SJM 3D Photography

SJM Technical Media, Bristol, UK

01275 371 107 | info@sjmphoto.co.uk

Frequently asked questions

General 3D questions

What are the advantages of 360° imaging over conventional stills photography?

Quite simply the third dimension! Virtual reality (VR) photography is a powerful medium which allows objects and scenes to be viewed on computers, as though they were in 3D. The user can rotate objects or turn their viewpoint within scenes in real time. The specialist ‘goggles and gloves’ perception of virtual reality imaging initially hindered the rapid uptake of this technology; the truth is no specialist equipment is required.

Clients are increasingly turning to more complex integrated 3D video graphics for use on websites and multimedia presentations. It is often said that “A picture is worth a thousand words”; this is especially true of animated/3D images as they can save a lot of unnecessary explanation.

By adding a third dimension, customers can interact with your product—promoting better understanding of technical features, for example, and encouraging them to buy.

Is 360° VR imaging expensive?
Put simply, no. Typically it is about the same price as standard commercial photography. Naturally, larger corporate clients tend to go for more expensive and complex 3D images, in the same way one would expect them to use higher quality photography in advertising and sales literature. However, entry-level VR can still be of high quality and is relatively inexpensive and can be used in a number of ways—for example in sales meetings, trade shows, websites etc.—so you can get “a lot of bang for your buck”!
Why do so many companies offer 360° Panoramic but not 360° Object photography?

Producing Panoramic VR images is relatively easy compared to Object VR because there is a wide range of hardware and software products available to assist with the production. Whilst it is possible to achieve acceptable 360° panoramic results, doing this consistently to commercial standards is more challenging.

However, to overcome the various problems faced when producing 360° Object imaging has required the expertise of both mechanical and electronics engineers over many years to develop our current systems.

Can you create stand alone 360° movies that can simply be e-mailed to customers?
Yes. Over the years this has become less difficult as the technology develops. Most web browsers have integrated viewers. There are a number of different ways to create self-running movies—creating self-extractable file set containing all the required images that the user requires. We can also create a single .exe file that the user simply has to click to run.
Can you create presentations that include both object and panoramic images?

Yes. This is increasingly becoming one of the most common ways of using these technologies. Customers tired of PowerPoint-style presentations are increasingly moving to more complex integrated media projects. These can contain not only 3D object and panoramic imaging, but technical animation, CAD work, text overlays, voice-over, sound effect and music. We also re-version these in many different languages.

The beauty of this delivery system is that our clients can chose the elements that want to use based on the message they want to get across, their target audience and their budget.

Do you offer a website creation service as well as photography?
Yes—we provide a wide range of professional support services for delivering 360° files and integrated video/animation projects. These include web development and other design services. Please contact us for further details.

Specific 3D object questions

How large/small can an object be in a 360° movie?
As long as we can physically support and rotate an object we can make a 360° movie of it. We have ready-made facilities available to hold objects down to under 10mm and up to the size of a large car.
How large/long can 360° object movies be?

Simple movies showing objects rotating—popular with commercial clients for presenting products—are quite small. This makes them both fairly cheap to produce and quick to download.

More ambitious movies can contain full 3D movement—what we call “Spin & Roll” movies. These movies are often designed for delivery by for video streaming, or downloaded to a hard drive/flash device to run from a computer at a trade show.

I addition we also produce complex integrated presentations that can contain many different types of media, and be delivered in a variety of formats and resolutions from HD video down to web formats.

360° object imaging: “How much is it?”

We calculate the cost of 360° movies quite pragmatically. It is based on:

  1. The time to set the object up on our specialist rigs in the required axis of rotation
  2. The cost of lighting and capturing the required image sequence
  3. Post-production and project assembly time

For most small objects under 0.5m the set-up costs are often low and can be further reduced if a range of similar products require the same mounting. So the costs are mostly down to the number of photographs required and hence the number of frames.

To produce a top quality image the photographs have to be taken in a specially designed studio and individually cut out before being used. The processes we have developed have allowed us to make this economical for commercial clients.

If you have a project in mind, please call us. We will be able to talk you though the options and calculate a ballpark figure for you quite quickly.

