Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Light Field rEvolution

Here begins the story of Lytro and the Halfland Storybook.
This is (NOT a Lytro shot of) me permagrinning through all my first Lytro experiments,
like shooting a fully decked out super festive Halfland bug party.
Yes, that square tube is the Revolution.

When I started creating this 20-year stop-motion animation project it was 1993. You may recall that there was no consumer level digital photography, no public use of internet, no affordable onion skinning software apps. No real ability for an individual to direct their own movie within their own means at that time. Hard to imagine that reality existed now as we've all been living in an embarrassingly rich haven of powerful tools of artistry and global connection since that year.

It seemed as though Halfland, my personal folktale animation, was being made in the precise moment in time when it could in fact be made. Not a moment sooner. It's as though the technology emerged and matured as I slavishly built each insect and blade of grass for its private, magical world.

Photoshop was the first atomic bomb of empowerment I recognized as a game changer for me personally. I bought-in at v2.0 and began making digital collages that awoke my capacity to make visuals. With Photoshop, I could express what I saw inwardly, exactly the way I saw it, in a way I knew I never could through traditional fine art methods.

Years later, when we all began to use digital cameras and upload them online, to blog, to connect through forums, to have experts mentor us in our areas of interest, it became crystal clear that Halfland could be made for next-to-no-money, distributed online worldwide for free, and allow those who might enjoy seeing such a film to watch it, engage with it, and to become part of it somehow. Halfland has become my art, my poem, my passion. It makes me laugh at certain things in it. I could weep over how much I want to see the puppets in it move. The technology and what I wanted to make was a match made in heaven.

This project, this type of project, at this specific point in creative empowerment. It is happening. This post announces the latest exciting development that has once again come forward at the right moment, the Lytro Light Field camera...

Deep inside the den of 1/2L.'s Writing Mouse under the living Answer Tree, his cupboard is stuffed with tiny bottles of ink and birch bark paper scrolls with gilded edges for his journals. (The acorn tea set was made for 1/2L by Sharon Ferg.) LYTRO LIVING PHOTO: CLICK ON THE CLOSEST EDGE OF THE GREEN JOURNAL THEN ON THE LITTLE WHITE BOTTLE ON THE CUPBOARD SHELF. THIS SHIFT IS SLIGHT, FOR A BIGGER EFFECT, CLICK ON THE ROOT SLASHING ACROSS THE RIGHT HAND CORNER AND THEN BACK TO ANOTHER ITEM.

For the last 8 years, while I've been actually building the film's sets, I was running into the real technical dilemma of how on earth I would practically photograph/capture the detail and the depth of what was being built. The Writing Mouse's room, for example, was a square foot box loaded with the most minute props and super rich texture that in order to photograph it with any depth of field effect (ie; vital atmosphere) much of its charm would be lost. The moment I would focus on the brass key the size of a fingernail, the cupboard behind the desk with all its birch bark gilded-edge scrolls and acorn teapot would be a blur. This was becoming true for every element on every set in the series. Then I heard a rumor about the Lytro camera coming out in early 2012.

It did come out, bless the makers, and I have one right next to me now. It's a miracle to me. A thrill. Lytro is something new in photography in the same vein as photography's invention itself. One of the more stunning effects it gives is that we can interact with its images and focus in them anywhere, in real time, while we are looking back at the image online or on a tablet, etc. (There is much to read/watch/see from CEO-Founder, Ren Ng, Director of Photography, Eric Cheng, and the first Lytro users about it of greater depth--ha online so I'll only focus--HA here on how I see its implementation working specifically for this project.)

In short, Lytro is a Light Field Camera, that's the innovation. Other previous cameras capture light hitting a subject from a single direction essentially whereas Light Field camera captures all light in every direction. It's not registering in pixels alone, but rather each capture records 11 million rays of light on its array of insect eye-like censors (1 pixel + 1 direction = 1 ray; 1 million rays = 1 megaray; each image contains = 11 megarays). These make up what Lytro calls the Living Pictures.

It's not so much about having high pixel resolution (as of yet) but rather about using the low res web for sharing them and about what this light field capture data can give us after the image has been snapped.

