2015 RJI Tech Showcase

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Last week I presented with the 3D journalism team at the 2015 Reynolds Journalism Institute Technology showcase. I talked about some of the challenges with shooting 3D that I’ve discussed here before.

We didn’t have enough survey respondents to present our findings yet. If you want to help out I’d appreciate it a lot.

Here’s a survey link for news consumers, it should take around 5 minutes:

 https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2RXR9LR

And here’s a survey for journalists and newsroom employees, it should take 5 to 10 minutes:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2CNT7W3

 Thanks so much!

 

Behind the scenes, the biggest challenge with putting the presentation together was exporting that brief clip we played into a 3D viewable format. Because of how I was precomposing my sequences in Sony Vegas, I tried over 12 different exported videos to watch a finished video in 3D but wasn’t having success. I couldn’t figure out the settings in Stereoscopic Player but it turns out the video I was exporting was in 2D. It really doesn’t matter what settings you have the player on or what file format your video is in if the video is in  2D, you not going to get any depth. In the future, I will make the entire video in one sequence until I can figure out how to precompose a different way in Vegas. Any advice would be appreciated!

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Reality Capture vs Reality Construction

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When it comes it comes to 3D media, the difference between reality capture and reality construction is akin to the difference between a photographer and an illustrator. But the stakes are higher for 3D because a reader is much more likely to view a 3D construction as factual reality than they would assume a sketch is a photo.

Right now, media outlets are experimenting with reality capture and reality construction in different ways. In Columbia, Missouri the Missourian the Structure Scanners to capture masked attendees to the True/False Film Festival.

This kind of “pull you into the experience” example is a perfect test case for the technology. There is little chance the 3D scans in the story will mislead the reader, hopefully no one assumes there were floating torsos hanging around central Missouri.

So while reality capture has the advantage of being easier to manage ethically as we’re following photo ethics we’re used to, reality construction has the huge advantage of being basically limitless to what you can show. Whether it’s the Lincoln assassination or a supernova, a skilled user could create experiences that weren’t captured on film or currently aren’t physically able to be shared on film.

But that’s were the tough ethical questions come. If you create something and present it as reality, you’re taking a lot of responsibility for that model.

Bimal (the architectural professor speaking in the above video) explained that at some architecture firms, they purposefully don’t render their designs in the highest detail they’re capable of. There is software being used right now that makes photo realistic 3D possible. But because it is near impossible to match reality exactly with a 3D model, the firms will scale down the detail or add fantasy elements to the model so the client isn’t disappointed when their real building doesn’t perfectly match the 3D.

Both reality capture and reality construction can be powerful story telling tools, and the technology required is only getting cheaper and more accessible. As we enter into a new era of story presentation, it’s important to begin making ethical considerations and having debates and discussions on use cases.

I think there is a bright future for this technology. In many ways it’s already here. I believe we can bring similar standard practices like we have for photos and videos in order to ensure exciting new tech designed to better share the world and ideas doesn’t obscure the truth in the process.

Youtube 3D

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You can’t use Google Chrome or Safari to view this video in 3D. At least not at the time of this writing. Firefox will work but Chrome or Safari don’t have the options for some reason. The video will appear as two nearly identical videos side by side in Chrome, which is what the video looks like while I’m editing it, instead of the composite video.

The work flow for editing 3D video is very similar to 2D and doesn’t require much more time. The more I work with 3D video, the more I see the difference between 3D and 2D similarly to the difference between color and black and white pictures. Depth, like color, is an additional layer of information.

Aside from potentially having to adjust the positioning of the two videos in relation to each other, which is a breeze in Sony Vegas, there isn’t any difference I’ve found so far between the editing of 3D and 2D video.

Exporting the video may require an extra step. When I exported my 3D video it took a couple tries to find the codec that would work. I used the Sony codec that exported the file as an AVI. In Vegas. The video file I got would play fine, but it was also almost 10 GB (aka the same size as the newest iPod in 2002, advertised to hold “about 2,500 songs”).

That would have been a headache to upload to YouTube even on a reliable wireless network (no offense Mizzou Wireless) so I had to get the size down. I opened the AVI file in Adobe Premiere and exported the video again using the H.264 codec and checking the “match preset to source” box. This option might be available in Vegas but I’m less familiar with that program than I am with Premiere and in all my A/V classes we used H.264 and it hasn’t let me down yet.

The file Premiere exported was a much more manageable 90.5 MB MP4. To my knowledge, there has never been a 90 MB iPod.