Can background images/animations be added to Object VR movies?
Yes. As a result of the precise masking processes we use, adding background images is relatively easy. However generating a background image which truly compliments the foreground image—rather then just being a distraction—is less easy that you might think. If in doubt, stick with a clean white background.
How do you make your 360° Object movies on this site so crisp?

We photograph all objects in our custom studio which was specially set-up for 360° Object VR photography. Once taken each image has it’s background digitally removed before being put onto the desired colour—by default we make this white.

A lot of people incorrectly assume that they can achieve this result easily using a cheap turntable and a copy of PhotoShop. The truth is that it can take some time and patience even using specialist systems.

Can still images be taken from 360° images?

Yes they can. However, whilst images can be digitally extracted from Spherical 3D images, if you have specific requirements for hi-res. still images for use on brochure/poster use, it is just as easy to shoot these at the time whilst we’re on site.

We capture all our images at high resolutions and normally all the post-production work would be done at this native resolution. Consequently our clients often use the images for printed media at a later date.

How long does it take to produce a Object VR movie?

Like all animation procedures, it can take many hours of work to create finished 360° Object movies, depending on how complicated the movement is and the number of photographs required. Full 3-axis spin and roll images can have over 500+ photographs in them!

We have the facilities to produce hundreds of movies a month.

Can you rotate objects in any axis?
We can turn Objects at any angle as long as we can work out ways of supporting the object to allow the required image sequence to be captured.
Do you offer a “budget” range VR object movies?

Whilst we pride ourselves on producing some of the best VR object movies in the business, we realize that clients have different requirements. Most of our VR object movies are digitally cut-out, frame by frame, in our studios—to produce a crisp (typically white) background. This strikingly crisp finish is also time-consuming to achieve and consequently adds to the cost of the movie.

We offer the option of a ‘budget’ range of 360° object movies. These are shot on a slightly modified rig which reduces some of the laborious post-production. The saving in time is reflected in the lower cost of the final movie. These movies are a sensible option for clients wishing to use quantities of 3D imaging for on-line catalogues—e.g. ceramics giftware or production engineering components.

Specific 3D Space (Panoramic) questions

How large/small can a space be for a 360° Panoramic movie?

Using specialist equipment and lenses we can photograph extremely small spaces (1–2 M wide). This is done for the interiors of car or aircraft cockpits for example.

Whilst large rooms are more easily photographed big public paces can require some careful planning and handling from both a logistical and Health & Safety point of view.

Can a panoramic movie start at any position?
Yes—most view types allow you to choose the start position of the movie. Additionally many can be locked to stop at specific positions. Companies often find this useful if they want to restrict viewing angles. For example a customer may want stop users seeing security devices such as PIR sensors in buildings, or simply hide an ugly fire door.
360° space (panoramic) imaging: “How much is it?”

Using the latest hardware and software Panoramic VR images can be produced relatively quickly. The cost/time involved is normally due to getting to the location and setting up the rooms and equipment.

To make the panoramic photographs economical it is best to have a batch of photographs taken on the same site. We only make a small additional charge for additional processing work required for any additional shots—taking the cost per photograph down massively.

If you have a project in mind, please call us. We will be able to talk you though the options and calculate a ballpark figure for you quite quickly.

Viewer, Integration and platform questions:

Where can I get ‘QuickTime’?
You can easily download the latest version of the QuickTime viewer from Apple’s website:
http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/
How do ‘QuickTime’ files differ from ‘QuickTime VR’ files?

Apple’s QuickTime plug-in supports both ‘QuickTime’ (QT) and ‘QuickTime VR’ (QTVR) formats. Typically standard QuickTime movies run from beginning to end—like a short video clip, without the user doing anything.

QuickTime-VR image files on the other hand, run as you drag your mouse over them. This has the benefit of makes QTVR files more interactive, requiring some input from the viewer, and allowing simple changes in speed and direction.

What is the difference between Cylindrical, Spherical and Cubic panoramic images?

They are just different ways of projecting photographs within a viewer; each has different properties.

