For years now we've been hearing about the limitless potential of 3D, VR, and AR video but we still haven't quite found a way to put it into practice. The main problem, as always, is the way in which viewers are able to consume media. How do we exhibit projects in a way that won't leave people waiting in line for hours or spending thousands of dollars for an expereince in which ultimately they'll be left feeling isolated and alone?
In a continued effort to solve this issue, a new contender has entered the field: Looking Glass. The company has turned to technology that won't break the bank, while also allowing multiple users to go through the experience in an everyday household environment. In their own words, what they've developed is the first desktop holographic display designed for 3D creators.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising nearly 1 million dollars, the device has been created and the team at Vimeo's Creator Labs has developed an infrastructure for 3D makers to easily upload their work. We sat down with the head of the Creator Labs, Casey Pugh, to ask more about his emerging technology and how it could prove to be a critical disruptor in the 3D space.
No Film School: Please explain how your product works in a way that those of us who may be technologically slow might understand.
Casey Pugh: Sure! We built a streaming video channel designed for the Looking Glass, a holographic display. Similar to how you might watch Vimeo on your Apple TV, you would open up the Vimeo app on your Looking Glass, sit back, and enjoy endlessly, curated holographic content.
Our app streams videos from a curated channel on Vimeo, but these videos are not ordinary videos. They are special because they were uploaded in a unique format that allows The Looking Glass to render them in as a 3D hologram.
In order to make it easy for creators to upload their “holograms” to Vimeo, we also built a tool for Unity that lets you easily record your holograms and upload them to Vimeo.
The raw output of The Looking Glass 9x5 holographic video.
… To add a little bit more back story ...
The Looking Glass team has built a “Library” app that allows you to browse and try out different 3D experiences. You select an app, it downloads and then displays on your glass. Kind of similar to how any app store works.
I really wanted to watch a lot of 3D content in the Looking Glass, but the user experience of downloading and opening apps created a lot of overhead. So I thought, how could we create a lean-back experience where you can watch hours of content, like a TV channel for holograms? Can Vimeo help make that happen?
Over the course of a few weeks, Creator Labs built a couple prototypes that helped answer that question.
First, we needed to make it easy for people to “record” their Looking Glass content. Over the past year, we’ve been working on a Vimeo plugin for Unity that makes it easy to record videos and upload to Vimeo. Fortunately, Unity also powers the Looking Glass and they have an easy-to-use plugin. We combined our two tools together, open-sourced it, and documented the process for recording and uploading Looking Glass holograms to Vimeo.
Now we are curating holographic content into an official Looking Glass channel on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/channels/thelookingglass - this is a fun, raw way to look at what the format actually looks like under the hood. Each video is a 5x9 grid, where each cell is a different angle of a 3D scene.
Now that we have the ability to host holographic content, we built an app for The Looking Glass that streams all those holograms back into the glass. I like to think of it as a holographic TV channel. There’s something special about how you can watch lots of 3D content, back-to-back. This app will ship with the Looking Glass when it comes out.
NFS: Who do you see as your main demographic?
Pugh: We picture any kind of 3D creator being excited about this. Vimeo is already home to some of the most incredible 3D, VFX, animation and motion design creators out there. This new app is a part of Vimeo Creator Labs’ ongoing mission to build tools and interfaces that help push Vimeo beyond its 2D origins.
NFS: How will your collaboration with Looking Glass Factory make 3D filmmakers lives easier?
Pugh: We are helping empower 3D creators by giving them a new channel for distributing their content. For both Vimeo Creator Labs & The Looking Glass, this collaboration is highly experimental. We are not sure what will become of it, but we are hopeful and excited about its potential. The Looking Glass hasn’t shipped yet, so we will have to wait and see how creators adopt it and what they make with it.
NFS: Why holograms, what would you say to those who would call that archaic technology?
Pugh: It doesn’t make sense to call a holographic technology archaic when it is still very nascent. In the same way that VR and AR are nascent, there is still so much more that is possible. We still have a long way to go, but what the Looking Glass Factory team has built has been one of the most impressive holographic displays I have seen.
It seems sci-fi has gone a long way in imagining how holograms would fit in our day-to-day lives, and it’s really exciting that these visions are now slowly materializing into something you can put on your desk.
"We are witnessing a transition as more and more tools and technologies push us to consume 3D content in 3D space."
NFS: What do you have against headgear?
Pugh: Nothing, we use headsets all the time! I really love high-end, room scale, VR experiences on the Vive & Oculus. But there is something special about having a hands-free, immersive device sitting next to you on your desk, showing off 3D work in a way that hasn’t been experienced before.
NFS: There’s a real problem these days with exhibiting 3D and VR work to the mass public. How do you envision this will help 3D video creators get their work seen?
Pugh: Historically, 3D content has always been viewed through 2D video. We are witnessing a transition as more and more tools and technologies push us to consume 3D content in 3D space - virtual, augmented and mixed reality experiences to name a few. 3D models and 3D photos are now embeddable in your Facebook posts. This is not a niche anymore.
Distribution and accessibility still need a lot of attention and we spend a considerable amount of time thinking about how to design technology for both problems. We believe small steps like this help solve those problems.
NFS: Where do you see the future of VR and 3D heading for filmmakers?
Pugh: That’s a big question. Today, immersive filmmakers have a lot to figure out when telling their story - how do I tell a story in 3D space? Should I use actors? How can interaction and narrative compliment each other? What are the tools that I need to learn in order to create such experience? It’s a really exciting time, where filmmakers and creative technologists get to imagine a whole new world of stories and even uncover stories that couldn’t be told otherwise.
"We no longer have to think of 3D and immersive experiences as fully computer generated, and can tap into the human element of the story through real characters in 3D space. "
Immersive and interactive storytelling projects are now a part of every major film festival in the world (Sundance, Tribeca, Venice and many more) and winning Emmy awards. I think we will witness more and more narrative and non-fiction storytelling in immersive platforms.
We also believe in the power of volumetric video: the ability to capture live action humans in 3D. It is an integral part to creating cinematic immersive experiences. With this ability, we no longer have to think of 3D and immersive experiences as fully computer generated, and can tap into the human element of the story through real characters in 3D space. Volumetric video already plays a major role in shaping next generation filmmaking and, at Creator Labs, we have been investing a lot of our time into developing ways to make volumetric video more accessible to filmmakers.
A few months ago we hosted the Volumetric Filmmakers NYC meetup and presented some of the work we have been doing around these themes, which you can read more about here.
The Looking Glass is available for preorder now at a sale price of $499 and is slated to ship out in January 2019.