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  • Sat 31 Mar 2007

    The Pyramid and the biggest VR screen

    Published at 15:37   Category VR Applications, VR Displays  

    On Friday March 30th 2007, the biggest VR screen was inaugurated with a great event; A big show at La Géode (IMAX theater in Paris) to unveil the theory of Jean-Pierre Houdin about his theory on the construction of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Kheops).
    See the theory explained here (also with a realtime 3d exploration): http://www.3ds.com/khufu.

    See below to know how all this was done!

    Read more…

    Sat 24 Mar 2007

    Light efficiency in stereoscopic projection

    Published at 12:50   Category VR Displays  

    [Update : Barco has updated their page with a single PDF. This broke the images below]


    - Two LCD projectors -
    Barco has a really interesting page about how much luminosity you can get from your stereoscopic projection system. I’m duplicating it here just in case they decide to get rid of it one day, but for a possibly more up to date version, see the original page.
    Read more…

    Thu 15 Mar 2007

    The come-back (again) of the third dimension in movies

    Published at 10:21   Category 3d, VR Displays  

    After the early tests (1838),a golden era (1952-1955), a revival (1960-1979), and the beginnings of IMAX 3-D (1980-1984), it seems stereoscopic movies are in for a new-new-new revival!

    James Cameron is the leader of this movement that never quite stopped, after having filmed two 3D IMAX 3-D films, he “is committing ALL his future film projects to 3D.”

    “Adding 3D stereoscopic display to the burgeoning digital cinema rollout is the best way to save the theatrical experience. And, bring people back to the movies.” he said in his NAB’s Digital Cinema Summit keynote.

    Indeed, you can’t copy a 3d movie; who has stereoscopic displays at home? (Well.. I have but I’m not a normal guy..)

    From Wikipedia: “In November 2005, Walt Disney Studio Entertainment released Chicken Little, in the new digital 3-D format known as REAL D” (who bought Stereographics, the famous 3d glasses maker).

    Disney discovered that something like 10% of its screens (those with 3D projectors) generated more than 25% of the revenue from “Chicken Little” in 3D. (…)

    Shooting in 3D Cameron says adds about 15% to overall production costs. Transforming a blockbuster film afterwards – such as exploiting In3′s 2D to 3D technology services – costs more. Still, George Lucas is committing the Star Wars saga to the treatment as is Peter Jackson for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong.

    And more is coming! DreamWorks Animation announces its intention to produce all of its films in stereoscopic 3D technology starting in 2009.

    The trend is set.

    3d movies imply new ways of filming, of course on the hardware side, but the composition has to deal with the 3rd dimension to create a new grammar. Lenny Lipton, CEO of REAL D says :

    The control of space is different. What is accomplished in planar, or 2D, filmmaking with focus and lighting and perspective can now be addressed in additional ways. (…) Placing objects in relationship to the plane of the screen. This is entirely in control of the filmmakers. In other words, pay attention to what plays at the plane of the screen, what plays in audience space, and what plays in screen space or behind the plane of the screen.

    If you’re interested in the technique, the REAL D blog is interesting.

    In order to take full advantage of the new technology, DreamWorks intends to make films with the stereoscopic 3D concept in mind from the beginning of the production process. The company believes that this approach will increase its storytelling opportunities and create a more immersive movie-viewing experience.

    “Historically, 3D has been used primarily as an add-on or a bonus feature,” Katzenberg (Chief Executive Officer of DreamWorks Animation) said. “And while audiences have enjoyed that, they haven’t really seen the true potential of this technology. We’re going to use the latest stereoscopic 3D technology to build our movies from the ground up. We believe that this will create more opportunities for our artists as well as more compelling experience for the audience.”

    The growth in the number of theaters capable of projecting 3D films has dramatically risen in the past two years. It is expected by 2009 that there will be several thousand screens equipped for 3D.

    Last week I was invited at La Géode‘s (IMAX theater in Paris) inauguration of their digital stereoscopic projectors. They use 6 Barco Galaxy projectors and Infitec technology for filters and glasses (Note that the displayed image isn’t 360°, it’s “only” about 30mx20m). Some 3D effects were really well done, and I can’t wait to see movies that are specially tailored for this kind of displays!

    Once you’ve started tasting 3d viewing, getting back to 2D is frustrating.
    But the next step is even more interesting. Some people you know are already working on stereoscopic, realtime 3d, interactive content (so many words!) for such theaters, and that, my friends, is really impressing. Stay tuned!

    Tue 13 Mar 2007

    Virtual Reality for Virtual Eternity

    Published at 9:49   Category VR Applications  

    A grant has been attributed to the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Central Florida in Orlando to create realistic avatars of historical figures that could hold a conversation. From Newswise :

    (…) UIC will focus on the computer graphics and interaction while UCF will concentrate on artificial intelligence and natural language processing software.

    “The goal is to combine artificial intelligence with the latest advanced graphics and video game-type technology to enable us to create historical archives of people beyond what can be achieved using traditional technologies such as text, audio and video footage,” said Jason Leigh, associate professor of computer science and director of UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory. Leigh is UIC’s lead principal investigator.

    EVL will build a state-of-the-art motion-capture studio to digitalize the image and movement of real people who will go on to live a virtual eternity in virtual reality. Knowledge will be archived into databases. Voices will be analyzed to create synthesized but natural-sounding “virtual” voices. Mannerisms will be studied and used in creating the 3-D virtual forms, known technically as avatars.