Cylindrical projections are the oldest type and this system is commonly used for multiple photograph panoramic images. Whilst this system lacks the impact of the newer versions—you have very little vertical shift—it does have its advantages. Stitched together from multiple rectilinear (non-fisheye) images, the files can be vast and have astonishing gigapixel resolution.

Spherical projections are often used for displaying two or more stitched fisheye images, mapped into a virtual sphere. This allows you to see, for example, the ceiling of a room or the roof of a car. In the appropriate viewer the results can look very impressive.

Cubic projections are the latest version of fully 3D panoramic technology. Once again this typically uses stitched Fisheye or multiple rectilinear images to achieve an immersive effect—this time by mapping into a virtual cube. Whilst this technology offers some useful tools to producers of 360° images, you’re unlikely to notice the difference on-screen as an end-user.

Does it make a difference which operating system/Platform I view movies on?

Not really. All of the main windows systems will run movies in a similar way. Whilst the internal architecture of Macs is very different from PCs, the way they interface with the Web is quite similar. Many of the popular 3D/movie viewers are built into these browsers. Most modern computers are sold bundled with Internet Explorer, but many other browsers are becoming popular. Some types of movie viewer are built in to one system but not the other; we can advise you on the detail of this, but in broad terms it’s not a problem.

JAVA viewers are downloaded alongside the movie itself without the need for any additional software (plug-ins), and are platform independent.

What is a hotspot and how do I add one to an image?

A hotspot is an area within a movie which when clicked starts some kind of action. Actions can include opening another movie, playing a sound or displaying text. Typically panoramic tours use hotspots—once clicked you move to the next room or location.

In 360° object movies a series of linked files can show—for example, the various components of an engine assembly in 3D can each have its own movie.

Hotspots can be added to an image is in the developer software itself. Some viewers allow you to manually code hotspots over images, which can become complicated if detailed shapes need to be drawn out. Alternatively web developer will add these later in the development process, as html links within their own site design.

Is it possible to integrate sound in 3D movies?
Yes it is. You simply need to choose the appropriate viewer type for sound delivery. Detailed voice commentary, background sound/music can be professionally mixed and added to your project.
How do we go about choosing a viewer type for image delivery?

There can seem to be a bewildering array of viewer types. 360° photographs can be displayed in various ways depending on the functionality required and target audience. Apart form the obvious issues surrounding the ease of accessibility by the end-user, it’s worth considering both download speed and the functionality of a specific viewer—for example does it support hot spots, zoom functions or customization?

The three main options for web site integration are outlined below:

Browser Integrated (No plug-in)— Animated GIFs are one of the few animations that run on most browsers. They can be extremely useful but do not offer user interactivity.

Java Applet (No plug-in)—Many animations on the web use Java Applets to run as they do not require the user to download any specialist software. They must have a Java Enabled Browser but this is most people’s default set-up. Applet viewers can have very good functionality and are available from a number of companies.

Plug-in Required—The user is required to install additional software before they can view the image. The software “plug-in” and is normally free of charge but requires the user to download and install a file. One of the most popular and powerful viewers is Apple QuickTime, which has great functionality, including the ability to integrate sound tracks:
http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/

Flash players are also increasingly popular.

To make delivery more foolproof you can do a few things:

  1. You provide a link to a QuickTime movie plus a different viewer type which doesn’t require a plug-in—then the user can click on the type they wish to view.
  2. You auto-detect if they have QuickTime installed using some JavaScript or by running a test QuickTime move which redirects them to the real image. If they don’t have QuickTime installed you offer them the download option from Apple or the option to run the non-plug-in version.
  3. You don’t give them a QuickTime movie at all, but one that downloads its own Java viewer alongside the movie. The disadvantage being that this adds to the download time.

Modern software suites provide generous output options. If you’re unsure then it’s not a major problem for us to output various versions of a movie in different formats.

How do I add a QuickTime (.mov) image to a web page (html)?

QuickTime images can be directly embedded into the html of a page. An example line would be:
<embed src="sample.mov" width="200" height="240" controller="true" pluginspage="http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/">

For further information refer to the Apple developer site:
http://developer.apple.com/quicktime/quicktimeintro/tools/embed.html

How do I add a Java viewer image to a web page (html)?

