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SCRATCH VRI'm constantly amazed at what the software can do
Have you participated in The Void experience at the Disney locations in California and Florida? My friends have been talking non-stop about it for weeks, and it seems people are finally catching on to how immersive an experience VR can be. If you have a 360-degree camera rig, we are at the point now where what was once a neat little gimmick has become a serious contender in the quest to capture viewers.
While there are applications that are just starting to introduce the ability to work with 360-degree video, Scratch VR from Assimilate just may be the best application for your next (or first) project.
What Is Scratch VR?
Scratch VR from Assimilate offers a real-time workflow to process 360-degree/VR footage as well as 2D/3D elements all the way from dailies to conform, compositing, grading, finishing and delivery, whether for online streaming, gaming applications, or an immersive theatrical experience. It seems rather boastful for the manufacturer to claim it is a complete workflow, but there is no exaggeration here - Scratch VR is more than I thought it would be, and I'm constantly amazed at what the software can do.
It all begins when you import your 360-degree footage. Whether you are using something simple, like the Samsung Gear 360, a 360 Fly 4k, a GoPro rig, or something much bigger like the Eye Camera, or Jaunt One, Scratch VR takes the footage and gives users the ability to seamlessly stitch the various shots together. While there are other applications that can stitch video and still images together, those can run over a thousand dollars (depending on the exchange rate), and the results, in my experience, have been frustrating most of the time. With Scratch VR, I am able to bring in six GoPro video shots, and Scratch VR will analyze the footage and calculate a near perfect first pass. If users need to remove a tripod, microphone, or fix a seam line, the software has masking tools that make quick work of problem areas. The Scratch VR software also allows users to use external templates to create a seamless shot.
Of course once you've created a 360-degree project, the first thing you'll want to do is test out how it looks - at least that is the first thing I want to do. The interface allows you to view the footage in a flat view or spherical projection on your screen, or if your system supports it, you can send the output directly to an Oculus or HTC Vive.
Do you need to stabilize the footage or track elements in the scene? Yup, Scratch VR does that, too. This means adding titles and other elements to a shot is very easy. Granted, you still have to apply equirectangular plugins to these elements, but that is a lot easier than trying to create an element in a 360-degree workspace and hoping it all lines up right in the end. I'm not a fan of the extra steps you have to do in order to get items placed in the scene, but the end result is fairly seamless, and just as good or better than what other applications have to offer.
Here is a 360 video from the CBS S.W.A.T that used Scratch VR
Beyond compositing features, Scratch VR has a solid set of editing tools to ensure you can trim your shot to remove the moments when the crew is scrambling to get out of camera view. And with Pan-Zoom tools, you can ensure the viewer focuses on what you want them to see, and not the uninteresting bits.
When it comes to grading footage for your final look, Scratch VR does include tools to color correct, and manage the color look for your 360-degree video. Honestly, when I first learned about Scratch VR, I thought this was the only thing Scratch VR did. It is easy to think that way, but this program is so deep and so robust, each button click is like discovering a new present on Christmas day.
Finally, just when I thought there was nothing else to be found in Scratch VR, I discovered it also has the ability to handle ambisonic audio for a complete 360 immersive experience. I've been working (or rather trying to work) with post production ambisonic audio for a couple of years now, and have never found a simple solution in other popular audio and video applications. Scratch VR made mixing and positioning audio a breeze.
In the day and age where clients and post production professionals are sometimes quite a distance away from each other, Scratch VR also includes a secure web site that allows for collaboration and review at a distance. I was't able to test this out fully as I didn't have someone readily available to check my uploaded content, but I've seen a few demos of this feature and it looks like it performs exactly as Assimilate claims. frame.io has been integrated into other editing apps, and it works really well, but having something that is not third party that you know isn't going to go away is an added bonus to Scratch VR.
The Not So Good Things
The biggest drawback of Scratch VR is there is a steep learning curve in order to do what should be very simple actions. A lot of this has to do with the user interface which feels more like DaVinci Resolve or Mocha. Initially, the interface isn't intuitive, it took me forever to figure out how to create a project and add clips to the timeline. It would be nice if there were popups or something that walked the user through the interface at the very beginning of a project. Plus, there is a lot of node based operations, and I'm not really a node based person thanks in part to everything Apple's Final Cut Pro, and the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of products kept away from me all these years.
Do interface navigation issues go away? Of course, after ten or so hours using the application and flipping back and forth between the manual and the Assimilate online videos, most of the interface concerns fade into the background. Bottom line; don't expect to step into Scratch VR and have everything go smoothly on your first project. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to learn the interface and workflow before you use it for your next 360-degree/VR project.
Though it is not directly related to Scratch VR, in order to get the best experience with software, having a VR rig connected to your system will make the workflow easier, as it gives you the ability to check changes and final output easily. For this reason, you'll want to make sure your system will support virtual reality headset of some type. The HTC Vive seems to be the one I've seen used most, though there may be something that works better for you. Again, you don't need a virtual reality headset, but it will help, and that will add several hundreds of dollars to your budget when setting up a VR post production system.
Bottom Line: Fantastic Application
When I first received Scratch VR for review, I thought this was simply an assemble and color correct VR application with the ability to do simple edits. After spending a month using the software, I am completely blown away by how robust Scratch VR really is. While there are other applications that are starting to incorporate the ability to work with 360-degree video, Scratch VR has everything you need on launch. While there may be times when you will need to do something outside of the application and import it for the final edit, none of those instances popped up when I was working with my VR footage. For anyone doing serious work in 360-degree/Virtual Reality experiences, the $995 price tag feels like you are stealing the software from Assimilate.
For More Information
Scratch VR (v. 8.6)
Company: Assimilate, Inc.
Price: $995.00 US
Stephen Schleicher has crossed the country several times over the last couple of years going from Kansas to Atlanta , Georgia, and Southern California. In his time traveling, he has worked as an editor, graphic designer, videographer, director, and producer on a variety of video productions ranging from small internal pieces, to large multimedia
Currently, Stephen shares his knowledge with students at Fort Hays State University who are studying media and web development in the Information Networking and Telecommunications department. When he is not shaping the minds of university students, Stephen continues to work on video and independent projects for State and local agencies and organizations as well as his own ongoing works.
He is also a regular contributor to Digital Producer, Creative Mac, Digital Webcast, Digital Animators, and the DV Format websites, part of the Digital Media Online network of communities (www.digitalmedianet.com), where he writes about the latest technologies, and gives tips and tricks on everything from Adobe After Effects, to Apple's Final Cut Pro, LightWave 3D, to shooting and lighting video.
He has a Masters Degree in Communication from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. As a forward thinker, he wrote his Thesis on how Information Islands and e-commerce would play a major role in keeping smaller communities alive. This of course was when 28.8 dialup was king and people hadn't even invented the word e-commerce.
And, he spends what little free time he has biking, reading, traveling around the country, and contemplating the future of digital video and its impact on our culture. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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