Understanding Virtual Reality – Part 3
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
A short-hand guide to virtual reality for business. VR Budgets.
In the first part of our introduction to vr for business we looked at two current approaches to producing virtual reality content whilst in part two we looked at the range of hardware options available. In part 3 we'll cover budgets for virtual reality - filmed and programmed virtual reality. Just how much does virtual reality cost to produce?
Virtual Reality Budgeting
A regular question I’ve been asked relates to the types of budget required to produce a “typical” VR project. How much does VR cost? More often than not it’s not an easy question to answer, if it can be answered at all, as the list of variables is so great that without an outline of what will be produced and the production values which are expected even a budget range would be meaningless.
As with any type of filmed project a decision has to be made on the approach: is the aim to deliver to the tightest budget accepting the limitations this brings, or to deliver to the highest quality and accept you will need to provide sufficient budget to do this?
For the sake of argument lets looks at scenarios for both filmed and programmed content.
NOTE: As we are based in Scotland our Virtual Reality costs are based on typical costs in the Scottish VR film marketplace at the time of writing which is Mid 2020 (Covid-19 lockdown time!).
Filmed VR Budgets
Of the two approaches this is an easier one to develop a budget for. Anyone who has experience in video or film production at a professional level will clearly understand the requirements and variables involved. The starting point to produce a reasonably accurate budget is a script with any additional specifics detailed – for example the script has a scene in a jungle setting but this can be filmed in a local zoo to fit within the budget, as opposed to flying a crew out to South America - that's quite a different cost. The script can be broken down by a producer into line items which will cover everything from equipment and crew hire, through to provision of coffee on set! The variables specific to virtual reality which differ from more traditional filmmaking primarily relate to an additional process whereby a number of individual filmed elements are stitched* together to create one file which can be edited and whether this is shot in 2D or 3D. As any producer would tell you the overall budget will be based on a range of other variables such as:
Overall running time of film
Stereoscopic 3D or 2D
Crew size for the shoot
Number of days filming
Type and level of equipment needed
Location and Travel costs
Post Production – editing, colour grading, sound, stitching*
Additional third party costs – music licensing, voice over, actors.
So to provide some examples, let’s consider these hypothetical scenarios. These scenarios are limited to corporate types of projects. Narrative fiction films or VR documentaries require a more complex approach beyond the scope of this post. Equally it's possible to film a Wedding Day in using virtual reality cameras but the wedding celebration video market is niche and highly competitive so we won't cover the cost of a Virtual Wedding recording here.
Basic Corporate Factory VR Video Tour
Description: 2-3 Minute, 2D Corporate VR Film, with script provided by the client and voice over recorded by a member of staff.
Shot onsite for one day at the client’s local factory with just background audio and narration provided using voice over from one of the employees. The client plans on meeting all project management and logistic requirements, so costs are low working with an independent two-person crew.
This single day shoot is undertaken by a minimal crew consisting of a self-directing camera operator plus an assistant who could cover the rudimentary audio recording. Equipment hire would be based on using a mid-level camera such as the Insta360 Pro with some basic lighting provided. Postproduction would be simple stitching and editing allowing up to a week, no motion graphics or special effects required. Sound would be the voice over recorded onsite in a quiet location and a single music track licensed for use. No cast required, individuals in film would be provided by client’s team working onsite.
Anticipated budget range - £2,500 to £7,500
European Area Promotional Travel Film
In this example the film would be circa 5 minutes in length, filmed to promote a region in Europe over multiple locations in the region. Filming would be in 3D and would again use a camera such as the Insta360, although higher end cameras might be worth considering such as the Insta360 Titan.
Considering it would be 3-4 days in a non-local location budget would be required for travel and accommodation as well as sustenance payments to cast and crew. For simplicity, as well as the practicalities of providing multi-lingual soundtracks the film will also use voice-over, but in this case will be a professional voice-over artist.
The crew would be marginally bigger with a Director, VR Cinematographer and an assistant who again could record the environmental audio. A client liaison and most likely a client would also be required to make sure the shoot runs in an optimal manner.
