various shots.

Afterwards, I brought them into GoPro’s editing software and was able to create a simple 3D movie using the side-by-side export option.

Next, I needed a way to view the video in the Rift. I did a quick search to find out if there were any video players that played 3D video in the Rift, and there were a few that I found:

There are probably some more, but I was able to get the Stereoscopic Player to work. And it was amazing! The 3D was quite impressive.

Next Steps

The GoPro 3D setup was very fast to get up and running, all the way from setup, capture, editing to render. Well done, GoPro.

Most of my clients are high-end Fortune 500 companies, so quality is paramount in my productions. While GoPro is good and fast, I really want to up the production value with better cameras. My next step is to get a second Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera with matching lenses, and build a 3D rig for it. The video quality will be far better with some nice shallow depth of field and better color rendering, but it will require a bit more manual editing and mastering.

Overall, I’m impressed with how well this first attempted went. I can see a lot of potential with this type of video.


New eBook: From Dream to Distribution

From Dream to Distribution eBookI’m excited to announce the release of my new eBook, From Dream to Distribution: A Filmmaker’s Journey!

In early 2006, I decided to chase my dream to make a full-length, feature film. It started with just an idea fueled with some passion (and hazelnut lattes).

I wanted to capture all aspects of this process like scripting, planning, financing, legal documents, casting, crewing up, distribution and the web. One of the key topics I focus on throughout the book is how to position your film for successful distribution, and what steps you can take to get your film sold.

At the conclusion of the book, I breakdown a list of the things I did right, but also the things I did wrong. And, what I will do for future productions to avoid the previous mistakes. I also include an update to our latest film, Infiltrators.

Here are some of the chapters from the book:

  • What Story to Tell
  • Development
  • Financing your Film
  • Cast and Crew
  • Getting Ready for Production
  • The Shoot
  • Editing
  • Post-Production Next Steps
  • Distribution
  • Leveraging the Web

This is the book’s synopsis:

Join producer and director, Russ Pond, as he chronicles his filmmaking journey while making his first feature film, FISSURE. Learn about the many aspects of developing, producing and distributing a film in today’s entertainment landscape, including traditional paths for distribution like DVD, theatrical, television, VoD and streaming, as well as, new web-based opportunities for marketing and online distribution.

As part of the purchase of this eBook, I’m also including a free online viewing of the movie, Fissure. Details are in the book.

From Dream to Distribution can be purchased at one of the following locations:



Video SEO: How videos can help Search Engine Optimization

A couple of months ago, my 16-year old son and I did an experiment to see how effective Search Engine Optimization for video could be. Could we make a video, upload it to YouTube and set it up so that it would organically draw lots of views and appear in Google searches?

Here’s the video we created:

Before jumping into how we did this, let me share some metrics for you. Here are the YouTube Insights for the past two months regarding this video:

Video SEO - How videos can be used for Search Engine Optimization

Here are some of the facts about the metrics:

  • In just 2 months, we have drawn more than 4,500 views.
  • 40 comments have been made about the video.
  • 29 people have “liked” it. 2 have “disliked” it.
  • 7 people have “favorited” it.
  • Search demographic is 96% male, 4% female.
  • Largest age range is 45-55. Second is 35-45.
  • Today, it’s averaging over 120 views per day, and growing.

In this experiment, I learned a lot about video SEO and how it can be used effectively for online marketing. When creating a video for YouTube that you hope to position organically in the search results, considering the following:

Know your audience

This is essential. As the owner of a video production company, the first question I ask a client when preparing to produce a video is “Who is your audience?” It effects everything about the video: the content, the style, the editing, the music, the length, and the distribution. You’ve got to know who will be watching the video and why.

For our video, we wanted to reach a niche group of gamers who use high-end gaming accessories from a company called Razer. And, we wanted to feature one of their products — the Razer Nostromo Gaming Key Pad. So, Caleb put together an outline of what he wanted to talk about in his review of the product. We tried predicting who would watch this video — young gamers interested in Razer products.

