How volu­metric film is chan­ging cine­ma and our vie­w­ing habits

The Volu­cap has now been an inte­gral part of the stu­dio lot in Pots­dam-Babels­berg over the past two years. The stu­dio was alre­a­dy con­side­red to be a mile­stone on its ope­ning, and it is the first volu­metric pro­duc­tion stu­dio world­wi­de with a reso­lu­ti­on of over 600 mega­pi­xels. How has the stu­dio deve­lo­ped? What has hap­pen­ed in the two years sin­ce its ope­ning? That’s what we wan­ted to know from Sven Blie­dung, Mana­ging Direc­tor of Volu­cap GmbH.

The initia­ti­ve was laun­ched in June 2018 after an ope­ra­ting con­sor­ti­um con­sis­ting of Cine Tech­nik, Fraun­ho­fer Hein­rich Hertz Insti­tu­te, Inter­la­ke Sys­tem, Stu­dio Babels­berg and UFA joi­n­ed forces. Sin­ce then, spe­cial came­ra and soft­ware tech­no­lo­gy has been used here at Volu­cap to record life­li­ke, three-dimen­sio­nal pic­tures of peo­p­le, pro­cess them digi­tal­ly and embed them like holo­grams in a vir­tu­al or aug­men­ted rea­li­ty envi­ron­ment. The high came­ra reso­lu­ti­on, in par­ti­cu­lar, allows for a very detail­ed, pho­to­rea­li­stic three-dimen­sio­nal recor­ding of peo­p­le in moti­on (so-cal­led volu­metric cap­tures - Volucaps).

When you enter one part of the stu­dio com­plex at the fx​.Cen​ter Pots­dam-Babels­berg, you find yours­elf in a lar­ge, bright­ly illu­mi­na­ted and round white room. 32 high-reso­lu­ti­on came­ras are instal­led all around this white rotun­da and are lin­ked to a spe­cial 3D tech­no­lo­gy. “We had been thin­king exclu­si­ve­ly about VR and AR pro­jects for the first pha­se after the launch, and esti­ma­ted that we would need five to six years to achie­ve the qua­li­ty for cine­ma pro­duc­tions,” Sven Blie­dung says about the initi­al forecasts.

It tur­ned out quite dif­fer­ent­ly and, abo­ve all, much quicker: he and his team are alre­a­dy working on an inter­na­tio­nal cine­ma pro­duc­tion. Alt­hough Blie­dung can’t yet say which one. Apart from the inno­va­ti­ve tech­no­lo­gy, the initia­ti­ve has also bene­fi­ted from the pro­xi­mi­ty to the Babels­berg film stu­di­os which are regu­lar­ly hos­ting major Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions. Short distances on the stu­dio lot as well as cont­acts to the indus­try and swift decis­i­on-making pro­ces­ses bet­ween the public aut­ho­ri­ties and fun­ding insti­tu­ti­ons also play their part.

Volu­cap has estab­lished its­elf during the past two years and rea­li­sed pro­jects in various sec­tors ran­ging from adver­ti­sing through music, art and gam­ing to indus­try. Sports­men and musi­ci­ans num­be­red among the first cli­ents after the ope­ning. For exam­p­le, a sports­man was scan­ned along with his move­ments and then trans­fer­red to a digi­tal bas­ket­ball court that had pre­vious­ly been deve­lo­ped by ano­ther com­pa­ny. Musi­ci­ans such as the Fan­tas­ti­schen Vier and The Boss Hoss were film­ed volu­metri­cal­ly and pro­du­ced inter­ac­ti­ve ver­si­ons of themselves. 

