Having grown far beyond "surround videos," VR opens new business vistas for studio and product photographers George H. Thomas is a graphics consultant based in Redmond, Wash., specializing in Internet delivery of panoramic 3-D imaging.
Traditional product photography has accompanied websites, print brochures and related sales collateral for many years now. With the global reach and 24/7 timeliness of the Internet, new demands are placed on the seller. As e-commerce matures with the ever-expanding Internet, many companies are now looking for new ways to display and sell their products. When it is not possible for a buyer to see or hold a product for purchase, the next best thing to being there live is an interactive digital image which is now commonly called a Virtual Reality (VR) Object or Immersive Image.
A VR Object consists of a series of digital images shot in sequence then authored into an interactive digital file. These sequential shots simulate the rotation or functionality of an object and display different views of the object. What makes an immersive image "immersive" is the control a viewer has over the object. Unlike a still image that presents one view, shot from the most appealing angle, the immersive image is viewed from a variety of angles controlled by the viewer and viewer’s mouse. Depending on the quantity of images shot, a viewer can rotate an object in a landscape view to see the front and back of an object or longitudinally to view top and bottom.
This VR object can be displayed within a web page, CD-ROM or within a corporate Intranet. An Object VR image is displayed as a digital sequence of images displayed through an image file format such as QuickTimeVR, Macromedia Flash, JAVA script or animated GIF image. The source images that comprise the sequence are captured in specific intervals within a 360-degree rotation. A 12-shot interval consists of 12 images, 1 shot every 30 degrees. To "rotate" an object for higher-angle views, the camera is moved to a positive or negative angle in relation to the landscape latitudinal view.
With additional views, the number of total images increases as well as the file size of the overall image. A careful balancing act between image quality and file size is always taken into consideration. Depending on the method of display, the higher file sizes can be displayed on CD-ROM or Business to Business high-speed T1 connections, while smaller file sizes can be displayed on a website with a 56K Internet connection.
A variety of traditional and digital equipment can be used to create an Object VR image. From 12 to 36 images will be needed for creating a landscape view of an object, depending on the desired "smoothness" of a rotational view. When adding a top or higher-angle view, the quantity of images increases. When using a traditional film camera, careful attention must be paid to lighting since the imaging production process includes film processing and PhotoCD scanning. To maintain a visual consistency to the overall sequence of images, attention also must be paid to the lighting for each captured interval. Strobes or hot lights can be used, although some photographers favor hot lights in this situation for their WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) qualities. Hot lights do have the advantage of preview like not noticing some glare on frame 27 of a 36-shot rotation after the VR image is shot!
An object turntable is an integral part to creating a VR Object. An object turntable looks a lot like a pottery wheel. One low-tech method is to purchase a lazy susan and manually index the turntable. Motorized turntables have the advantage of automation and the functionality to interface with the digital capture device (camera). Sequential rotations are either automatically executed or rotated manually to provide the desired effects.
When shooting digitally more room for experimentation and image capture exists. High-end digital cameras such as the Phase One LightPhase will interface with a Phase One or Kaidan turntable. This interface offers an automatic image capture and in some cases an integrated QuickTimeVR file creation. Other digital cameras, while not offering the high resolution of the Phase One cameras, do offer quite adequate resolution. The Nikon D1 and the Kodak DCS series are all great cameras for this type of image capture. Many consumer-level cameras, however, can offer professional results when combined with studio strobes and careful lighting.
Once the images are captured, a variety of techniques can be used to author the sequential series of images into a VR Object image. To create a QuickTimeVR image, Apple’s QuickTimeVR authoring studio or VR Toolbox ObjectWorx are excellent professional choices. Within these software applications, the final VR image is assembled and prepared for the designated display method, whether it is a high-speed corporate usage or a consumer-level display visible to an AOL user.
QuickTimeVR files require the installation of "plug-in" software that is now commonly available in a free and a low-cost professional version. Many VR authors also create a variety of "flavors" of VR images in different file formats to allow for the many different system configurations for the end user or viewer. Among these formats available are JAVA scripts that present interactivity through mouse actions, interactive Flash animations (require Flash Plug-in) and self running animated GIFs that are visible on all Internet browsers.
Object VR photography enables companies to showcase their products to a broad base of customers without physically shipping product. Product functionality can be featured through a series of animations and a variety of other information can be hyperlinked. VR images provide "stickiness" (forces a visitor to stay on the site) to websites through their interactivity and ironically their sometimes long download times. Involving a customer with a virtual representation of the product they are interested in leads to a greater chance of a sale. Object Virtual Reality photography is redefining the traditional meaning of the Product shot. No longer is the product shot confined to one angle. Now a customer can examine a product in its full dimensionality with the click of a mouse.
Immersive Imaging Equipment
VR Toolbox www.VRToolbox.com
Apple Computer www.Apple.com/quicktime/qtvr
Channel 360 Immersive Imaging Gear www.Channel360.com
Phase One www.PhaseOne.com
VR Informational Resources
International QuickTime VR Association www.iqtvra.com
PanoramicVR Immersive Imaging Directory www.PanoramicVR.com