More 1/2L. bug party action where the seed pod beetle tries to help himself to a slice of cake, another fly sips tea through a striped straw the size of pencil lead, and in the lower left a little thief grabs the rest of the cake for himself. LYTRO LIVING PHOTO: CLICK ON THE VARIOUS BUGS YOU CAN SPOT TO BRING THEM INTO GREATER VIEW. BIGGEST SHIFT IS FROM LOWER LEFT CORNER THIEF TO ANY OTHER PLANE. THERE ARE ABOUT 6 BUGS IN THIS TEST IMAGE.

Part of what I'm exploring with Lytro is having an enhanced Halfland storybook for tablet devices that allows the reader of the book to engage with the 3D, hand-built, puppetry illustrations as the reader explores the story.

Again, an uncanny technological realization emerging at the moment the project can benefit from it.

Currently, I'm planning to shoot the storybook with the Lytro as the frame-by-frame animation images are being made with its standard FZ50 camera. So, for each set up, my no-holds-barred animated version of the story is taken as a separate narrative is also shot with the Lytro for an enhanced illustrated book for children.

I'm beginning to experiment with the current sets and puppets to get a feel for what the Lytro can and can't do. How to set the plane of focus for the greatest shift in my micro puppets and sets for the best effect possible. And learn how to compose pleasingly in a square format. It's an intoxicating process of discovery.

The beetle in 1/2L.'s Bug Band, this gruesome fellow strums a pretty little guitar the size of a baby's finger. LYTRO LIVING PHOTO: Focus on the guitar belly to see the twists in its sewing thread strings. The layers of roots shift perfectly in the upper left!

I'm just learning. Excuse me while I try to post these and other early test shots up at the Lytro site for you to try out. Does the focus shift when you click over various planes? Does the effect work on the blog as well? Let me know! IT DO! BY GEORGE.


  1. AAAAArgh!!! You beeotch! 12 years old! That HURTS, Man! Do you know how hard it is to watch as people are born, grow up, and attend fricking college while I build this film!?!!! To watch entire blocks of elaborate buildings be built up from the ground in a small fraction of a year as I groan on?!!!

    To have young boys observe that if Halfland were a child, it would be graduating from university?!!!

    To have my husband beg for a minute of animation?!

    To watch as blog readers get tired of waiting for something new, etc., etc.

    ugh. ok. I feel better now. ugh.

    You caught me, Jess. I couldn't wait to begin to talk about the Lytro and wrote the post yesterday before I ran out of time to add the actual test photos.

    I'll get to that ASAP...

    Really glad you commented. Someone is still patiently watching! :) xoxox

  2. Comment above in response to Jessica's comment below that didn't post here on its own:

    Jessica Koppe has left a new comment on your post "The Light Field":

    I'd love to see some of your pictures! – Can't find them!

    I had a look at the Lytro site, and wow, what a wonderful technique for the world of Halfland! I see why you want to make a storybook of this!

    I'm excited to read more about your experiences with your new toy!

    (Oh, and in 1993, I was 12 years old…)

  3. Glad you feel better! :D

    I am watching! – Your poject is magic, and I love to watch it grow even though I have issues with the blogger comment form…

    Go, dear! Halfland is something like your child growing up…

    I keep lurking around!

  4. YES! Thank you for your constant encouragement, Jessica.

    Everyone who does continue to read and follow the blog means so much to me.

    I don't expect large numbers of followers as the style and form are narrowly appealing, just for those who love hand-crafted stop motion and folktales, etc., so each bit of enthusiasm for it is for me like a jewel!

    Yes, it is my true child.

  5. OH! I just discovered that if you double click on the LYTRO images they zoom up where you can then continue to single click to shift the focus!

  6. Wow Shells!!!!
    So excited to click the pics.
    Yay yay yay !!!!!

  7. That is so freakin' COOOL!!!

    It definitely woirks better onshots with more depth - like the 'outdoor' shots - the one in the mouse cottage is mostly already in focus. I don't suppose there's a way to get a shallow depth of field with that camera, to get greater depth in shallow sets like the mouse cottage? Probably not, unless you have an iris you can open or close (f-stop numbers). But still it's amazing!!!

    Incidentally, I was thinking exactly the same thing recently about how the technology has changed almost as if to allow us to create the dreams that once were impossible. Would have been nicer if it happened 20 years ago (for us I mean), but this way we had to hold onto those impossible (literally at the time) dreams for all this time and proceed as if it might become possible one day, and voila, that day is here!! That harrowing period really separates the true dreamers from the weekend warriors - if yu can maintain the dreams even though you don't believe you can ever really attain them, they you're hooked.