Each type of Java viewer has its own set of parameters which get added to the body section of the html in a web page, they call both the required file and other settings.

More information on how to set these parameters and examples will be given by the software company that provide the Java viewer. Typically these can be fine-tuned to suit your requirement using a simple text-editing tool such as TextPad or WordPad. We can further help any of our clients with such coding.

How do I add a Flash viewer image to my web page?
Good question…!
Can we have custom loading screens and buttons?
Some of the viewers allow for company logos and text to be coded in. The only disadvantage of using such viewers is that they can be a bit larger and therefore slower to download than those without this functionality.
Why does the image come up with black & white checkerboard when it’s loading?

Several movie viewers will load up without an image if a low resolution preview image is not set. Increasingly developers are utilizing newer technologies that allow lower res. images to be loaded quickly and the detail is pulled in a few seconds later.

Which system you prefer is a matter of taste, but on slow connections the newer system can save the user getting bored/frustrated waiting for an image to appear.

The Java viewer will not open on my system—what is wrong?

Check that you have the free Java software installed - you can get a copy from:
http://java.com/en/download/index.jsp

Also check that JAVA script is enabled in your advanced settings. By default it is usually on, but some security suites may disable it even if you haven’t changed it yourself.

Multi-media questions

What is the procedure for starting multi-media projects?

We typically sit down with clients and take a detailed brief to work out what they are trying to say, and to whom. This is then made up into a storyboard which shows all the key-frame stages of the project along with any text-slides and notes. Only once this has been approved by the client do we move into the production stages. This saves time and money. We are able to generate high-quality media at a fraction of the traditional costs by using this procedure.

How much is it?

Once we’ve established what clients require, we use a Pick & Mix approach to select video/multi-media techniques to meet the customers creative and budget requirements. Having additional budget to play with allows us to add more sophisticated effects to projects. However having tight budgets is no excuse for producing uninteresting media; we will always do our best to give clients the best job we can.

How is the media supplied to us / How can we use the files?

One of the great things about modern multi-media files is that we can now prepare files at full HD (1920x1080) and then re-sample it down for use on laptop presentations or web use. Often files are made up for trade shows and then down-sampled in this way. Alternatively we work with designers to produce media that exactly fits specific requirements—web banners for example.

What happens if we want to change some element of our project a few months down the line—do we have to start all over again?

We meet a lot of clients who have had bad experiences with this in the past. As with all our work we believe in charging customers for just what they need. If you need to change a line of text or drop in a bit of new footage to reflect changes in your product line, then we simply charge for the cost of generating the new section of media and re-rendering the project. ‘Re-versioning’ media—as it’s known in the trade—is a very cost effective way of keeping your media current and costs down.

Our product/service is currently in the prototype stage. Are you able to protect our confidentiality?

As with any product photography or design studio, all the products that come through the studio are—by definition—new products. We have worked on all sorts of sensitive projects from medical devices to Formula 1 cars. Because all our processes are done in-house, this enables us to offer excellent confidentiality.

Can you explain all the differnet HD file formats, there seems to be several?

There has been a lot of confusion about this as the technology has developed. Many TVs and monitors are marked HD or HD-ready, but the exact number of pixels in them is often not true HD. Strictly speaking full HD is 1920x1080, but there is another sub-HD standard which is 1280x720. For reference, the old style standard definition video (SD) is 720x576. So full HD has about 4 times more data. We generate all our master files at full HD. This future-proofs clients’ jobs whilst still allowing them to choose their final output resolution(s).

We need to generate projects in different languages—do you have experience of doing this?

Yes we do. We have re-versioned media in many different languages for use all over the world, and do more all the time. Please contact us for a current full list of languages we have worked on if you are interested.

Do you have experience of working with high-speed (slow-motion) cameras?

Yes we do. We have our own high-speed video equipment and have access to even more sophisticated hardware if necessary. In addition we have specialist software, which allows us to seamlessly ramp the speed of video events up and down. Not only can this allow the viewer to see formerly imperceptible detail, it looks great too.

