How did the idea of making a record breaking panorama occur?
Panoramic photography is the new buzz, getting worldwide recognition as we speak. Audiences love its immersiveness—the way it transports you into places never visited or inaccessible by any means other than your computer screen Gigapixel photographs are capable of displaying environments and artwork in unprecedented detail. The gigapixel photographs of two paintings (by Csontváry Kosztka Tivadar and Rippl-Rónai József; courtesy of the Hungarian National Gallery) recently displayed on our website resulted in 10,000 unique page views within a week—such is the magnetism of extreme detail. We are all about promotig this technology locally as well as internationally. We wanted to make a statement—a professionally challenging one with substantial entertainment value to boot. Hence the of making a high definition spherical panorama.
360world is a youthful and energetic team of computer engineers, photographers, environmental designers, graphic artists, film editors and cameramen. We provide panoramic solutions and develop 3D applications to display high-definition web content. Our expertise goes way beyond software: we also offer innovative touchscreen—or even hands-free—control schemes to enrich interactive media presentations. Field-tested during the Museum Night of July, 2010 by an audience of over 1,000 strong, our virtual tour system proved to be a snap for fifth graders and pensioners alike. Our eldest visitor, a 73 year-old gentleman, needed no tutoring at all: using his common sense, he controlled the content without much ado. Gigapixel imagery is a relatively new addition to our portfolio, Having taken it up little over a year ago, we certainly developed a flair for it: it is all about careful planing and flawless execution. The actual taking of photographs requires a precision way beyond human capacity—that is where robotics come in.
Some tasks involving gigapixel photography simply demand automation. Porsche interiors, stylish as they are, leave little to no space for humans—in cases like this, it is much easier and faster to operate the panoramic heads remotely. When taking gigapixel images, we invariably use robotic panorama heads which move with high (tenth-of-a-degree) precision. The idea of using it for a world record attempt occurred during initial testing—and lingered until we started to make actual arrangements in late 2009.
The observation tower of János-hegy, the highest vantage point of Budapest with a 360 degree panorama, was an obvious location. It also allowed us to take on previous world records in both the ’highest definition image’ and the ’largest spherical panorama’ category. When contacted, the Council of District XII informed us on the upcoming anniversary of the tower. We agreed to cooperate in commemorating the September 2010 event by setting up new world records—give them our best shot if you please.
The World Record starts with a high definition camera and and a telephoto lens with an extremely narrow field of view. Sony’s A900 25MP camera seemed an obvious choice, and Sony was pleasantly eager to provide us one. Fitted with a 400mm Minolta lens and 1,4X teleconverter, it provided a 2,4 degree horizontal FOW per frame. Our estimate was that a 60 gigapixel image (with the necessary overlaps) would require 5040 individual photographs — 24 rows with 210 frames in each, taken with a 360 degree horizontal and a 60 degree vertical FOV. Counting with 4 seconds per frame (during which the robotic head re-adjusts for the next shot), it was quite clear that the task would take a minimum of 6 hours to complete.
6 hours is an awfully lot of time in an outdoor environment. Weather changes. So is the angle and intensity of illumination. We had to come up with something to do it faster. As luck had it, our friend Emrich had already made a ’beefed up’ panoramic head with stronger servos to handle two top-mounted cameras. We recalculated the net weight of equipment, matched it against the nominal capacity of servos—it was risky, but Emrich kept his cool and convinced us to give it a go.
Then we needed another camera and another lens — both of those were provided by the generous Sony. So far so good: 360world was all set to go for the World Record.
World Record panoramas are invariably made in clear weather, preferably on days following the passing of a cold front with low humidity, maximum visibility and no anticyclonic clouds to play tricks with sunshine. With all the necessary equipment ready, all we needed was a perfect day like that—a surprisingly infrequent commodity. Spring was a mess of near-constant raining and flooding — ranks upon ranks of imperfect days well into May, when Emrich arrived from Germany to provide the necessary assistance in positioning the twin-camera setup.
We started early at the Tower on Day One. Weather was perfect: low humidity, no clouds in sight. Accordingly elevated, we finished setting up the hardware by 9PM and started the long exposition process without further ado.
We progressed by rows instead of columns—the latter would result in an obvious illumination difference between the first and the last columns, making it all but impossible to join them in seamless, 360 degree panorama.
Two hours into the initial exposition, misfortune struck in the form of a thunderstorm. Soon it was raining cats and dogs, canceling any hope of progress on Day One.
And so it went on the next day… and the day after that. 20,000 test pictures later, on Day Four, we finally got it right—that is, secured 40 Gigabytes of raw images from which to compile the largest panorama ever made: the view of Budapest from the Observation Tower of János Hill.
The Easy Way of Making Your Own Panorama!
