From Muybridge to The Matrix

Professor Anil Kokaram

I’ve previously mentioned Muybridge’s TimeSlice or Bullet Time sequences, now there’s a short video explaining the 20th and 21st century developments of creating extra frames when using this technique for movie making. These extra frames are necessary because it’s difficult to position a sufficient number of bulky cameras in the necessary circle to photograph the required number of positions to give a smooth result on the screen. Having developed this ‘artificial inbetweening’ method, Professor Anil Kokaram of Trinity College, Dublin (whose previous work has involved image restoration of old films), explains how it can also be used to produce artificial inbetweens for any movie sequence, making it possible to produce slow-motion movie sequences in post-production, from footage shot at normal speed. http://videos.wittysparks.com/id/240417892

Professor Kokaram states that Muybridge used engineers from the University of Pennsylvania (1884-85) to produce the necessary “kit” (exposure devices), but in fact Muybridge’s experiments in “Bullet Time” started before his involvement with the University. An article in the New York Times in 1881 (February 19) entitled ‘Instant photography; results of the California experiments’ described an earlier 5-camera ”Bullet Time” session (1878 or 1879).

“Mr. Muybridge, once in the studio of Mr. Perry, watched with interest the artist endeavoring to outline the picture of a California coach and four. He had Mr Muybridge’s pictures as a guide. But these were broadside views, and he wanted a quartering view. Mr Muybridge hastened back to Palo Alto, arranged five cameras in a semicircle and concentrating upon one point, galloped a horse over the point where the electric current was completed, and produced a perfect picture of a horse at fullest speed, as seen from five different points of view, all at the same instant of time and while, of course, the horse was in one and the same position. Now, an artist with these pictures as guides can draw a horse in any position desired.”

To go back to the video – Anil Kokaram’s explanation of Muybridge’s contribution is incomplete. He emphasizes the familiar motion sequences of a horse – “it’s pretty complicated – it’s got wires and stuff” –  and mentions multiple camera positions (used in many of Muybridge’s sequences) but the video doesn’t make it too clear that his subjects shot with a semi-circle of cameras – and with just one instantaneous, simultaneous moment when all shutters were released – produced a sequence showing a single frozen moment in time, unlike the majority of his sequences which recorded a progressive movement.

Sequence from Plate 524

This was a deliberate experiment in multi-position capture of a single moment in time – exactly the same as the TimeSlice and Bullet Time camera technique used in the past two or three decades. This can be seen in the plate shown by Kokaram, Plate 524 from Animal Locomotion (Throwing water from a bucket, Descending a step, Ascending a step, and Playing lawn tennis) and other plates, including 527 (Spanking a child, from three positions), 528 (Carrying a child, Walking with a child in hand, Running with a child in hand), and Plate 522 (Jumping, Handspring, Somersault, Springing over a man’s back). Each of these uses five or six cameras set in a semi-circle and fired simultaneously. As my previous post explains, Tim Macmillan, originator of TimeSlice (predecessor to Bullet Time) was unaware that Muybridge had taken such simultaneous views.

Sequence from Plate 528

It would be interesting to see these specific Muybridge sequences given the ingenious treatment developed by Professor Kokaram and his colleagues – which would enable us to see Muybridge’s original experiments with “Bullet Time” improved by creating interpolated inbetweens, to give a smooth sequence, rather than the jerky result created by the limitations of using only five or six cameras.

Two sequences from Plate 522

 

Anil Kokaram won an Academy Award in 2007 for his development of visual effects software for the film industry.

Posted here by Stephen Herbert

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