To view the video, which lacks any impressive depth, you will need either analglyphic (blue and red) glasses or a 3D TV. The purpose of the video was to test how virtual reality apps on a phone would appear in a video. One day I’d like to composite a 3D model over the phone so there will be something interesting to look at. Until then, I present roughly two minutes of barely 3D hands using a iPad and then a phone.

The app in the video, by the way, is the Augment Virtual Reality app I described last week.

Augmented Reality in your pocket

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Augmented Reality (AR) is super cool I don’t care what anyone says. I used a free AR app to digitally put a Santa hat on Mike. The pinnacle of technological achievement :

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The app is called “Augment: 3D Augmented Reality.” Augment is the company that also makes crazy expensive software that’s let’s you do amazing things, as often is the case with technology.

But I’m just getting started. The most impressive feature of the app is the ability to scan symbols and images and have a pre-selected 3D model appear.

You can upload the picture or symbol to the Augment database you want to be the trigger through the software online on a computer or you can select a picture through the app. Then you pick what 3D model will appear.

Anyone who scans the image will see the 3D,even if the image is on a screen. In our test case, scanning the picture of a dress causes the (unfinished) 3D model of the dress to appear.

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The advantage of this technology over something like a QR code is that the image you scan can stand alone without using a phone. It’s unobtrusive. And you have a better idea of what you’re getting.

You can browse through popular 3D objects in the app as well. Some of the suggested uses are to see how furniture would look in your house or what an article of clothing would look like on a person.

Like I said,  the app is free and pretty intuitive. Try it out on and augment your friends or dogs.

Blurring the line

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As I work more with 3D  I notice how the concept blurs line between our physical world and the virtual one. The intersections between the worlds can created with something relative newer, such as the virtual reality device Oculus Rift which retails for $350.

Or there’s another tool that’s a little older that can replicate a 3D experience, for about five bucks: chalk.

In the right hands, of course. And in the hands of artist Julian Beaver, chalk turns a sidewalk into a window into another world.

As is often the case in 3D, our brains are being tricked. Julian’s trick is using a forced perspective. By stretching out images with his keen eye, he can trick our brains into creating depth. Here’s another example of one his works, as seen from the intended angle:

And here’s the spell-breaking view from another angle:

The once spherical globe is now firmly 2D. Here’s another picture set (a ton more can be found on his online gallery):

Bringing 3D elements to life in the physical world has limitations. In the case of chalk, the cost is low but the technical expertise is incredibly high. And the viewing angles are limited.

One work-around to the viewing angle dilemma is to create your own environment so you can control the experience completely.

Recently, artists Vincent Morisset, Caroline Robert and Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit created a project where you control a 3D character in a 3D environment. The environment is a combination of a forest they capture using 360 degree video as well as computer rendered elements.

The cool thing about this project is while you can view it in Oculus Rift and on 3D devices and all that, it is also very accessible because you can view it in your browser without downloading any plug-ins.

Well, “view” isn’t the perfect word, because you have a lot of control overthe character. Here’s  the trailer:

But nothing is better than being able to blur the line of the actual and virtual on your own, check out the website to explore yourself. And make sure you have the volume on, the music is half the experience.

Shooting 3D Video with a (surprise) 3D camera

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Sony HDR-TD20

Sony HDR-TD20

The camera I’ve used for some 3D test footage yesterday looks just like any other Sony Handycam except for the two lenses in front and the video viewfinder is a glasses-free 3D screen. For a consumer product that is around $1,000 on Amazon, this is incredible.

This is my only experience with 3D cameras so I don’t have much to compare it to but a reviewer on Amazon said “. . .I also took footage of [a] turtle under the water from above the lake in the local park and it was just amazing.”

It’s hard to argue with amazing turtle footage.

Turtle-Cam 3D

Turtle-Cam 3D

In order to play back video in glorious 3D however, you’ll need a special program. I’m using Stereoscopic Player which has a free trial download but is only for Windows machines at the moment. Viewing is pretty simple, you just drag the video files in from whatever folder you saved them in and they play like any video player.

You do, however, need to be wearing active 3D glasses, otherwise the video looks a little blurry and decidedly two-dimensional.

3D test footage played back with the Stereoscopic Player program.

3D test footage played back with the Stereoscopic Player program. People walking in the background appear in doubles without 3D glasses. 

A pair of active 3D glasses are needed to view the video in 3D. As they are active, the glasses will require a power source. This pair has a rechargeable battery.

A pair of active 3D glasses are needed to view the video in 3D. As they are active, the glasses will require a power source. This pair has a rechargeable battery.