Howe­ver, the tech­no­lo­gy of the volu­metric film is at the very begin­ning. “We are at the limit of what is curr­ent­ly tech­ni­cal­ly pos­si­ble,” says Blie­dung. Many com­pa­nies in Ber­lin and Bran­den­burg initi­al­ly did­n’t know how they would be able to use the tech­no­lo­gy offe­red by Volu­cap. The team hea­ded up by Sven Blie­dung had to focus a lot on com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on and, abo­ve all, on pro­vi­ding tech­ni­cal sup­port. The scan­ned data had to acces­si­ble to use for the cli­ents. Volu­cap has its­elf the­r­e­fo­re deve­lo­ped solu­ti­ons in order to make the input of the data as simp­le as pos­si­ble and enable it to inte­gra­ted into dif­fe­rent video pro­gram­mes. Ren­de­ring, ink - just like in film­ma­king, the­re are many disci­pli­nes coming tog­e­ther here, so it must be pos­si­ble to adjust and pro­cess the data of the digi­tal per­sons in a pro­per way. Fin­ding new, fast and uncon­ven­tio­nal ways: the start-up men­ta­li­ty within the team is coming up trumps.

But it’s not only the tech­no­lo­gy that has to be com­mu­ni­ca­ted to the cli­ents, sin­ce the con­su­mers’ vie­w­ing habits are­n’t yet kee­ping pace with the three-dimen­sio­nal cine­ma expe­ri­en­ces. This is com­pa­ra­ble to tho­se days when cine­ma was in its infan­cy and an approa­ching train on the screen put the fear of God into the audi­ence for the first time. The visu­al lan­guage and came­ra angles are new in volu­metric film, but so is the way that emo­ti­ons and sto­ries can be repre­sen­ted. It is a long way to the main­stream medi­um, but the walk-in film is alre­a­dy a rea­li­ty here in Babels­berg. Using VR glas­ses, view­ers can move around in an aug­men­ted rea­li­ty pro­duc­tion and meet the volu­metri­cal­ly recor­ded actors in per­son, walk around them or obser­ve them in their sce­nes from a distance.

One par­ti­cu­lar pro­ject, for exam­p­le, is “Tages­schau 2025”, deve­lo­ped for IFA 2019. The three-dimen­sio­nal ver­si­on of the well-known news pro­gram­me - by defi­ni­ti­on a sober for­mat thri­ving on authen­ti­ci­ty - show­ed news anchor Lin­da Zer­va­kis as an authen­tic digi­tal per­son. Visi­tors to the IFA were able to watch the Tages­schau in a living room via Aug­men­ted Rea­li­ty, take pic­tures with the news anchor, see the bur­ning cathe­dral of Not­re Dame as if live, and it star­ted to rain during the wea­ther fore­cast. This shows how the new three-dimen­sio­nal pre­sen­ta­ti­on will also chan­ge the way docu­men­ta­ries, sports events or con­certs are film­ed. The users can start gene­ra­ting con­tent them­sel­ves, they can be on stage with their favou­ri­te musi­ci­ans, or have a more emo­tio­nal access to his­to­ri­cal events as shown in the latest pro­ject, the short film “Ernst Gru­be - The Lega­cy” about a Holo­caust sur­vi­vor. In the form of a walk-in film, the con­tem­po­ra­ry docu­men­ta­ry aims to make an impres­si­ve and lively con­tri­bu­ti­on to Euro­pean memo­ry cul­tu­re for use in muse­ums and schools.

The deve­lo­p­ments of the past two years have seen the repre­sen­ta­ti­on of the scan­ned peo­p­le beco­me shar­per and more accu­ra­te. Vir­tu­al Rea­li­ty is gai­ning ground in the con­su­mer seg­ment. That is also shown by the gro­wing ran­ge of mixed rea­li­ty glas­ses on the mar­ket that are moving away from the cum­ber­so­me and lar­ge models of the first gene­ra­ti­on towards more user-fri­end­ly ones. “The way we con­su­me media will be com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent in three years’ time,” Blie­dung says with con­vic­tion. So-cal­led “1st per­son con­tent” is alre­a­dy picking up speed. 70 per­cent of Volucap’s pro­duc­tion capa­ci­ty is now for the enter­tain­ment indus­try, with the remai­ning 30 per­cent for indus­tri­al cli­ents. And it is not only cine­ma-goers who are being pre­sen­ted with new pos­si­bi­li­ties - Volu­cap is also offe­ring direc­tors other track­ing shots, came­ra angles and ways of using their actors. With the cur­rent pro­duc­tion, they are in fact the very first inter­na­tio­nal­ly to be using such tech­no­lo­gy for the cinema.

By Chris­ti­ne Lentz

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About MTH Blog

The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.