PetaPixel

How I Created a Matrix Bullet Time-Style Rig With 50 DSLRs

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Back in March, a client for whom I’ve done some light consulting work asked me if it was possible to capture a 360-degree-image that can be rotated afterwards. I said of course, but didn’t think that much about the consequences — it’s a project that would wake me up at nights for the next few months.

Everything was fine until the moment he showed me the room I was supposed to make the rig in — it was his villa.

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This type of project is generally done in warehouse-sized spaces, and there is good reason for that (lighting being one of them). Well, this was a garage about 130-square-feet in area and a ceiling about 8 feet tall. My first reaction was to laugh for a little while. Then I asked if he was serious. I then saw from the look on his face that he really did want me to build the rig there, so my next reaction was, “I have to think about it”.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m up for any badness, but this was beyond crazy and bananas.

Next day we sat down in a restaurant and started talking about this a little more… what his vision was, what look he wanted to achieve, and so on. What I ended up with was that he would like to have a shadowless photo on a white background. Maybe some contrast in there, but definitely shadowless.

This was a bit funny, because the only thing I know that makes contrast (light-wise, not color-wise) is a shadow. But sure, let’s make history.

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Another request he made was to make it as easy as possible for further retouches, since he planned to use the rig extensively.

I took a few days to think about what direction I would go with the project — things like lighting the subject, the background, the fluency between the photos — the distance between the cameras, subject, camera count — just about everything. I’ve seen quite a few results from “bullet time” systems all around the world so I knew what things and results I would like to avoid, especially with my white background.

I came up with some ideas, but just to be sure, I called my friend Daniel over (he’s pretty much at the same technical level as I am) to have somebody to bounce ideas off. From that moment on, the concept just grew.

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The next day, I called the client and accepted the challenge. I asked for an advance before I start putting everything together, making phone calls, etc. just to be sure there would be no trouble afterwards. Got the advance the very same day (to my surprise) and then we got started.

Since we had so little space to make the rig on, mainly due to the low ceiling, my initial idea was to put up some kind of a diffusing tent around the subject and light it from the outside with big octas around. However, there were so many issues we had to address (possible flares, the quality of the image due to the lighting, how to spread the light evenly from the close distance, tension of the diffusing textile, the possibility of someone damaging the textile, etc.), so we moved on from this idea.

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I called another colleague and we came up with the idea of making a cylinder, which we could paint from the inside and repaint if necessary in the future. The only problem we had to solve with this new design was how to light it from within. Since the request was to have a subject on a white background, we decided to build it completely in white so that the light would bounce around like crazy (eliminating shadows).

We started putting together the precise lighting setup. We wanted to give the client the option of using other styles of lighting for non-shadowless photos, so we arranged 6 lights on the ceiling in a circular formation (seen above).

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For those of you who are wondering about the brand of the lights: although I shoot with Profoto I chose to go with Elinchrom this time (to save some money). Elinchrom because I know it satisfies the requirements for professional use, since it has such a consistent amount of light, consistent color temperature, etc.

So that was step one. Step two was putting together a list of the gear we needed to buy. You wouldn’t believe how much trouble it was to simply find a seller who was able to send us 50 cameras and prime lenses to the middle of Europe. It was unbelievable. If it were Canon 5D MKIIIs or Nikon D800s or something that class, that would be understandable, but Canon 600Ds? Come on!

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We chose the cheaper Canon DSLRs over other brands simply due to budget constraints.

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I originally wanted to go for Nikon (since it’s the brand I shoot with), but we had trouble solving certain issues with Nikon technicians. We had to fire all 50 cameras at once and transfer all the data off the cameras, and there is currently no software on the market (that I am be aware of) that can do the job (at least at the time we did this project). Maybe there is, but I couldn’t find it.

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There were potential programs we could use, but they were written for Linux. I also could have had programmers around me write the software, but that would have taken weeks or months, which didn’t have.

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We eventually found a single program for Canon DSLRs, which turned out to be a huge waste of money. In the trial version it had a limited options, so we did have to buy the full software. After we did, we found out that although the software is able to trigger all the cameras at once, it has a slight delay between the cameras. Like 1/5s between each camera.

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This was a big issue for us, since we needed to sync the flash between the 50 cameras as well (we can’t light it with other types of lights, lest we fry the person in the cylinder.

