Push the Boundaries of QuickTime VR

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QuickTime VR object movies are liberally sprinkled throughout the Web, and you've probably seen your fair share of Web sites that let you interactively rotate objects on screen. It's a neat effect the first few times you experience it, but after awhile you know what to expect–been there, spun that.

But some of the best QTVR object movies on the Web and CD-ROM don't limit you to twirling objects in space–you can also open, close, dismantle, and peek inside objects. The trick to making such movies is integrating animation into them, as well as including changes in perspective. If you're trying, for example, to teach a potential customer about a company product, this added animation makes your object movie more informative–not only can people examine the packaging of a product but they can also open the product or watch it in action.

A QTVR object movie, like a conventional movie, is a collection of image frames. By allowing users to flip through different perspectives of an object on screen, object movies give users the digital equivalent of examining the object in their hands. The simplest object movies comprise 360 degrees' worth of perspectives shot around the object's circumference. This type of object movie–sometimes called a single-row movie because of its linear arrangement–lets you spin the object back and forth on a single axis, like a globe.

More-complex object movies also include perspectives shot from above and below the object. These multirow movies give users a second axis to play with, letting them tilt the object as well as spin it sideways.

But an object movie doesn't have to be simply a collection of perspectives of a static object–it can also incorporate animation. An animated single-row object movie of a toaster, for instance, might eject the toast when you click and drag.

Adding animation to multirow object movies is more complicated because of their two-dimensional nature. Dragging along one axis with the cursor causes the toaster to pop its toast, but what happens when you drag along the other? You have to consider not only what the object will do when manipulated in each direction but also how the two directions of movement will synchronize with one another.

Most animated two-dimensional movies limit the object animation to one axis, while letting you rotate the object along the other. In my example (see "Go Beyond Simple Spinning Objects"), clicking and dragging the cursor down (along the vertical axis) causes an ice-cream carton to tip over and spill its contents, while dragging left and right (along the horizontal axis) spins the carton in place.

Building an animated object movie is similar to doing claymation: you create the movie incrementally, shooting one step of the animation at a time. However, at any point during animation in a two-dimensional object movie, the user may start dragging along the other axis. Therefore, each step in the animation requires shooting not just a single frame but an entire row of frames to account for movement in the other direction.

By getting creative with the two dimensions available to you in object movies, you can transform QuickTime VR into a more fun and engaging experience for your audience.

Elevate your QuickTime VR object movies to the next level by combining animation along with rotation. Whether you want potential customers to experience your company's product more thoroughly in a virtual environment or you're just trying to entertain, adding animation will lend depth, surprise, and humor to your object movies. Here's how to create one of these über object movies.

1 Plan the Movie

We naturally think of movies as a linear sequence of frames viewed, in forward or reverse, along a single axis. But object movies can play along two axes. Think of the frames in an object movie as being arranged in a grid. Sketch out the grid beforehand to visualize both how to organize the overall project and how to shoot the individual frames. Here, a simple three-by-three grid shows the project's basic organization; animation happens on the vertical axis, and changes in perspective (rotation) occur on the horizontal axis. This grid is just a starting point–you'll decide later how many frames will actually make up the rows and columns of your movie.

2 Choose a Capture Device

Try to use a camcorder or digital camera when making object movies; it will be much easier to get good registration (or alignment) between frames and thus avoid jittery effects in the final product. If you shoot on film, the imprecision inherent in the digitizing process will prevent the scene in each picture from aligning perfectly and you'll have to realign the digitized frames during postproduction.

Camcorders and digital cameras have another edge over film cameras: they let you view your work immediately after shooting, so you can see if the lighting, alignment, and centering of the object are up to snuff. For this ice-cream project, I used an Epson PhotoPC 700 that was connected to my Power Computing PowerTower Pro 225. I could control the camera remotely; I never had to touch it and risk shifting the alignment between it and the object platform.