    Leigh said his team hopes to create virtual people who respond with a high degree of recognition to different voices and the various ways questions are phrased.

    “Imagine a computer smart enough to have the avatar respond ‘Do you understand what I’m saying?’ in the natural way humans communicate with each other,” said Leigh. “We’re trying to tip towards being as naturalistic as possible.”

    The project’s test subject will be a senior NSF program manager known for his wealth of institutional knowledge. A UIC graduate student will shadow this official for several months making video and voice recordings. His presence will be digitally reconstructed and interviews used to glean his institutional insights will be stored in the information database. It will allow NSF personnel to consult his virtual counterpart whenever they want to tap his institutional wisdom.  (…)

    Although I’m a bit skeptical, I’m curious to see what results they will achieve. I don’t think those smart people speak lightly, so let’s wait!

    You can check Jason Leigh’s projects and papers.

    Related articles: Digital Humans : Santos and the Virtual Soldier, The advent of digital actors.

    Sat 10 Mar 2007

    VR Nostalgia, look at the future!

    Published at 12:11   Category Virtual Reality  

    Back in the 90s there was a lot of hype about Virtual Reality, but the technology didn’t live up to the expectations. I found this video of one of the most famous movie about VR, Johnny Mnemonic (1995) :

    YouTube Preview Image

    There was also The Lawnmower Man (in french, Le Cobaye); watch the trailer, and the ending where Jobbe is trying to escape his VR prison.

    This gives you a good idea of what people fantasized about VR. Fifteen years later we can at last have the visual immersion people expected at that time (but work still has to be done for 3DUIs (user interfaces) ;)

    This article by R.U. Sirius talks about Whatever happened to Virtual Reality. Here’s a summary of this long article (I only kept the VR part, there are also interesting thoughts about human evolution) :

    If you weren’t there, you probably wouldn’t believe it. But way back at the start of the 90s, people at the edge of the emerging digital culture talked about Virtual Reality (VR) — the idea that we would soon interact in shared 3D worlds – as much as, if not more than, they talked about the internet. (…)
    Virtual Reality developer Jaron Lanier was generally accepted as the public face of VR during this heady period that lasted from about 1989-91. (…)

    In the late 1980s Lanier’s team at VPL (Virtual Programming Language) developed the first implementation of multi-person virtual worlds using head mounted displays. The work was applied to surgery and television production, among other things. He also led the team that developed the first widely used software platform architecture for immersive virtual reality applications. During the late 90s, Lanier served as the Lead Scientist of the National Tele-immersion Initiative, a coalition of research universities studying advanced applications for Internet 2. The Initiative demonstrated the first prototypes of tele-immersion in 2000 after a three year development period. (…)

    JARON LANIER : (…) what were people looking for? I still believe that what people really want from VR is to be able to touch upon the feeling of being able to share a dream with someone else . (…) You can divide the requirements of the technology that will give you that into two pieces. You can call one piece the production quality or production standards — how detailed is the resolution? How realistic do surfaces look? That boils down to fast computers, high quality sensors and displays: the tech underpinnings of it all.

    But then there’s this other side; the software side, which involves how you can get a virtual world to do things. My feeling is that even a low-res virtual world can get people the kind of experience that I was just describing. And I think we did have some great moments and great experiences in the ‘80s, even with very low-res systems that were available then. I think that the failure since then is that the software that’s been developed is very rigid. (…)

    (…) VR really needs a different attitude. Even today, you see people starting up a VR program and after some months they’ll have a cube rotating or maybe a videogame where you’re moving through a space and shooting at things. It’s been done for decades! Do these people not know the meaning of boredom? How can people bear that? (…)

    my belief — is that even a really low-res system that’s sort of manageable by a small group of people could be done that would be much more exciting and bring out more of this feeling of transcendence than what we’re seeing now. (…)

    RU: In your opinion, have there been fundamental changes in computer hardware that could make VR software more optimal in the intervening years?

    JL: Not much. Just speed. More polygons.

    RU The slowness in moving towards more creative forms of VR is a commercial problem also. If there was an obvious immediate market for it, a company with money would be working on it. You’d be working on it.

    JL: Capitalism has proven really wonderful and optimal in encouraging certain kinds of improvements in technology but it seems to have these blind spots (…) But if it’s for something new and the market doesn’t already exist, you get caught up in a sort of chicken-and-egg situation even though one can see that if all the pieces were in place there would be an incredible market. (…)

    RU: Well, it seems that the contravening force to capitalism in the digital world is the gift economies of open source enthusiasts, which has the added charm of being non-coercive.

    JL: Yeah. Well if I can find the personal focus for it I might try to start an open source movement for making VR tools. I should probably do that. It would be courageous. (…)
    I like to think of VR as an alternative way of thinking about a ramp of technological progress in the future where instead of making bigger and faster things, you make more intense experiences and more interesting forms of human connection. And if you think of that ramp, which is more of a McLuhanesque ramp than an Edward Teller ramp, that alternative ramp is the one that we can survive with. So in that sense, all this business about aesthetics and communications is a survival strategy. I really think it’s the only imaginable future.

    I can only agree that software is the weak point. Even if the hardware is still expensive, solutions exist to have a good immersion. But the applications are still very simple. Tools exist to create virtual world, but it’s still a bit more complex that creating a 3d game. We need more high level tools. Stop reinventing the wheel! Build upon the existing, do things that have never been done before! Do proof of concepts rather than low level programming, show the world that the VR community is alive!
    Related articles : VR to create a new communication form