Just like Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception, we had to go deeper. Finally, we reached the best and simplest solution. Since each camera can be fired via a cable trigger, we created a net of cables that does just that — triggered all the cameras at once. Two buttons are located at the end of the net: the focus/wakeup and trigger buttons. Voila! Firing problem solved.

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The software allows us to download the RAW images onto computers (there has to be 4 laptops, since the software can operate only up to 14 or 16 cameras and there are also bandwidth issues).

That’s pretty much the entire build process. Of course, I simplified quite a few things to not bore you with my thoughts throughout the whole project, but all in all, I hope you enjoyed the ride. I know I did, and would love to do it again — perhaps in a larger space.

The last thing I have to say will be a disappointment to many of you: I don’t have any resulting images to share with you due to the client’s request to not share any sample photos outside. Perhaps in the future some of his photos will begin to appear on the web.


Editor’s note: For a look at what a rig like this can do, check out these 360-degree light-painting photos we featured earlier this week.


About the author: Martin Legeer is a commercial photographer based in the Czech Republic. Visit his website here.


 
 
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=524887347 Morgan Midgett

    What a tease! :)

  • http://twitter.com/bibalukas Lukas Biba

    Good job, my friend. Btw. Martin is looking for sponsorship (or some good deal) from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji or etc. :-)

  • http://about.me/bmwgeek Dave Reynolds

    This was freaking awesome. Thanks for showing this to us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andreicg Andrei Josef Calma Guiamoy

    was looking forward to the end product. Wish I could see it soon :)

  • That Guy

    I’m pretty sure this is going to be used for pr0n

  • Bart

    Would the author be willing to elaborate a little bit on the use of the rig — especially why not use the simpler solution of using a single camera that is moved around, or placing the subject on a rotating dish and taking pictures. Is the subject a person for instance? What necessitates the use of 50 cameras at once? This seems an awful complex solution and it’s not clear why not pick a simpler solution.

  • phatteh

    Given all the tech available during the matrix, they did it exactly the same way, so if your suggestions worked,i’m pretty sure they would have done it. I dont see how having a moving model or platform would be easier. Plus with every angle covered by a camera, you can choose any point of 360 degrees to run from rather than just a single point at a given time with a single camera which was moving.

    Plus making a moving, stable, ultra smooth rig to fire a camera round, would probably cost more than 50 cameras and some software to make it look smooth

  • AK

    Until he said the subject was a person I was wondering why not 1 camera and a turntable?

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    Here’s something we shared recently that’ll give you a taste of what a rig like this can do: http://www.petapixel.com/2012/12/17/project-uses-a-bullet-time-camera-rig-for-360-degree-light-painting-photos/ :)

  • Scott M

    Very cool.Even If it is for porn, still cool.

  • http://www.facebook.com/FiesityPhotography Fie Sity

    Wow thats awesome thanks for showing to us;)

  • Leigh

    What software did you use to frame blend the raw stills?

  • Goofball Jones

    From the article: “although I shoot with Profoto I chose to go with Elinchrom this time (to save some money). Elinchrom because I know it satisfies the requirements for professional use, since it has such a consistent amount of light, consistent color temperature, etc.”

    And yet, not with Paul C. Buff Einsteins to save even more money and have even more consistent amounts of light and more consistent color temperture. Seriously, I don’t see how other companies even are still around with what they charge and not even being on the same level as Einsteins.

    But still, this was a neat project. Good job.

  • manwithacamera

    The Sun, UK often publish rotatable 360 degree photos of models :)

  • http://twitter.com/justizin Justizin

    “Perhaps in the future some of his photos will being to appear on the web.” #heh #heh he said “being”

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    Thanks for catching the typo Justizin :)

  • http://twitter.com/justinph justin heideman

    What software was it that didn’t work? Did you try DLSR Remote Pro Multi-Camera? http://www.breezesys.com/MultiCamera/index.htm

  • johnnymonster

    eonline also does something similar, but I doubt its no where near as many cameras as this setup. check it out here: http://www.eonline.com/redcarpet/2012/golden_globes/glamcam

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaina.gibson1 Shaina Gibson

    Can I have a camera? I could use a better one! :v

  • chris vighagen

    You could have done the triggering with a simple arduino setup and saved more money on laptops and software.