Production value is important

YouTube is saturated with content. There are billions of videos on YouTube. Do you want to look like everyone else and get lost in an ocean of content? Probably not. One way to distinguish your video from all the others is good production value. A quality production should include the following:

  • Create a coherent, well-told story. Have a beginning, middle and end. Script it.
  • Shoot with a quality video camera. Don’t use a webcam or Flip camera. Shoot in HD.
  • Use good lighting. You can do amazing things with one light and a good camera.
  • Use a quality microphone. Audio is essential.
  • Editing is very important. Study other styles, and edit well. Don’t be cheesy.
  • Use music to fill the slow parts, and license accordingly.
  • Get feedback before publishing the video and tweak as necessary.
  • Or, just hire a professional video production company, like Top Pup Media.

Here are some comments we’re receiving on Caleb’s videos:

  • “Your video quality is much better than other peoples with more views.”
  • “Awesome quality video…it’s a pleasure to view a youtube video that was produced by someone who knows how to turn on a light and use a camera.”
  • “Great audio too. I heard every word. So rare on the Tube.”

Production quality does matter.  For the video in this experiment, we shot it with the Panasonic AF-100 in 1080p. We edited and exported the video using Final Cut Pro.

Build a YouTube channel

YouTube lets you create a channel for your videos.  You can theme your channel with graphics, images, text styles and colors. Remember your audience and build your channel with the audience in mind. Here’s Caleb’s YouTube channel that is themed around gaming. Mashable has some great tips on creating your YouTube Channel as well.

Upload the Highest Quality

Now that YouTube allows High Definition videos, it’s important to shoot, edit and upload your videos in High Definition. 720 is acceptable, but 1080 is best. It’s the highest quality video resolution currently allowed by YouTube.

Once you have the video edited, reviewed and finished, it’s important to create a high-quality, web-encoded version of the video to upload to YouTube. Here are the export settings I use when creating an uploadable version of the video:

  • H.264 codec
  • Highest captured resolution: 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080
  • Frame rate: 24 or 30 fps (I prefer 24)
  • Data rate: 4,000 kbps
  • Stereo audio: AAC, 128 kbps

The web encoded video should be much smaller than your master video. Our ProRes LT master video was 8.7 GB in size, and our HD web version was 438 MB. Upload this web-encoded video to YouTube, not your master.

Create the Perfect Title with the Right Keywords

Now that your video is uploaded, it’s time to optimize it for find-ability. It starts with the perfect title. Your YouTube video title is everything. It carries incredible weight for search engine results. It will make or break your search results.

For our video, we featured the “Razer Nostromo”. Thankfully, Razer uses unique names for their products; so, creating a unique title was simple. Our goal was to be ranked in the top 10 YouTube searches for “Razer Nostromo.” To date, we are number 7 for this keyword.

Your YouTube title can be up to 100 characters in length including spaces. Use those characters wisely. Make sure to include the most important keywords in your title. Keep it informative, specific and focused. Avoid vague, misleading titles.

Write a Great Description with Keywords and Links

The video description is also an opportunity to leverage valuable keywords and information. Be descriptive and write for your audience. Be concise, informative and clear with your words. Don’t overwrite.

Also, URLs appear as links in the description. This is another good opportunity for SEO. Clicks on those links will drive more traffic to your website, improving SEO. You may want to include the links at the first part of the description so that they are seen when the description is reduced in size.

For our videos, we typically include three URLs:

Don’t Forget the Tags

Tags are important as well. They can determine how the video ranks in searches. Include tags that are relavent to your video content. As an example, we included a variety of game names that gamers may play using the Razer Nostromo like Minecraft, League of Legends and Team Fortress. We also included other Razer products that might be included in the review. And, we included tags for game types like FPS and MOBA.

Engage, Engage, Engage

You must engage your audience. Engage as many people as you can. And, engage them genuinely. Answer their questions. Respond to their concerns. Listen to their ideas. Engagement will increase your followers and views.

Take a look at Caleb’s responses to the comments. He is responding to almost everyone who comments. And, it’s always polite, helpful and engaging. (His politeness is an obvious indication of good parenting.)

Video SEO - Facebook spikeWe also posted the video on Razer’s Facebook page. Notice the spike about two weeks into the start of our experiment. As you can see, the views jumped to almost 150 views in one day. If we had continued finding other Facebook fan pages, forums and blogs, we could have easily increased our views and exposure.

