Archive for the 'media' Category

The advent of computational photography

Friday, November 6th, 2015

Ever since I started working in cinematic Virtual Reality I have fantasized about the time when cameras will evolve from optics based mechanical contraptions to sensor based computational machines. Instead of projecting light into a flat image using lenses, computational photography collects data from the environment and uses it to reconstruct the scene after the fact. I find this subject matter fascinating. In fact, I almost attended Frédo Durand’s Computational Photography class at MIT, but I got too busy fooling around with symbolic programming and pattern recognition instead. I was not surprised to find out that Frédo is an advisor for the upcoming Light L16 digital camera. It looks insane and I definitely want one.

Before we had a Light 16 we had Lytro, a company famous for their shoot-first, focus-later consumer level funny looking cameras. To my knowledge this was the first time ever a data driven photography device has ever hit the consumer market. I didn’t get one, and I didn’t get their next generation DSLR model, but I always believed the Lytro guys were up to something interesting. It made total sense to me when they announced a few months ago they had begun development of a light field camera for Virtual Reality, and I even thought they might actually be the ones to pull that off.

Later I learned Wevr had been selected as a development partner to try the first working prototypes of Lytro’s VR capture system, called Immerge, and I might get to play with it before the end of this year. It will be a great relief after a couple of years dealing with custom rigs made with GoPro cameras and the limitations and difficulties inherited from having to stitch a bunch of deformed images at the very beginning of the postproduction pipeline. And since capturing light fields delivers data instead of pictures, you can move inside the scene almost like you were actually there, instead of being limited to just look around it.

Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal sums it up in a recent press release: “To get true live-action presence in VR, existing systems were never going to get you there. To really do this, you need to re-think it from the ground up.” I can’t agree more.

Lytro Immerge from Lytro on Vimeo.

Casey Reas Linear Perspective

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

Casey Reas just opened a show at the Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown LA last night. It is interesting to see how his generative work has recently shifted from the purely algorithmic —using rules and numbers as a base to create form from scratch— to a deconstructive commentary on media that utilizes content units —like digital photographs and video streams— as a source of [not quite] raw data that generates his quasi abstract forms over an extended period of time. One of his pieces, the one I photographed for this article, retrieves the main photograph from the cover page of the New York Times every day, and uses it as is as a topological stripe that stretches across the digital frame over and over again, weaving a familiar, yet unrecognizable tapestry across the big television screen that Casey chose as his canvas. Well done.

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New Context Conference – From Cinema to Virtual Reality

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

The New Context Conference, an annual conference hosted by Digital Garage and Joi Ito, co-founder of Digital Garage and current director of the MIT Media Lab, took place this year at Toranomon Hills in Tokyo, and focused on The Future of Digital Currency and Virtual Reality.

I was invited by Digital Garage to represent Wevr and talk about our virtual reality cinematic work. I also participated in a panel moderated by Joi with Daito Manabe and Rei Inamoto. I was proud to be part of such an impressive line-up.

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Stereovision

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Some time in the nineteen fifties a serious attempt was made to bring stereoscopic photography to the masses. Stereoscopic photography faces similar adoption challenges to 3D movies and Virtual Reality because up to this point there is no easy way to experience any of them without attaching a contraption to your face. An interesting note is that while 3D movies and Virtual Reality are fairly recent, stereoscopic photography has been around since the eighteen fifties, and even commercial viewers were mass produced back then.

In my quest to learn how to make my own Virtual Reality work, I got interested in the display of stereoscopic photography in VR. Inspired by the idea that properly placed in VR space, a stereoscopic photo can feel a lot like a VR sculpture of VR hologram, a moment frozen in time with a large potential to make the viewer feel “there with it” as opposed to just looking at a flat projection of it in a two dimensional picture.

While I was looking for cheap and easy stereoscopic camera systems I came across the historical mid twentieth century consumer cameras, and it was easier for me —or at least more reliable/fun/interesting— to get my hands on a couple of film cameras and start taking pictures than to find a digital solution. Eventually I came across a smartphone solution in Kickstarter that worked fairly well, but not before I was already shooting stereoscopic 35mm film all over the place. Here is an inventory of my stereoscopic gadgetry:

  • Revere Stereo 33 35mm Camera Released around 1953. In perfect condition. Works great.
  • Stereo Realist by the David White Company, available from 1947 to 1971. In perfect condition. Works great.
  • Poppy 3D for iPhone via Kickstarter. This works great too. Except it’s a little painful to manage the files. Overall easier than shooting film, developing it, scanning it and putting it together for digital viewing, but it could be easier on the viewing/playback aspect of the product.

Once I had my pictures, the next step was to build a program that could let me look at them through a VR headset. Since I have no time or interest to learn how to use a game engine, I was left with only one option: the web browser and WebGl/ThreeJS. I already knew there are experimental builds of Firefox and Chrome that are compatible with the Oculus Rift DK2 headset, and I also wanted something that could run on a mobile browser for Google Cardboard viewing. I knew where to get sample boilerplates from the VR Chrome team and Mozilla, so all I had left to do was to find a way to feed two textures onto the same piece of geometry while rendering for each eye. Luckily I found a code example that did just that, and it didn’t take me long to adjust it to my needs. You can find the code here (Stereovision).