    I’m curious if the length of the remote trigger cables showed any variation in sync speed between the cameras?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamesharbal James William Harbal

    It would really really cool to the details of the rig setup. Maybe an Instructable. I have been thinking of doing this but like you only found software that. Wont do sync shots. I especially would like to know about the net wiring and trigger system. Thx

  • http://twitter.com/ericpare Eric Paré

    YES !!! and with 50 cameras instead of 24, the result would be so much smoother :)

  • http://twitter.com/jclabarca Juan Carlos Labarca

    I liked your story very much…. but now example?!? come on!! why don’t you try it w/ a toy or something??

  • Rachel Kate

    If you’re shooting in central Europe and are looking for Einsteins (at that, at a decent price), you’re going to have a bad time. Paul C Buff doesn’t do Europe, Mr. Jones.

  • tyson

    forgive me if i’m missing something – but wouldn’t each picture show all the other cameras?

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se/ Erik Lauri Kulo

    That was my first reaction as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gjaevc Gerard Alvarado

    then is waste of time if you dont share whats the point of writing all this if you could not share the pictures.

  • The Guy Who Knows

    Well… Braging of you success, right? Guys, I work for the company who ordered this Matrix thingie… Martin Legeer designed this and built this first version. What this article doesn’t say is that it DIDN’T WORK AND WE HAD TO COMPLETELY REBUILD THE WHOLE MATRIX. The cables were poorly soldered, when you touched them you got hit by electricity, the place was too small for its purpose… We had to completely demolish it and build it from scratch, this time with guys who knew what they were doing.
    And FYI you are not authorised to use these pictures Martin, so be as kind and delete this whole article and stop boasting with something you failed at!!!

  • The Guy Who Knows

    And also, I should mention the progammer these guys hired and who charged amounts so high our head was spinning was a complete moron as well. The program he created (and it took him damn too long to do so), didn’t work (at all). In the end, we found much better software FREE on the Internet. So, yes, you ruined completely everything you laid your hands on.

  • thedude

    Inb4 war!

  • bgrady413

    Interesting, sounds like a new article then, lets see it!

  • Brent

    Can’t wait to see the sex tape that this was probably built for.

  • seanlucky

    I once supplied a production with 24 5D Mark II Kits in Vancouver. Sounds like you need better vendors…

  • Duh

    porn… cant wait to find the images on the web

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.jaakkola Eric Jaakkola

    Why do you need to sync the cameras to the flash? They only need to be relatively close. Use ambient lighting such that the flash is the only significant light. The shutters could all be open 30 seconds, if the flash only fires once, they’ll all have the same moment in time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daruosha Memphis Eisenheim

    Probably the next version of “Pirates” :D

  • Nick

    LOL, gotta love these amateur “photographers” like Martin who think they’re professional. Suggesting a programmer would take 3 months to code what you needed? What a joke.

    Thanks for exposing this FRAUD.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Feoremar Brady Gaétan Faucher

    The Milftrix: Unloaded

  • Martin

    Really? You don’t want to go there ;) Regards, Martin

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1469663692 Jason Heilig

    If you’re going to attempt to call someone out, at least have the professional decency to do so without the shelter of anonymity.

  • TwoBe

    Can u name the software ?

  • TwoBe

    yeah i think so… there u got that 1/5 lag cause of the usb connection!

  • Snappa

    I’d guess gPhoto using Linux. If I were using it for a project of this scale, I would include a software cost for a healthy donation to gPhoto since it would be an integral part of the design and I like to sleep at night.

  • http://twitter.com/richardford Richard Ford

    “but they were written for Linux” – he also used “technical level as I” in the writeup. Does he not know that he has OSX? Fail.

  • Bus

    Great idea!

  • bo espiritu

    i wish we can see the end product =(

  • http://www.facebook.com/AlaskanMan Kurtis Morin

    I understand not sharing the images you took due to client confidentiality and all but at the very lest you could have expressed how you felt about the results. Maybe even give some though on what worked and what didn’t work, what you would do different if you did it again. Please update this post and describe your results.

  • Suhiujuhi

    Go, Martin, go !

  • Ελενη Δονα

    There is not any photos of inside, during action?

  • http://www.facebook.com/arik.theloneguy Arik Islam

    Lumix? :D