Making The Gigapixel ArtZoom

(Microsoft Research) Hundreds of years ago, before the age of movies and the internet, people flocked to see large-scale panoramas displayed in buildings designed specifically to house them. Fast forward to the present, and it is only very recently that such large-scale panoramic imagery can again be created and viewed.

In 2007, Johannes Kopf, Matt Uyttendaele, Oliver Deussen, and Michael Cohen at Microsoft Research showed how to capture gigapixel-scale images containing billions of pixels, and?more importantly?demonstrated new online viewing capabilities. Novel viewing techniques were needed because a gigapixel image contains roughly a thousand times more pixels than a typical screen can display, and therefore requires smooth panning and zooming in order to explore the immense detail.

Since then, the ability to create panoramas and view them has spread from desktop computers to mobile devices. Microsoft’s Photosynth app, for example, allows you to capture panoramas on an iPhone or Windows Phone, and share them using a viewer that runs in any modern web browser. The same Photosynth viewing technology is being used to present the Gigapixel ArtZoom panorama on this web site.

The first gigapixel image we captured back in 2006 was a picture of Seattle’s downtown skyline as seen from a rooftop on Capitol Hill. Although the panorama was beautiful, it struck us upon exploring the image that there were hardly any people to be found. Whenever we discovered a person in the panorama, we were excited to think about who that individual was and why they were there. It was fun to spend hours exploring this single image. But we always wished there were more interesting things to find.

For several years, we thought about creating a new gigapixel panorama of Seattle, this time making sure it was populated with fascinating people and activities. Finally, in the fall of 2013, we set out to do just that, and the Gigapixel ArtZoom project was born.

We first sought out the perfect rooftop location from which to shoot such a panorama. We were lucky enough to find the Bay Vista condominium building, and thanks to the gracious owners, get access to amazing 360-degree views that include the Seattle Center, the Olympic Sculpture Park, and Seattle’s stadiums, as well Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, and Lake Union. We also discussed the project with John Boylan, who has deep roots in the Seattle art scene. He helped us attract great interest from the arts community to come out and help create this celebration of the arts in Seattle. John introduced us to Elise Ballard, who coordinated the efforts of everyone involved in producing the entire piece. And finally, videographer Kris Crews helped us assemble a team to shoot video footage of the artists and performers from the ground.

Beginning on a brilliant sunny day in October, we climbed up to the roof to capture our first panorama using a Canon digital SLR camera, a professional 400 mm lens, and a Gigapan robotic tripod head. We captured two half panoramas from opposite corners of the roof because no single spot had a perfect view in all directions (this explains the seams you see). All together, the full panorama consists of 2,368 twenty-two-megapixel images. We stitched these images together using our Image Composite Editor (ICE) software, which is available for free from Microsoft Research. This resulted in two 10-gigapixel half panoramas, recording the city in fantastic detail, but still somewhat lacking in people.

Over the next few weeks, we climbed to the roof six more times to capture individual artists, acrobats, and other performers at dozens of locations visible in the panorama. These photos were captured from precisely the same spots on the roof as the panorama shots, using a Canon digital SLR with lenses ranging from 400 mm to 600 mm. While we captured still shots of the performers from the roof, video crews filmed the events on the ground.

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About Chris Hills CPP, CRMP

An entrepreneur with experience starting companies in the IP security video market. Chris started D3data a megapixel security video management software company. Chris sold D3data to Motorola in 2005 and became CEO of Mosaic Global Solutions, a megapixel security camera company.