The unique Panoramic mode of Sony NEX-5/NEX-3 allows you to take breath-taking panoramas with an extremely wide field of view. It won’t get any easier than this: select it, click exposition and move the camera vertically/horizontally.
Post-processing was done on a Dell Precision T7500 Workstation with twin 4-core Xeon processors, 24GB memory and 6TB hard disk, courtesy of Microsoft Hungary. For the initial compilation we used Autopano Giga, the most complete software solution for processing high-resolution images. The task took two days to complete and resulted in a single 200 GB Autopano KRO file.
We wanted extensive post-processing for perfect results, and Council of District XII required several different versions for a game in the making—all these were done by Adobe Photoshop. Although our custom interface can export PSB (Photoshop Big) format images, it cannot save pictures exceeding the size of 300.000 x 300.000 pixels. We needed a container file capable of storing data on the gigapixel scale data. After careful consideration, we decided on using PPM. We used a custom Python script to convert the KRO file, and divided the result in ImageMagick to 3 individual chunks for Photoshop to handle.
Individual chunks took over an hour to open—saving them lasted over 3 each. As the raw photographic material used a 80 degree vertical FOW instead of the necessary 60, we had a lot of sky to cut from. By ignoring horizontal balance we could easily have created a taller image. Final dimensions were 590508 x 120750 pixels, or 71,3 gigapixels, the compilation of which took the workstation 55 hours and resulted in a single 350 GB PPM file.
To display it on the web, we compiled a picture consisting of 21 individual layers, each compiled of a series of 254x254 JPGs in a so-called image pyramid. The full pyramid consists of 1.476.098 frames, of which over 1 million is situated in the deepest layer. We used the Microsoft Silverlight plugin which, with its ever-so-slight color washing, provides the best results among current technologies. More importantly, it allows users with mid-spec machines and average internet connections to experience the World Recorder panorama in its full glory.
Due to the level of projected interest and the resulting bandwidth demand, we needed a safe and stable storage solution. Windows Azure offers both in a platform based on „cloud computing”, which provides equal chance of access to all and every users from anywhere in the world. Computing and storage capacities are dynamically scalable to bandwidth demand.
Windows Azure also supports a large number of popular technologies and protocols including SOAP, REST, XML and PHP.
Should the final image be printed, the finished 300 DPI picture would make a poster 156 meters long and 31 meters tall. The amount of paper it would take would also cover two 10-story apartment blocks.
Epson Hungary and the Print Academy volunteered to make a 15 meters long, 1.5 meters tall print of the image. We plan to join the edges and form a circle with a single door through which the audience may step right into the panorama of Budapest.
Actual printing took place at the exhibition lounge of EPS Team, manned by dedicated experts. As expected, the sheer size of the image posed some unique challenges, but—with some creativity and a tad of good luck—all came well at the end. It took a Stylus Pro 11880 ’oversize’ and 6 hours to finish the job.
Micro Piezo technology is Epson’s exclusive technology in inkjet printing. In-process polarity changes cause the piezo crystal inserts in jets to alter shape, thus controlling the flow of ink and resulting in perfectly shaped dots of colors on all printable surfaces
Stylus Pro 11880 incorporates the latest technologies of pigment-based inkjets, including Thin Film Piezo™ (TFP™) print head, real-time automatic switching between Matte and Photo Black inks, automatic nozzle verification and cleaning, high capacity cartridges up to 700 mls and Gigabit Ethernet connection which makes it better connected and more versatile. UltraChrome K3® is the standard by which all other professional level ink technologies are judged. Enhanced with the breakthrough new Vivid Magenta pigments, Epson’s latest-generation ink technology, Stylus Pro 11880 requires only eight colors, including a three-level black technology, to significantly raise the quality levels for professional color and black-and-white prints. The result is the world's most advanced 64-inch wide photographic printer.
The print of the World Recorder panorama will be revealed on the 100th Anniversary of the Observation Tower of János Hill, and will remain on display between 10 and 12 of September, 2010.
We had a lot of help during the project. We would like to thank everyone for their support.
Emrich Traugott - Panohead
Kollár László - Microsoft
Kőnig Tibor - Microsoft
Kis Attila - Sony
Krizer Zoltán - Epson
Pusztai László - Print Academy
Osztrenkovics Isván - EPS Team
Tóth Tibor - Webpage
Chrenóczy-Nagy Tamás - Azure
Albert István - Azure
Klein Péter - Just Creative
Biár Gabi - Just Creative
Váczi János - Government of the XII. District
Makaró Boglárka - Government of the XII. District
Szabó Krisztina - Government of the XII. District
Bálint János - Cameramen
Királyfalvi Károly - Design
Hungarian National Gallery
Szent György SZKI
Hermann Zs. György