How to build your own 360 virtual reality helmet cam

by John Sunda Hsia    10.25.2016 06:31 PM

completed-360-helmet-cam
Completed AT&T 360 VR Helmet Cam

The recent introduction of affordable, consumer-oriented virtual reality (VR) cameras has allowed content creators to add another dimension to their video in the same way sound enriched silent films and color film brought black and white movies to life. With the advent of new technologies come new challenges. For example, when sound was first added to film (i.e. talkies), editors had to re-record the dialog track since audio captured during filming was typically unusable. Each new problem was addressed with different approaches or new inventions such as the clapperboard for synchronizing film and audio.

One of the problems with 360-degree videos is that you and the tripod have nowhere to hide. A 360-degree VR video is capturing a complete sphere; so it’s capturing everything, and I mean everything. If you’re filming a stationary video, you have to worry about how you’re going to hide the tripod or how you’re holding the camera. If you’re walking while shooting video, where are you and your crew situated.

Ignoring the crew for the moment, there are some great tips and techniques on-line on how to hide your tripod. Some of the most common and easy tips include:

  • Masking out the tripod in post-production or directly on the Samsung Gear 360
  • Adding your brand to the bottom of the video (post-product as well)
  • Putting a fake body over the tripod to show the camera’s perspective
  • Keeping the video real and show the tripod

A more comprehensive list of techniques can be found at elevr.com in their blog Don’t Look Down.

4 Easy Steps for Creating a DIY Walking Camera Mount

Having acquired a Samsung Gear 360 recently and needing to capture some video at the AT&T Shape Tech Expo, I tried a little DIY experiment to create my own VR camera mount. These are my requirements:

  • Keeping the video real so any visible camera mount would be ok as long as it wasn’t too distracting
  • Don’t waste 20 degrees of the 360-degree picture with my ugly mug
  • Must be inexpensive, say under $10
  • Allows me to film hands-free while I control the camera with the Samsung Gear 360 mobile app
  • Raises the camera perspective so the viewers of the video can see above the crowd
  • Easy to assemble and disassemble in case I want to use the camera separately
  • Has to be secure as these cameras aren’t cheap so duct tape or Velcro won’t do

Conveniently, the Gear 360 has a standard ¼” tripod mount so it can work with any tripod. My intention was to create a time-lapse video of AT&T Park during Shape so anyone can experience the event quickly and comprehensively. With that in mind, I decided to build my own moving tripod by mounting the Gear 360 on my head, or rather on a helmet that I wear on my head. To film my time-lapse video, I would just wear my helmet, turn on the camera and walk around the park. Simple, right?

 

1. Purchase Necessary Items to Create a DIY Camera Mount for $2

To create my mount, I picked up a few parts from my neighborhood hardware store. After spending a couple of bucks, this is what I ended up with:

  • One ¼” bolt 1 ¼” in length (use a longer bolt if you prefer)
  • One ¼” nut
  • Two ¼” lock washer
  • Two ¼” washers
  • Two or more ¼” rubber washers (depends on thickness)

step-1-camera-parts
Parts laid out ( left to right) the bolt, the helmet (actually LEGO helmet), lock washer, etc.

I used an AT&T Safety Helmet for the base of my helmet cam, but you could easily do this with a bike helmet or a batting helmet. Any rigid helmet that fits securely on your head (i.e. secure straps) should do.

NOTE: Any helmet modification could compromise the structure of the helmet and would change its protective nature so do not use the helmet for its original purposes after these modifications.

 

2. Get the Power Tools and Start Drilling

All fun DIY projects must include power tools and this one is no exception – how else can we justify all our toys and all our trips to Home Depot? To determine the best point on the helmet to mount the camera for a nice vertical perspective, put on the helmet, stand naturally and check yourself out in a mirror. After you’re done admiring yourself, take a sharpie and draw an “x” on the helmet where you plan to drill. This should be a spot where the camera mount would be perpendicular to the ground.

Take off the helmet and use a ¼” drill bit, and drill a vertical hole on your mark. Test out the ¼” bolt to make sure it’s a nice snug fit.

 

3. Assemble the Helmet Cam

Gather all your parts nearby and follow these directions:

  • Fit the bolt through the newly drilled hole from inside the helmet (threading facing out).
    step-3-helmet-with-bolt
    Helmet with bolt inserted into newly drilled hole
  • Add the lock washer, then add the ¼” nut, and tighten. Don’t over-tighten as this may crack your helmet.
  • Now add a washer, the two rubber washers and another washer.
  • Screw on your Gear 360 (after you remove the included tripod). As you tighten the camera, you’ll feel the rubber washers push back so that you can secure the camera in different positions while minimizing the likelihood of stripping the threading. If you don’t feel the rubber washers pushing back, go back to step 3 and add more washers.

Yes, you have one extra nut left. Unlike what is often the case with Ikea furniture assembly, this was planned. This nut will keep your mount together when it’s not in use. When the camera is in use, you should screw it onto your Gear 360 tripod so that you don’t lose it.

 

4. Make Additional Modifications

If the white space at the bottom of the video that you record while wearing the helmet cam is too large, you can reduce it further by raising the camera. Following a recommendation from my colleague Jeff Clark, I picked up some additional hardware for about $8. By using a couple of the shafts from this kit, I raised the camera to further reduce the footprint of the helmet. I could have used a longer bolt, but I wanted the mount to look more professional. Conveniently, the kit also used standardized ¼” 20 threads so adding the shafts was just a matter of screwing on some additional parts. The kit also includes an adjustable tilting, rotating head in case you didn’t drill a nice vertical hole in your helmet.

helmet-teletubby-version-with-riser
Teletubby version with riser to reduce the helmet footprint

parts-aseembly-order-with-risers
Parts assembly order with risers

 

Taking the VR Helmet Cam for a Day at the Park

I’m not sure if the camera looked really cool or if I eerily reminded everyone of the Teletubbies, but either way, I was getting a lot of thumbs up as I strolled through AT&T Park. The helmet wasn’t too disruptive as most people didn’t notice what I was wearing until I walked past them. At Shape, I took a couple of time-lapse videos as I walked through the park. I still have to experiment with the time-lapse settings on the camera, but I think the results are pretty good. I’ve included the unedited video for everyone to view.


360 video of AT&T Park: Time lapse walk through of promenade, maker camp and hackathon


360 video of AT&T Park: Time lapse walk through of the infield and outfield

After my initial test run, I realize that I’ll have to experiment with this further since the higher I raised the camera, the higher the amplification from any head movement. In the end, I lowered the camera a little to avoid making the perspective look too tall and to avoid collisions with some exit signs. Overall, the stills and the video look pretty good. Here are some results of 360-degree video I shot from the AT&T Hackathon in Seattle on July 29-30.


360 video of the hackathon audience during a lightning talk


360 video of Surf Incubator, our host for the Seattle Hackathon

While there are camera techniques I can definitely improve on (e.g. don’t dip my head when I’m using the app), I believe I can declare this little DIY experiment a success. For just $2, I was able to create a secure mount for my VR camera that hid the tripod and crew (i.e. me) while not being too disruptive to my environment. I managed to raise the perspective of the viewer and only created a small white space at the bottom that wasn’t too distracting.

Let us know if you try making this at home. We’d love to hear more about your experience and any tips you might have about shooting 360-degree videos.

For more articles on AR, VR, and all things video, see our new AT&T Video and VR site.


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