3 Set Up the Scene

Next, decide how to present your object to the camera. Several companies, such as Kaidan ( http://www.kaidan.com ) and Peace River Studios ( http://www.peaceriverstudios.com ), make high-end object rigs designed for QuickTime VR shoots. For budget-minded hobbyists who want to capture a single axis of rotation, a record turntable or lazy Susan (used here) does just fine.

To make an object appear to be floating in space, use a uniformly colored background that sets off the object: put light-colored objects against a black background and vice versa. I put a coat of black spray paint on my lazy Susan and draped a black sheet behind to contrast with the light-colored ice-cream carton.

4 Start Shooting Frames

First, decide how many shots to take for each row and column in your grid. Consider the trade-off between motion smoothness and the file size of the final object movie. I sacrificed some smoothness for fewer frames, to keep the file size smaller and more manageable for the Web. For the horizontal axis (changes in perspective), I shot the frames in increments of 30 degrees, for a total of 12 frames per row. (If you're shooting a high-end object movie destined for CD-ROM, you might shoot a frame every 10 degrees.) For the vertical axis (animation), I used only three steps to go from the standing carton to the carton on its side, and three more for the ice cream to melt out. The result is a relatively small QuickTime VR file (less than 400K).

Shoot the frames one row of the grid at a time. I shot 360 degrees' worth of perspectives for each step of the animation. Twelve shots with the upright ice-cream carton turning make up the first row of frames.

5 Shoot More Frames

After you've shot one row of your object movie, move the object to the next step in the animation and shoot another 360 degrees' worth of frames. Repeat this process for each step of your animation. Here, I shot 12 frames for each of the six steps, for a total of 72 frames.

To make sure the frames are synchronized in the final object movie, rotate the object in equal increments for each row and keep the object perfectly still as you rotate it. I marked off 30-degree segments around the edge of the lazy Susan to make sure the rotation increments were precise; to keep the ice-cream carton steady through the rotations, I anchored it to the lazy Susan with modeling clay.

6 Clean Up the Frames

Most object movies require some postproduction work in an image-editing application to clean up artifacts. In high-end work, where an object movie may contain several hundred frames, postproduction can take more time than the actual shoot.

For the ice-cream movie, I brought each frame into Adobe Photoshop, masked the carton, and used the Curves dialog box to get rid of wrinkles in the backdrop cloth and reflections on the lazy Susan. I also erased the modeling clay I used to anchor the carton.

7 Build the Movie

To create the final object movie, simply drag all the frames into an authoring environment such as Apple's QuickTime VR Authoring Studio ($395; 408/996-1010, http://www.apple.com ), shown here, or Roundabout Logic's Widgetizer ($149; 407/327-4500, http://www.roundaboutlogic.com ) and set the playback parameters.

One of the key settings defines whether the rows or columns wrap. In this project, the rows wrap (to let you spin the object repeatedly on the horizontal axis, like a globe) but the columns do not. The authoring applications also let you select from a variety of compression schemes to keep the final file size to a minimum. I used Sorenson Video compression at its low setting and set the frames to 320 by 240 pixels; the final file size of the ice-cream project was 325K.

8 Take It for a Spin

It's a wrap! The completed object movie is made up of 72 frames. Clicking and dragging down on the object causes the ice-cream carton to fall over and spill its contents; clicking and dragging to the side spins the object in place. Test-drive the ice-cream object movie for yourself:

Apple's QuickTime VR Site
The birthplace of QTVR–read up on background info, and get resources and links straight from the company that invented the technology.

Explore the contents of Mike Wooldridge's refrigerator via more than 20 QTVR panoramas and animated object movies.

Carol Rossi
Experience some amusing QTVR animations, including one of the site's creator.

John Greenleigh Studios
Take computers, roller skates, and a Volkswagen Beetle for a spin via QTVR object movies created by a design firm whose prominent clients include Apple.

eVox Productions
Play around with more cars via object movies created by a design firm with high-profile clients such as Toyota.

The Jason Project
Tour sunken ships and rain forests via this educational project that uses QuickTime VR, including animated object movies.

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