Design Visualization

Virtual Pass to Your Favorite Hollywood Set

1 Jun, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Gyroscope creates interactive, panoramic 3D tours using REALVIZ Stitcher, QuickTime VR

Tim Petros can sneak you onto the set of some of the most highly rated primetime TV shows: The West Wing, The OC and 7th Heaven, to name a few. With his help, you can drop into the Oval Office where Martin Sheen's President Bartlett wrestles with international crises, pay an unannounced visit to the living rooms of the affluent in Orange County or tip-toe into the bedroom where Jessica Biel's Mary sleeps. In fact, you don't need Petros at all. He's done all the work ahead of time, so all you need is an Internet browser and the free Apple QuickTime software for playing audio and video on your Mac or PC.

Petros found a way to combine his passion for photography and his mechanical engineering education into a commercial enterprise. "I first saw a demonstration of QuickTime VR in 1995," he says, referring to the software used to create panoramic video. "I was also very curious about interactive media. I recognized that it was going to have an impact on photography," he says.

So strong an impact, he believes, that interactive media could potentially alter the way we view the world, literally and figuratively, much in the same way the Industrial Revolution fundamentally changed how we lived and worked more than a hundred years ago. So Petros founded Gyroscope Interactive Photography, a company that specializes in developing interactive digital 360° and 180° panoramic views.

Petros' virtual TV studio tours offer fans 360° and 180° views of the sets of their favorite shows. Virtual visitors can speed up, slow down or pause the tour, pan up and down or zoom in and out using a mouse and simple keystrokes.

To develop these television studio tours, image acquisition is the least of Petros' problems. The main hurdle, he reveals, is scheduling: "The normal production crew takes priority. That's why the set is there. For me to be admitted on the set, someone from the show has to recognize the commercial purpose of my presence."

He has, for the lack of a better word, documented iconic TV and Hollywood environments, such as the kitchen from Third Rock from the Sun and the living room of That 70s Show. Opening his portfolio is like unlocking a series of virtual doors into different places and different times. Sets such as the mission control room from Armageddon or the diner from Beverly Hills 90210 have already been torn down, but they endure in Petros' portfolio.

Stitching Up Panoramas
To create these interactive panoramas, which he calls GyroPANOS, Petros travels to the targeted locale with a digital Nikon camera and a tripod. Using a wide-angle lens, he photographs the set from multiple angles in various sections. Afterward, he stitches these various viewpoints into a continuous panoramic view. For that, he relies on REALVIZ Stitcher, a software package for building panoramic views.

"The first three sets [for The OC] were shot using the 15mm Nikkor [wide-angle lens]," Petros recalls, "taking 24 total shots -- 12 around the horizon, six tilted up and six tilted down. I had just upgraded my stitching software from Stitcher 3.5 to Stitcher 5.0, and I was a little anxious, as well as skeptical, about working with the new Autostitch feature in Stitcher 5. I gave it the acid test by loading all 24 images at once and just pressing the Autostitch icon, and to my amazement, it worked!"

A panoramic view of The OC set, created by Tim Petros using REALVIZ Stitcher.

And another panorama showing the set of The West Wing.

REALVIZ Stitcher comes with a function to export the stitched-up 2D collages as interactive 3D panoramas in the Apple QuickTime VR format.

A Peek into the Future
Virtual showrooms created using similar methods are now in use in real estate, architecture and several other industries, but Petros believes interactive photography has a lot more to offer. Consider, for instance, product placement: In the same way a soft drink maker might integrate its logo and products into the set of a show, a client can embed products as clickable hotlinks within a panoramic view. Petros anticipates that improvements in technology, such as high bandwidth Internet connections and image fidelity in monitors, will lead to the proliferation of immersive photography.

For examples of Petros' work, visit the Gyroscope Web site or StarBrand.TV's section devoted to The OC.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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