I am sure that most people have seen a Quicktime VR at least once by now. If you haven’t, check it out. The technology takes a spherical image, constructed from a series of stills that were shot from basically the same position using a tripod, and allows you to pan around anywhere you want as if you were panning the actual camera that took the images. Click the above image to go to see what I am about to describe. This is a video file, shot with a camera from Immersive Media that uses multiple wide angle lenses and sensors to capture a moving 360 degree panorama. I saw a different camera a few years ago, which demonstrated similar functionality (although that camera was able to look upwards as well). What I am impressed with in the Immersive Media system is that they have finally made a player that allows normal web users to control the camera- the version I saw required clunky heavy processing and custom software to do so, and was not even remotely realtime. I have also seen a demo of the Immersive system that used a head-tracking VR headset to allow you to look all around as the video played back- its was impressive but a tad dizzying. So what is the point of this stuff?
If you have been to Disney World then you’ve seen the 360 degree movies they shot a few decades ago- the ones where you stand in the middle of a circular room with film projected all around you. For nature and travel footage, the result is really damn impressive. This technology, as it improves, could provide a new generation of experiences like that. There are also all kinds of VR and gaming applications for systems like this. But for the part of the entertainment industry that I care about, VFX, this technology is only going to make things much cooler for us as it improves.
We can already use cameras like this for creating much more accurate reflections of an environment on 3D objects (if they are traveling through the space more than a few feet, otherwise traditional techniques are more than sufficient), and as the dynamic range increases, it may be able to eventually produce usable HDRI sequences from a moving camera, or even ones in which the lighting is changing quickly, such as a concert etc. I am sure we are years off from seeing this really doing amazing work, but the progress in just a few years is very promising. There are a few other interesting videos on the Immersive Media site, so if you dig this one, there’s more to see. The snowboarder bullet time clip is a very impressive use of the system.