PANORAMA
Everything Old is New Again
THE MECHANICS OF 360 PANORAMA:
by Scott Billups

360 panorama has been with us for quite literally centuries and the panoramic camera since 1834. In that time we've seen the art-form evolve from circular buildings built purposely to house large paintings, to motion picture based panorama screening rooms that took spectators on trips to far away lands for the price of admission.

I've worked on a number of panoramic LBE (Location Based Entertainment) venues for Disneyland, Iwerks and Universal Studios, and it always amazed me how compelling the sense of presence becomes once one suspends their sense of disbelief.

And then the pixel showed up and 360 was up for the first big redefinition in 200 years. As a developer on the original Apple QuickTime team, I was there when the edict came down to develop a "killer" VR app. It was the early 90's and VR was fast becoming a big trend. Perhaps not as big as it is today, but big.

While the processing power on anything short of an SGI ONYX was incapable of playing a Quicktime larger than 320 X 240, much less a panoramic QuickTime, we came up with a scheme to stitch individual still pictures together in a panoramic style which the Quicktime engine could then animate. We called it QuickTimeVR, and although we knew that this was not real VR, no one wanted to be the one to tell Steve Jobs.

And so here we are today. 360 Panorama is still passing itself off as VR (I'm truly sorry for my part in all this), and it's turning into a behemoth of a trend.

So now that we've darn-near perfected the panoramic art-form, what are we going to do with it? It still doesn't have a dynamic Z axis so it can't be considered "Virtual" and it's plagued by the same inability to drive a dramatic narrative that is holding back the full integration of true VR. So, all of the disadvanteges of real VR, with none of the advantages. These are just a few of the questions that we're working on daily.

A few of the more the 100 Panoramic Cameras currently avaiable:

Beyond Vanilla 360

In an atempt to create an enhanced perseption of Z space within the panoramic, a number of companies have been experimenting with both lightfield capture and 360 3D.

Panorama is old, the thing that is new is Light Field and 3D/360

While Paul Debevec remains the OG of Light Field research, there are a number of people who are pushing the boundaries of this remarkably dynamic medium. Light Field ray-space is destined to play a big part in the virtual future of content production but it is still a long way down the track.

Just pulling into the station is 3D/360. Not only does it add a sense of dimension to a 200 year old parlor trick, but it ads true Z depth perception which, for the very first time, will make Panorama a true member of the VR gang.

With all the hype and confusion that is circulating as fact, we thought that this little chart would help clarify a few things. Of course there are many more components that make up the total picture of resolution, such as color space, sample rate, compression, sensor size and perhaps one of the most overlooked and easily most important, latitude.
There is a lot of misinformation out there disguised as marketing, and a lot of people who just want to make a quick buck off of a trend. So don't believe anything you read in an ad, and always do your research before you make significant decisions.

The production industry has been full of scams and schemes ever since the pixel showed up because the price of admission is so low. New trends bring new cons and a new crop of "experts" who will gladly spew about things they know little about. Spatial media is especially ripe because so much money is being thrown around so foolishly.

Unfortunatly there are a lot of people who have made bad decisions and are looking for company in their mysery. There seems to be some wonky little corner of the human physcie that believes that if they can get enough people make the same mistake that they did, that thier origional decision was not all bad.

So if, after all this techno-babble, you have not been put to sleep, you can continue to peek under the hood of technology with one of Scott's books. They're available just about everywhere, are used in film schools around the world, and are noted for their no-nonsense approach to production. Scott's new book on Spatial Media should be out after the first of the year. So if you're in no rush, check in here and we'll let you known when he gets his act together and finishes it.

COMING SOON: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO SHOOTING CINEMATIC 360