A 3D camera doesn’t magically make footage have depth, though it comes close. Without the right angle footage can still appear almost completely flat. I was able to achieve greater depth by following a few basics:

1. Have an something, anything,  in the foreground, middle ground, and background.

When all three of these areas have something for the eye, the contrast between their locations in 3D space is easily defined. If you remember from one of my previous posts, 3D is basically a big lie to our brains. Placing objects at different depths helps to fool our brains that the depth you’re recreating on the screen is real. Be careful not the clutter the scene up too much, or it will strain the viewers eyes and distract from the scene.

2. Be aware of large, especially horizontal, backgrounds.

A large, flat background can wash out the depth and make your subjects look flat against a screen. The more wide and monotonous the background, the flatter the whole frame appears to be. If you take a look at the screenshot above the glasses, you can see I tried to use the two buildings to frame the background and give it depth. The motion of people walking helps too. I was struggling to achieve depth when shooting the scene straight on. When I raised the camera more on the tripod and angle it down I think I got a better result.

3. Tight shots get more depth.

This is pretty similar to the last point but I think it bears repeating. It was very difficult to achieve the 3D effect from wide shots and even medium shots were a challenge without staging the scene.

4. Keep in mind what you’re trying to achieve.

3D is wicked cool on its own but think about what you’re trying to accomplish in that scene. I think 3D can help draw the eye to what you think it important in the scene. In some test footage, I wanted to make the screen of a cell phone the focal point. I tried to draw attention to it by having the phone move between the foreground and middle ground to make the 3D effect more noticeable.

This last points gives me a lot to think about. I understand a viewpoint that 3D in general makes a scene more real and thus more engaging but I’m sure there are more nuanced and varied applications. I will continue to look to others in the field for ideas and inspiration.

I got body scanned

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I wasn’t even at the airport. I was at the iLab in the Mizzou College of architectural design. Though I could be anywhere as long as the light is right because the graduate students who skillfully operate the equipment can do it wirelessly.

Basically a sensor is attached to an iPad and it transfers data either through a cable or wirelessly to a laptop. The program on the laptop (we’re using Skanect) can utilize the iPad’s camera to capture textures, otherwise the tablet is simply an expensive grip to hold the sensor with.

Once a person or object is scanned in there are a ton of possibilities. My body could be 3D printed, for example. Which is of course the ultimate goal of any technology, to replicate myself as accurately as possible.

Of course there are more practical applications immediately available for architecture as well as journalism. Visual information can be shared utilizing every side. Whether building plans or a five-part series about agriculture , an extra dimension adds more perspective to any project.

A less than in-depth look at depth

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Mentally I’m standing at a chalkboard writing again and again “3D is not a gimmick. . .3D is not a gimmick.”

Before Oculus Rift or Avatar, 3D to me meant red and blue blurry videos and the one 3D Spy Kids movie where the kid reaches his arm out into your face and it the previews showed audiences leaping out of their seats and throwing up popcorn in surprise and delight.

Someone left their cell phone and had to be punished. Credit: imdb.com

Someone left their cell phone on and had to be punished. Credit: imdb.com

But while I was a child watching children’s movies, some very smart people were doing some very smart things with 3D and were even kind enough to write guides so even people like me can know what what is going on. Or at least know what they’re called.

That red and blue 3D I mentioned before, for instance, is called an “anaglyph.” In this method of 3D, two differently colored images are laid on top of each other to make one picture and each eye only sees one color. And then 3D happens. So I still don’t understand, but now I have a name.

I got that particular nugget of information from an informative pdf from sky.com.

That page describes types of stereoscopic 3D, of which anaglyph is one form. Stereoscopic refers our two eyes, like stereo sounds refers to the left and right channel of sound.

Since our eyes are about two and half inches apart, each eyes gets a slightly different picture. Our brain then analyzes the differences in these pictures to determine depth. Stereoscopic 3D uses different techniques to get our brain to process the image in a way to fool our brains into creating depth.

In addition anaglyphs, another stereoscopic technique is called circular polarization, where instead of different colors the glasses have each lens polarized in an opposite swirling direction. Just like the color, the goal is to get each eye to see a slightly different image in order to trick the brain to create depth.

So 3D is basically the science of lying. But in a really cool way.

Where this goes beyond the gimmick is when filmmakers and journalists use the new depth their videos and stills have to tell more story in the same space.

One new technology that we’ll be playing with in the lab is the Lytro Illium camera that takes still photos with depth. Here’s a quick demo of this new tool:

In the coming weeks I hope to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of 3D and get some hands on experience. But no matter how much I learn, I’m sure part of me will still believe it’s more magic than science.