Post production would be considerably more complex working in stereoscopic 3D thus stitching, editing and grading time would be increased allowing for up to two weeks to produce the final film.
Voice over and royalty free music would be produced or licenced appropriately.
Anticipated budget range - £15,000 - £30,000
Large Corporate Brand Film
In this imaginary scenario, we’re assuming we’ll create a 10 minute VR film with a professional actor as host who will provide onscreen introductions and commentary in much the same way a TV show is presented. It’s assumed this will be filmed over multiple locations, which will require daily local/national travel by car and will be filmed over the course of 7 days.
This would require a larger crew with director, VR cinematographer, lighting grip, audio recordist/supervisor. As well as travel, accommodation and sustenance. High end equipment would be used to again shoot in 3D under a range of lighting conditions, such as the Insta360 Titan, and stereo audio would be recorded throughout.
The postproduction would entail a considerable amount of stitching, grading and editing as well as several shots where images would require manipulation to remove crew from the shots. This could take up to 3-4 weeks to produce the final film.
Custom music could be created, and additional voice over may be required to deliver a polished final product.
Anticipated budget range - £35,000+
Alternative approach – Reverse engineering your budget
An alternative approach in this scenario is to start with the budget and work backwards. Let’s say you have £10,000 to spend on your film – assuming that this budget is purely for filmed content production a script can be written to work within that financial parameter which would consider all the variables discussed above in order to deliver the best result for the budget.
And of course these are ballpark budgets, actual budgets could sit below, or way above these examples provided.
Programmed VR Budget
Developing computer applications and their budgets is again a massively variable undertaking. At the most basic end of VR a competent solo developer could purchase an off the shelf 3D model of an environment and pop it in a VR development tool such as Unity, and with relative ease export an operational VR application – one in which the user could look around and even navigate the scene. And if you’re lucky enough to have one of these scenes available and that’s all you need, you could likely get this delivered for under £1000.
However, in my experience, and most cases in reality, a more customised approach is required.
The overall budget will be based on a range of variables such as:
Number of 3D models required
Photorealism vs Simplicity of Models and Textures
Stand-alone application or network attached
Ongoing Maintenance and Support Costs
Additional third party costs – music licensing, add-on modules, 3rd party models, etc.
Programmed VR is more complex to provide imaginary costings for, as the requirements can be so diverse, in fact the concepts for software development are always changing so I’ll just provide a single, simple little example in this instance. The mid and higher ends become so complex, so quickly that there would be no point trying to provide any guidance or ballpark figures here.
Simple single environmental VR Application
Let’s assume you are a building company and you want to demonstrate one of your “standard” off-the-shelf single storey, office development in VR for a trade show. There is no interaction beyond the ability to manoeuvre around the office space, which is made up of four rooms. The design already exists as an architectural plan but the environment requires suitable models such as chairs, desks and computers as well as minimal colour plans of walls and floors. Even for something as simple as this there are still variables that need to be considered such as speed of turnaround, potential offshore modelling and coding, etc. However, this should be achievable anywhere in the £2500 - £7500 range.
As you can see there is a fair level of understanding required when considering how and why you might use virtual reality in meeting your business needs whether that’s for training, sales & marketing or as an integrated part of your offering.
The two distinct production options and their limitations require careful consideration in order to be best placed to decide which VR route to pursue. There are creative and technical considerations for both, plus consideration of the audience type and hardware availability as well as budgetary concerns.
When done well either can deliver rich, memorable experiences to the user, beyond anything on a flat screen can compete with and as the technology becomes less costly and more accessible it is well worth considering how this could benefit your business.
Andrew Murchie is a creative technology consultant and award winning filmmaker based in Edinburgh in Scotland. He has produced 360 degree virtual reality filmed content (in stereo 3D) for Scottish clients including Seafood Scotland, Highland Spring, Glen Scotia Distillery & The Real Mary King’s Close.
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