Three years ago, we posted a video on YouTube called “Road Trip to Guanajuato” and forgot about it. About two years after posting it, we got a message from YouTube saying our video had exceeded 20,000 views and was now eligible for revenue. I was shocked. Why in the world did that video get so many views. We didn’t even know about video SEO, titles or keywords. We just posted this fun video we did. It turns out that a flame war started. Lots of people were talking about the video. Some loved it. Some hated it. Some thought it was fun. Some thought it was racist. The high level of engagement was skyrocketing the views. Today, there are more than 36,000 views and 220 comments. Engagement works!

Produce Content Regularly

Finally, produce content for your channel on a regular basis. A steady stream of video content will grow your followers and demonstrate consistency and reliability. An ideal target for content delivery is once a week for videos. If you can consistently deliver one video per week, you will grow your channel very quickly.

Overall, this has been a great experiment in Video SEO!


How Steve Jobs and Apple Changed my Life

Steve Jobs
On Wednesday, October 5th, 2011, I was flying home from Atlanta back to Dallas. It had been a long day, and we had just finished speaking to AT&T about a new startup company I’m working with. Discussions included talk about iPhone and iPad apps.

As the plane touched down, I turned on my iPhone to check my Twitter stream. I checked a few emails and then started reading things like: “He was a great man. We’ll miss you Steve.” Hmm, I wonder who they’re talking about. Then, it became clear. “Wow, Steve Jobs passed away today.”

I was sad–quite sad actually. Here’s a man I had never met, and he had no idea who I was, yet I was profoundly sadden at the news. Even more, I was a bit shocked at how it affected me so deeply, until I began to reminisce at how influential Steve Jobs and Apple had been in my life.

Apple IIe

Apple IIe ComputerIn 1981 when I was only 16 years old, my dad shocked us by spending $800 to buy me and my brother a brand new Apple IIe personal computer. With it’s 5 and quarter inch floppy drives, we were able to do some amazing things with this machine. We would spend hours programming it, taking it apart, putting it back together and just experimenting with this incredibly powerful new toy.

I soon learned the power of “word processing” and how fast you could type and store documents on the floppy drives. I was quickly using our new personal computer for school reports and research. Then after school, my brother and I would play games like Karateka, Lode Runner and Rescue Raiders.

Karateka   Rescue Raiders   Lode Runner

Interestingly, we never heard our mom say, “You guys are spending too much time on the computer.”

I continued using the Apple IIe into college. Writing papers and programming were an everyday task for me. One of my first classes at Texas State was a BASIC computer programming class. How amazing was that! Now, they had classes on how to program the computer.

My first purchase at college was a 300 baud modem. At home, I could simply dial into a special phone number, listening to the rhythmic cadence of modem handshake for a few seconds, and then suddenly, I’m logged into the school computer. Incredible! I didn’t have to drive to the school campus to code my program.

Apple Macintosh

Apple MacintoshAfter transferring to the University of Texas at Austin in 1986, I soon started seeing a new Apple computer on the scene — the Apple Macintosh. It started popping up all around campus. But, it sure looked weird. The monitor was built into the computer and a new 3.5″ floppy drive appeared on the screen. At first, I didn’t like it much. The new Microsoft machines were in color and the monitors were separate. It seemed like that was the way to go. But, soon after having to program on the PCs, I realized that I enjoyed the Apple Macintosh much more. So, in college, I purchased an Apple Macintosh SE.

People were using it for a variety of purposes–word processing, spreadsheets, and accounting. But, something different about this computer got my attention. First, it had a mouse–a small hand controller with a single button to navigate around and click on the screen. Wow, that sure made working on the computer much easier.

Secondly, it has this amazing ability to manipulate graphics and images with ease. And, with this powerful sound program, you could edit and manipulate audio with incredible precision and simplicity. I remember seeing those sound saves on the screen, and I could simply cut one section of audio and paste it somewhere else.

While at UT, I took a 3D computer graphics course. The goal for the entire semester was to program a Macintosh SE in Fortran to manipulate 3D objects in a 3D world. We had to study the 3D space formulas and camera angles. By the end of the semester, I had compiled a working program that could input 3D models and show them on the computer screen. I was so proud of my little 3D program on a Mac.

