[Quicktime VR]

Apple's Quicktime VR is one of the more exciting visual effects in digital imaging. With it, you can produce and view 360° panoramas of real or computer generated scenes, without the need for expensive panoramic cameras or any other of the fancy equipment usually associated with VR. Or you can produce an 3-D object which you can grasp and move around and any direction.

In theory, to shoot 360° panoramic VR, you place a standard 35mm camera on a tripod and shoot 12-18 photographs to capture a full 360 degree view. Then using a special software, you "stitch" these images into a single PICT file, which is then processed further to create the final, user-navigable movie which is playable on both Macintosh and Windows computers.

[KiWi Panoramic Tripod Head]In practice, it's a bit more complicated than that. the camera must be level and the optical center of the lens has to be directly over the center point of the tripod. That ensures a smooth flowing VR. There should be few moving objects, such as people, near the edges of your photos; this can complicate the stitching process. Depending on the focal length of the lens, you take a set number of pictures at a set number of degrees apart from each another. With a 15 mm lens, for instance, shoot 12 photos to complete the 360°; with a 24 mm lens, take 18 shots, and so on. Special VR tripod heads are available to ease shooting. I use a 24mm lens and the KiWi Panoramic Tripod Head for easy of use and lower cost. From Paris #1 and From Paris #2 are outstanding examples of full screens VR panoramas with music.

Object VRs are more time-consuming. For one thing, rather than just a single position as in standard VRs, you have multiple positions, because you photograph the object from multiple angles, all the way around. You have to keep a set distance from an imaginary vertical line down the center of the object, and keep that line perfectly vertical — all to ensure that in the final VR the object doesn't "jump" all over during playback. (It's like maintaining the same pitch, roll, and yaw for every shot.)

This is a overview of the creation process. There is an excellent step-by-step set of instructions available at QuickTime Virtual Reality for Educators and Just Plain Folks.

The viewing process is very simple - click in the picture, hold down the mouse key, and drag the cursor to change the viewing direction. Dragging isn't required at the edge of the viewing area because the picture will scroll if you just keep the mouse-button down. Keys on the bottom-left corner of your keyboard can allow you to zoom in or out of the image (the keys vary from system to system but try using shift / alt or Shift / control).

[The Quicktime VR Book] The Quicktime VR Book by Susan A. Kitchens, Peachpit Press, 1998, is the only outstanding text on the market. Although it is out-of-print, copies are still available on Amazon.com. Susan is updating this manual and is presently working on a Web site for the book.

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