How to create a Virtual Tour

Here I am just going to give you a brief guide to the sort of functionality that can make up a virtual tour and how to go about creating that functionality. Because of the range of software available there is no right or wrong way of creating a virtual tour - it's up to you what you want to achieve, whether you want or need to buy software to create the tour with, etc. I assume in this page that you know about, or have read about putting individual panoramas or objects in a web page.

Most Java viewers allow you to add functionality by adding parameters into the HTML code in the web page you display the panorama on. However doing this can be time consuming - if you are creating lots of virtual tours you will save time by investing in software that helps you put together the tour. QuickTime and ImmerVision's PURE products amongst others will store all the metadata information about the virtual tour into the single file which makes it easy to publish and keeps the web page HTML code simple.

Hot spots

A hot spot is a part of the panorama image or of the object which is setup so that when you click on it something happens. The most common example of this is a hot spot over a doorway in a panorama - when clicked on you appear in a new panorama that shows you what the room the other side of the door looks like.

Embedding sound

Some of the viewers/formats allow you to:

  • Include sound in objects or panoramas, such as background sound effects of a cafe, or a music soundtrack
  • Include directional sound effects: in a panoramic view of a beach scene, you hear the sea when you turn to look at it, but the sound fades away as you turn to look to shore

If you are using QuickTime, see the Squamish site for software to allow you to do either of these.

Embedding movies

The most obvious example here is a panoramic picture of a hotel room. By clicking on the TV, a movie clip is played which is super-imposed on the TV screen to make it look as if you turned the TV on.

The first version of Reality Studio (but not the latest version) also allowed you to create scripted movies, in other words a movie clip that is scripted to loop and to move in a certain way. This could then be super-imposed within a panoramic scene. Reality Studio included a few examples, including a bird that will fly around the top of the panoramic scene. You could then add directional sound and attach it to the scripted movie, so the sound of the bird moves with it.

Embedding objects within panoramas

Various viewers now allow you to put an object movie within a panorama. This means that instead of having a boring single colour or fixed background for the object as it is rotated, it rotates around inside a panoramic scene.

The first version of ISeeMedia's Reality Studio (but the latest version) allowed you to position the object movie in 3D, scaling the object as you do so. When you then pan around in the panorama, the object does not move around with you. Reality Studio included a few examples, including a girl in a bikini. Put her in the beach scene, and when you pan around the scene you will be able to see her. By clicking on her you can spin her round, just like any object, but independently of the panorama.

Scripting movement and interaction

Most viewers allow you to set them to start panning or rotating once they load. A few allow you to script specific movement, which can either occur when the object or panorama loads, or when the use clicks on a backdrop. A simple example of this is to set a hot spot on a door and script a zooming movement. By doing this, when the user clicks on the door, the viewer zooms in on the door before loading the next scene, as if to give the impression you are walking towards the door, rather than hyper-jumping through space.

Some viewers also allow you to script arbitrary movement and by adding a soundtrack which includes commentary, you can have a narrated tour. iPIX and iMove included this functionality (both their products are discontinued). ImmerVision's PURE Player can also do this and you can create the tours using ImmerVision's PURE tools.

Making the user experience more "immersive": spherical panoramas

Personally I find that it can be limiting to only be able to look side-to-side. Full-screen high-resolution panoramas in which I can look in any direction including straight up and straight down are really compelling. The virtual tour experience is that much more "immersive". Of course your application for virtual tours may not require this, or maybe you prefer panoramas that allow only side-to-side viewing anyway. If you are interested in this you need to consider spherical (or cubic) panoramic photography. The various techniques for spherical panoramic photography are described in the panoramic photography technique section.