As I moved to Dallas to take my first job at Uniden, my brother came up one summer to intern. During the summer, he stayed with me. One of the fond memories I have was how we networked our two Macintosh SE’s together to play a flight simulator. In this game, we would dogfight by flying around this virtual world trying to shoot each other down. The loser had to clean up the kitchen. We did this for hours.

Apple Macintosh Quadra 630

Apple Performa Quadra 630While working full time now, my next Apple computer was a pretty sweet machine–the Apple Quardra 630. It was a beefer machine, and it was even more powerful that the SE I had previous.

What made this machine memorable to me was the fact that you could now connect to this thing called the internet. My first email address was I purchased a simple dialup plan for $29.95 and soon I was calling into to a 56K modem bank and browsing AOL and Yahoo, the only two websites at the time.

Things were beginning to change.

Video Editing

Media 100In 1997, I purchased my first video editing software called Media 100 for the Mac. It was both a hardware and software package. Initially, I used Adobe Premiere as my editing software, but soon switched to Media 100’s entry level video editing software.

Video editing required pretty extensive hard drive space, and you had to use fast hard drives, usually requiring a RAID array. So, I plopped down $2,000 for a disk array system holding four high-speed drives with an amazing 8GB of disk space. With that setup, I could edit up to 30 minutes of Standard Definition video. It was awesome!

Soon, I was editing and creating home videos. I quickly learned After Effects at the recommendation of a friend who was also in video production. I also learned a new program called Bryce that let you create these virtual 3D worlds quite easily. Then, it happened. I made my first 30 second commercial using my Apple editing system with Media 100, and I got paid for it!

Everything began to change after that. Though I worked in corporate America by day, at night I would stay up late and play with my new found passion — media production.

Final Cut Pro

Final Cut ProDuring this creative season in my life, I went through quite a few Apple computers. The model numbers were a blur, but I do remember getting Final Cut Pro.

While I liked Media 100, it was pretty limited in what you could do. You only had two video tracks, some graphics tracks and some audio tracks. The editing was clean and the playback smooth, but you were pretty limited in what you could do.

Then, a friend told me about Final Cut Pro. I researched it a bit, and fell in love with it. Soon, I was editing more and more. With my creative mix of Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects and Adobe Photoshop, I could create quite a bit. Most of my paying work at the time was with After Effects.

In 2007, I fulfilled a dream. I produced, directed and edited a full length feature film called Fissure. One of the most amazing aspects of that experience is that I edited the entire feature film on my home computer — an Apple PowerPC G5 computer with Final Cut Studio. An entire feature film on my home computer.

G3, G4, G5, Mac Pro and PowerBook

Through the years, I went through Macs pretty quickly. The Mac G3, G4 and G5 towers were pretty amazing! Just a few years ago, I finally ventured into the Intel version Mac computer, the Mac Pro. Today, I use a pretty sweet machine, the 8-core Nehalem Mac Pro computer. It’s loaded with software and I use it for a variety of work functions.

A few years ago, I also purchased a PowerBook, my first laptop. With Final Cut Pro loaded, I was able to do some amazing things while being mobile. I would often use it for onsite editing for clients or projects.

iPhone 2G, 3G and 4G

iPhoneAnother interesting Apple product was the iPhone. Rumors started emerging while I was working for Nokia. At the time, Nokia was the cell phone king, dominating the market and quite proud of it. Then, Apple changed all that.  They launched the iPhone.

It was a bit awkward for me. I was working for Nokia but I loved Apple products. It was like my parents were getting a divorce and I had to choose.

But, the choice got easier in 2005 when I resigned my position at Nokia to launch my own production company, Top Pup Media. Today, my business produces hundreds of videos for a variety of clients, including many Fortune 500 companies like AT&T, Nokia, Haggar, BP, Fluor and many others. We’re a Mac production house and continue to use Mac products every day in our business.

Thank you Steve Jobs

I can’t express how much I appreciate all that Steve Jobs did by bringing Apple computers and devices to our generation. What an amazing, creative and visionary individual! His innovativeness and execution made a way for me to live my dreams.

Thank you, Steve Jobs!