42nd Street, from http://www.immersivemedia.com
Here at the Bioscope we try to keep our eye as much on what’s new in silent film as what’s in the past, and there’s not much that’s newer than immersive video. This is 360 degree video which lets the viewer view all points of a motion picture. Many will be familiar with still images on the web where by dragging on the image with the mouse you can have a 360 degree view of a place from a fixed point – it’s used on art gallery websites and other such visitor attractions. Immersive video does the same, except the fixed point is in motion and the images move. Just play the video, then drag on its with the mouse to see left, right, above, below and behind you as the action unfolds. It is astonishing to see.
This is an emerging field, with a variety of solutions being employed. The leaders – or at least those with the best selection of videos to test out on its site – are Immersive Media. Their Telemmersion® System employs eleven cameras positioned in a ball-like device, each camera directed at different angle, the results all blended into a single moving image. There are assorted examples to try out on the Immersive Media site, most of which are street scenes taken from a moving car – see their GeoImmersive Database for a map of US and Canadian cities filmed in this way, or 42nd Street, New York (pictured above) from the main demo section of the site. What intrigues me is the similarity between these pioneering efforts and the phantom rides and street scenes taken from the front of moving vehicles which were common in the earliest years of film – see, for example, Panorama of Ealing from a Moving Tram (1901), on the BFI’s Creative Archive site. There is the same sense of excitement at capturing the real world in motion, the same sense of the innate drama of reality, the same sense of immersion.
And they are, for the most part, silent. All of the street scenes on Immersive Media are so, and most of the other videos on the site – underwater scenes of a coral reef, humpback whales, song and dance in New Guinea, and so on – may have music tracks, but there is no live sound. It is possible for the Immersive Media system to record sound (see the demo of the New Jersey Nets basketball team), but for some reason (is it a synchronisation issue? I don’t quite see why) they are avoiding it.
Immersive video seems to have been produced for the industrial, surveillance and promotional markets so far, but its applications are bound to grow (just wait until the first music video is made in this form). As said, Immersive Media is only one of a number of solutions, which roughly boil down to multiple versus single camera systems. You can read about the competing systems on the Immersive Video site. But go and try out the videos on Immersive Media, and be amazed.