Creating immersive walkthroughs

360 degree photography is a thing these days. Increasingly you’ll see photos on places like Facebook that enable you to pan and zoom around to explore. You can then combine these spherical photos to create clickable “walkthroughs”. It’s even then possible to view these walkthroughs in a 3D Virtual Reality headset like Google Cardboard or Samsung’s Gear VR.

I’ve been playing with it as there are a few applications that my current client is interested in exploring- so here’s how to go about it.

First off, the aim of all of this is to create a number of 360 degree views that then can be stitched together with hyperlinks to create a navigable virtual space. Your first step is to create the photos.

If you are the owner of a smartphone, the cheapest way to do this is to use an app on your phone. There are a stack of these things available – search for 360 degree camera in your preferred app store – to date the main one I’ve used is Google’s Cardboard Camera on Android.

These apps are pretty good, but because the 360 photos are created by stitching together lots of individual photos they take quite a while to create. The next step up in 360 photography is to get a dedicated 360 camera.

Like the apps, there are a stack of these on the market. They’re a bit more expensive than an app, ranging from a few hundred pounds to thousands. I’ve invested in a Ricoh Theta S, which retails at £300 and creates both still and video 360 images with its dual fisheye lenses. It’s even possible to live stream the output of the Theta.

The other thing you’ll need for 360 photography is some sort of tripod. The Theta can be controlled with an app, so the ideal for 360 walkthrough is to have the camera on a stand so that each shot doesn’t amount to a selfie. Taking 360 photos is about the positioning of the camera rather than the framing of the shot; once you get the camera positioned, everything is in shot.

Once you have taken your photos, to create a walkthrough you then need to author them into a walkthrough. The software I’ve been using is a product called Panotour, which is about £100 for the basic edition. Pulling together the walkthrough is straightforward: import the photos, create hotspot hyperlinks to link between the photos, and then compile out to either a set of HTML to publish to a website, or compiled into a file that can be viewed on a phone or tablet.

What that output then looks like is this.

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