Virtual Reality: Gaze of Future Past
2016 is the year of Virtual Reality according to January’s cover story from Game Informer, a monthly video game magazine. There is also evidence to support that claim for 360-degree video!
Both Virtual Reality and 360-degree video technology are readily available for public consumption and tinkering. Virtual Reality headsets can be obtained and “experienced” at big box retailers. Consumer cameras with 360-degree video capability are also available for immediate delivery from online stores such as Amazon. Additionally, the two major ways people are consuming videos, Facebook and YouTube, are now supporting 360-degree video playback and uploading is mostly business as usual.
It feels like it is all happening so fast! Well, it’s actually been developing for decades.
Apple released QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) to the public in May 1995. 21 years ago! Photographer Janie Fitzgerald began creating 360-degree photographs and movies in QTVR soon after.
In fact, she was featured in the second edition of Photoshop Studio Secrets in a chapter titled, “Creative QuickTime VR,” published in 1999.
Techniques that transcend time.
This book was updated for Photoshop 5, an earlier version of Photoshop CS5 and Photoshop CC2015. While software specifics are ever changing, the lighting techniques used by Fitzgerald are worth experimenting with today.
A 360-degree camera sees everything in a scene. Hiding lights in plain sight is a simple answer. Desk lamps, floor lamps, and overhead fixtures offer a motivated alternative to light stands. Fitzgerald recommends brightening the scene by replacing existing light bulbs with stronger wattage.
“… Sometimes I use a specialized helium balloon that floats above the camera and holds a light that illuminates the entire room evenly,” Fitzgerald said. This is a great technique using lamps known as balloon lights or lighting balloons. Fitzgerald would also “take a set of images for the light parts of the image and a set for the dark parts of the image… After the shoot, the bracketed images are merged in Photoshop to create one set of images that are well exposed for both the highlights and shadows.” This technique produces what we call “High Dynamic Range” images.
Back then, Photoshop was used for exposure matching and Apple QTVR Authoring Studio stitched the files. Modern 360 degree cameras come with bare bones stitching tools, but more robust and feature-rich software is readily available for purchase.
At the end of the article, Fitzgerald brings some valuable insight that we can still use today: “Since working with QTVR, I find myself experiencing environments much differently… I am much more aware of what is all around me, not just what is in front of me… the only limitations are the ones that we give ourselves.” The book’s CD-ROM has examples of Fitzgerald’s QTVR work. Her current work can be seen at http://axisimages.com.
So, why this trip down RAM memory lane?
I find comfort in the fact that Web-based 360-degree imagery has been through over 21 years of iteration. It’s safe to test the VR waters. You may all float creative ideas freely without intimidation! My advice for everyone who is even remotely interested in the topic: please get involved in VR so it continues to evolve!
Senior Video Production Instructor
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