Can you produce complex 3D text effects for us?

Yes we can, and we can do it in-house. In addition to all the normal titling and rolling credits we can produce all sorts of 3D metallic text effects with reflection/texture mapping, laser like text effects, Magic Wand style writing scripts etc. The list is endless. We are also able to generate text with advanced kinetic effects, where the maths/physics is calculated to produce natural bounce/collision events between moving type elements. Typically customers want professional titling with appropriate weight and gravitas, but using our systems it is also possible to produce quirky and amusing titling if it is in keeping with the project.

Can you produce 3D text from our logo to float over video footage?

As long as you can supply files in a suitable hi-res. format (typically EPS) then we can usually generate 3D versions using our software. Generating alpha channel masks for the video editing software produces floating text. These are often refered to as 32-bit files. As long as it is possible to generate these masked files, then the resulting text can be dropped in above existing footage.

We have specific fonts/company colours. Are you able to use these in video/media projects?

Yes. We have a large collection of fonts on our systems. In the unlikely event you are using a typeface that we do not have, this can easily be imported into our machines.

What is Green Screen technology and what is it used for?

In its simplest form most people will be familiar with Green Screen from the weatherman on TV. The presenter is shot against a flat green background and software is then used to generate a matt or mask which allows the figure to be dropped against a different background (in this case weather map). Typically this is used as a quick way to place actors into different backgrounds. These can be computer generated as in sci-fi films or other pieces of film footage or even graphic design elements.

It used to be Blue Screen. What is the difference?

Yes it did, and sometimes it still is. The background key colour is chosen so that it is the simplest thing to digitally remove. Film cameras were more sensitive to blue light, but modern video cameras find green easier. In both cases the choice of the colour comes from the fact that these colours are not present in human skin tones (unless you’re extremely off-colour!) and most often people are the chosen subjects. It is possible to use any colour as a background colour as long as it is not present in the spectrum of the thing you are trying to cut out.

Can you shoot footage against white to produce video footage for multi-media?

Yes, and we often do. Using peak white or pure black backgrounds is fine as long as you do not need to extract the foreground subject from the background. Otherwise it is quicker to use Green Screen technology to do the job. We have access to all these systems, so we normally choose the path of least resistance that allows us to get the job done within the time/budget allowed.

What do we need to do to produce the panoramic Track-Motion effects on your site?

The Panoramic environmental imaging we produce can be generated from HD video and hi-res. stills images. We have mixed up a number of techniques to generate this media style, and can use clients’ existing images or new, commissioned work. The interesting aspect of the technique is that it allows us to produce striking media that stays sharp as the viewer moves around and zooms in and out of the space. This is a useful way for clients to demonstrate their facilities to customers, whether they are scientific laboratories or hotel/leisure groups. Delivery can be tailored to suit the user, but is typically via presentation panels or integrated web banners.

3D Automotive questions

What types of vehicles can you shoot in 3D?

We undertake 3D photography projects from motorcycles and small town run-arounds right up to massive 4x4s and people carriers. We have also developed systems to shoot much larger vehicles such as military tanks, JCBs, trucks and aircraft by using different equipment and techniques. Our specialist 3D car turntable has been equipped with automatic indexing to stop and start it at specific angles for 3D photography—it can also run smoothly and almost silently for video shoots.

Can you give us some ballpark prices for shooting cars in 3D?

This is one of the few areas of photography in which we need to establish an accurate specification before we can offer a meaningful price.

360 degree car photography can be specified with different numbers of horizontal “bands” of images, as well as different numbers of images in each rotational band. For example a single band movie—normally called a “spin” movie—could typically have 18/24/30/36 frames (20/15/12/10 degree advance-angles). The more images there are in a movie, the more post-production time is required and costs increase in proportion. So choosing the number of frames in a 3D movie not only affects its quality but also has a direct bearing on the post-production costs. Multi-band (Spin and Roll) movies need to specified even more tightly to keep post-production times down and costs under control.

Be very wary of anyone offering simple answers to the question “How much is it?” as they probably will not have understood the issues involved. We have amassed a lot of experience in costing these jobs, so please call us if you need a quote.