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A stereo card of a woman using a stereoscope circa 1901. Via Wikipedia

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My Stereo Realist after a photo session

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Stereovision for Cardboard on my iPhone. Featured photo taken with the Stereo Revere

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Stereovision screenshot. Left and right images are rendered for the corresponding eye

Directing Motion

Monday, June 16th, 2014

A few weeks ago, @djabatt gave me a ticket to take part on Vincent Laforet’s Directing Motion Tour. It turned out to be a great way to spend my Sunday, revisiting the basics of cinematic language, production logistics, directorial practice, and over all fooling around with a ton of equipment and DSLR goodies provided by the workshop sponsors, that included Canon, Atomos, Freefly MõVI, a few rental houses and some others.

The workshop structure reminded me a lot of a class I took as a film student in VFS, where a few groundbreaking scenes from classic films were deconstructed shot by shot and then reshot by the workshop participants. Pretty fun, like that version of Psycho shot by Gus Van Sant.

This exercise made me compare with my recent incursions developing video based virtual reality at Wemolab, and the crazy fact that the nascent medium of virtual reality is at a place today where traditional cinema was around 1895, where an equivalent language is yet to be developed based on the strengths of this new medium.

Virtual reality is more immersive than cinema because it happens all around you, so there is no screen and no frame to separate you from the content. In combination with sound, it becomes your surrounding environment, almost completely replacing your original reality —the actual promise of virtual reality is presence, meaning that you should actually believe with all your senses that you were somewhere else. This disruptive effect can not be achieved by frame based media like the picture, the page or the screen. They are nothing more than containers of symbols and images that gently occupy the place given to them in our naturally occurring reality. VR is something else. It suggests a different destination. It forces you to be there instead of being here, and for this reason, hints at potential new ways in which a story can be told, more like dreams, or vivid memories. What is the language that virtual reality authors can use to express a direct their vision?

Perhaps for now it’s better to forget about all that and concentrate on all these shiny camera rigs, HD monitors, and HDMI streams of 4K prores video at 60 glorious fps. And I really want a MõVI.

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Propagación de Ficciones

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

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Maria Paula Lorgia y AnaDK me invitaron a participar con una plática en el Seminario Transmedia y Narrativas Audiovisuales 2013 en Bogotá, Colombia. Después de mucho deliberar, AnaDK y yo decidimos expresarnos en forma conjunta, y combinar nuestros pontos de vista con el objeto de discutir los populares conceptos de Transmedia y World Building:

Los términos importados World Building, originado en la ciencia ficción estadounidense para describir la construcción de escenarios capaces de albergar mitologías y épicas completas, y Narrativa Transmedia, originado en discusiones académicas recientes de teoría crítica para describir métodos de propagación de historias o superhistorias a través de plataformas múltiples, describen en si mismos técnicas de construcción narrativa que aprovechan al máximo los recursos de comunicación característicos del medio digital.

Esta charla busca despejar el aura esotérica que rodea ambos términos al examinar conceptos paralelos y ejemplos que aprovechan técnicas similares para crear sistemas narrativos abiertos, y establecer, de una u otra manera, un espacio de agencia creativa y participación para el público que los consume.

La charla completa se encuentra disponible en YouTube para quienes puedan estar interesados:

En el ámbito del evento tuve el privilegio de conocer y convivir con fascinantes personajes en la impresionante ciudad de Bogotá. Entre ellos cabe mencionar a nuestro viejo amigo vVvA y su paisano/tocayo Andrés Burbano, que hablaron de Modos y Logicas Transmedia, y Arqueología de la Ficcion, respectivamente (y fueron condensados en el mismo video, a pesar de hablar por separado), y el artista metamático digital Pablo Colapinto, quien nos habló de los laberintos en su cabeza.

La ciudad de Bogotá respira profundidad, color e historia. Una vez más, estar de visita en América Latina me hizo revivir lo familiar, todas las cosas que me han hecho falta durante mi exilio Norteamericano, incluso viviendo en una ciudad invadida por mexicanos como es Los Ángeles. Aquí hay unas imágenes que jalé del Instagram:

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Learning AngularJS

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

We just got a contract job at WemoLab to develop a mobile web app for a sports betting startup called Joust, and after a week or so of deliberations we decided to build the whole thing using an AngularJSNodeJSMongoDB combo, pure javascript from end to end.

I have to say AngularJS hasn’t been exactly easy, but there have been several times where I have been surprised finding extremely simple ways to set up certain things, especially when binding event triggered method chains across completely separate scopes. It’s kind of great, even though all those directives are driving me crazy and the learning curve has been steep as hell.

Programming languages are used to create functional worlds. In these worlds, new languages are created to create new worlds within the older ones. They are like stories within stories within stories, except in the case of software all these stories have a life of their own. It is natural to fantasize about a esperanto of programming, or a universal language that could be used to program anything. Today, this language is a dream, but at least in the web, javascript is as close as it gets to being the language of god, and AngularJS, together with NodeJS and a document/json based database solution like MongoDB, are a good reason why.