  8. It's working for me, love the shifting focus thing, it kind of opens up even more possibilities for story telling, but you have to set up your shot with lots of depth.

    So how does this work, can you crop this in photoshop?
    I am guessing no zoom lens or is there?

    Amazing technology, bet your havin' a blast!

  9. Hiiiii Mikeeeeeeoxo, the lack of focus shifting in my test shots were strictly my fault, not the camera's. I didn't set/tap the plane of focus properly. I'm completely new to it. I can absolutely get a shot that has enormous focus shift, like the layers of roots in the beetle shot does, etc.

    It's totally weird, without normal photographic controls, pro photographers like yourself feel like their hands are tied with the Lytro. But Lytro is gently coaxing people to think of this as entirely new. It won't give us high res large format glossy prints to hang on a gallery wall (a lå John Frame's work) but with the web as the medium for them, it sort of brings in interesting possibilities for viewing images.

    Hiiii Markkkkkkxox, Yes, you can crop in PS BUT only after you convert to a jpg for editing in PS. When you shoot, you download the camera to your own HD with Lytro software via micro USB cable, where you can manage the images, delete, or choose to share, etc. These are active "living" focus shifting images. If you share, they upload to the Lytro site publicly, where everyone online can see them, you can embed on sites, etc.

    But for editing, you have to let go of the living data that is in each image via Lytro (obviously b/c Adobe hasn't YET made a plug in for LYTRO LYTRO LYTRO hint hint Adobe!!!)

    Blast being had, YES! xoxo

  10. Lol I only WISH I was a pro photog!! I'm just getting started on that learning curvature!!

    But it sounds like the Lytro camera does allow some really exciting possibilities. Looking forward to a picture of the mouse cottage with razor-sharp DoF!!!

  11. Dude, if you're not pro no one is. :)

    Yeah, I went back to the Lytro site and looked and saw that the cupboard stuff is essentially on the same plane and therefore, not shifting in the image, But there are two roots running through the set in front of the cupboard that shift nicely.

    I think what I need to do in future is to compose the shot with recognizable things in the foreground as well. This would give the image more of a story to tell, as it were. More shifting focus action.

    What is very cool about the DoF capacity on this is that I can get this kind of strong shift effect in such a tiny setting--macro truly-- just like people are getting in real world big landscapes and such.

    A friend just suggested that I could hide clues in the story in blurry areas in the illustrations!

  12. You wrote; "A friend just suggested that I could hide clues in the story in blurry areas in the illustrations!"

    Yes!, that is kind of what I was hinting at but that brings up a question. . .

    Do you have a way to set the initial focus point in an image? Can you set the default focus point in the foreground or background so the viewer has to click to see a "hidden" detail?

    Very cool stuff

  13. Hi Marko, right well, I haven't made a tablet book before and no one has with Lytro as of this writing, so I don't know if I would lock down the images and morph from one to another in order to control the reveals. Or whether I would let the viewer poke around and find stuff in the illustration on their own.

    No idea yet.

    Even if it were just a way of getting the multiple focus point still shots to use one by one in the other media, it would still be very useful.

    There are however two initial problems as it is now. One is that I generally have to clean up a lot of flaws in my images with Photoshop and the Lytro images are WYSIWYG in that regard. And two, I would prefer the book illustrations to have a smeared edges, blur or lighting effects, as if viewed through a spy glass, at the edges. So, if I use Lytro living images, the edges will remain straight and they carry the Lytro logo, etc.. Any effects would have to me made In Camera vs. in post.

    It's all so in flux, I don't know, the "how" of it yet. But I do know there is something in this Light Field approach that is for the project.

    I'm hunting.

  14. Maybe you build your own vignette box to add in front of the lens? Unless of course the depth of field is so great that becomes a focusable object too?


    Too bad about the Lytros logo in every frame, lets hope they have a way to turn that "feature" off.

    Still a very cool imaging process

  15. That is a fabulous idea, Mark. Thanks! I'll have to build the effect in camera.

    Of course, the first thing to do is to get and use a device to see how they work and what is possible. That's on the back burner until the stop mo is DONE!

    It's just I feel as though there is something in the Lytro technology that is made to capture Halfland.

    To be continued...

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. We gosh.....thats is really freakin neat!!

    and looks like a match made in heaven.


  18. Thank you dear, Justin! We'll see how it might work! Meanwhile, I love working wit hit.


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