Can you shoot 3D cars in my garage/warehouse/field/studio?

The short answer is probably no. Although it is possible to set-build a working 3D environment on site, the number of man-hours and equipment necessary to make this work means that it is impractical for all but the highest budget jobs.

Car studios are quite unusual spaces—extremely large, smooth white or grey seamless coves, usually with one open end into which vehicles can be driven. Some can even take several articulated lorries at once. 3D studios are similar but they have no open end—or at least a closeable side once vehicles are in place. This ensures that the lighting and reflections do not change as the vehicles rotate. It’s fairly obvious when you think about it, but often gets overlooked.

My car is very valuable—will it be safe?

Yes it will. We take a great deal of care with vehicles whether they are new production line cars or valuable classics. Some of the vehicles we have shot have been worth millions of pounds, so we are used to it. You’re welcome to come on the shoot and stay with your vehicle(s) if you wish.

Do you shoot Classic cars?

Yes we do—and we enjoy it. We understand that whilst collectors are often delightfully keen and knowledgeable, they are not always rich! Commercial jobs for big car companies are easily funded, but individual collectors/restorers and clubs can benefit from our discounted rates if we can get groups of vehicles together to share the overheads of using professional 3D car studio space. If you were at the NEC Classic Car show in Autumn 2007 you may have seen our show stand. Talk to us about this if you are interested as we always enjoy working with enthusiasts.

What output options are available for 3D car images?

This continues to change as software technology advances. Generally speaking exterior (spin) movies are output as QuickTime, QTVR or Java applets. Interior (2-axis and 3-axis) movies can be output as QTVR, Java, or directly to Flash 9. Note that Flash 9 output isn’t always compatible with earlier versions of Flash—sorry, we don’t write the code! Additionally we can export the external QTVR spin movies at 2x or even 3x their native viewer (on-screen) size. This increases the file sizes a bit, but allows the user to zoom in to sharp detailed data.

Where can we purchase the kit you use for your interior automotive imaging?

Most of our specialist equipment is designed and built for us in-house. The equipment is constantly modified and improved to suit different commissions. Our 3D imaging rig allows us to shoot inside cars from the driver’s eye position, allowing the viewer to see the instruments as if they were sitting in the driving seat. We are not currently manufacturing this equipment for use by other studios.

Can you photograph my car on site?

See answer to similar question above.

If the image is going to be used as a still only—not in 3D—then yes, vehicles can be shot on site. However there is a big difference in the way professional location and studio shots are organised, lit and post-produced. In particular, issues regarding reflections of the surrounding environment in the bodywork and glass surfaces need careful thought. A lot of commercial car images which appear to show vehicles on location—e.g. cars shot on a cliff top at sunset or speeding around an empty section of freeway—are actually shot in studios and seamlessly blended into their location images.

By comparison photographing car interiors on location is relatively painless.

Do you sell/hire specialist 3D kit?

We get a lot of enquiries about supplying off-the-shelf 3D hardware solutions from both professional photographers with specific projects, institutions—such as museums—and larger companies wishing to set up in-house 3D imaging facilities.

Product turntables

We produce a variety of product turntables. The design is a result of over working with 3D product imaging over the last decade. Our product turntables are not just commercial display spinners with a label slapped on; these stable, reliable units have been design from ground up to do a specific job.

If you wish to hire or buy a product turntable for a specific application, please contact us.

Download a product turntable PDF document here.

Car turntable

We have one of the only car turntable in the UK that has been specifically modified for photographic use. The equipment has been intelligently engineered to allow us to retrofit the equipment to suit various jobs. Used on many vehicle shoots from monster 4x4s to small town run-arounds, it also has a solid top which has allowed it to be used on many unusual projects.

If you wish to hire or buy a car turntable for a specific application, please contact us.

Download a car turntable PDF document here.

Car interior 3D rig

We have developed a number of specialist rigs imaging the insides of very small spaces—such as car interiors and aircraft cockpits. These have evolved over many years and form an integral part of our expertise in this field. Consequently we do not produce these for other users at the present time.