Remember The Bullet From The Matrix?
You’ve all seen the iconic scene in The Matrix, right? The one where a bullet is shot from a gun, and a split second later time is frozen and the bullet is seen suspended mid-flight, from every angle. All around, above, and below. Time was frozen and seen from 520 degrees for the first time. It was a staggering visual that blew everyone’s minds, including ours!
Which led us to wonder… if freezing movie time is that cool, wouldn’t freezing real time be that much cooler? (Um, yes.)
In May 2013, Philippe (founder of HTML/Fusion) and Joe (a member of the Denizen team) met and the work was underway to make this happen. The goal was to design, build, program, and execute a time-splicing, photo-freezing effect with the phones - no post production and no editing allowed.We wanted to freeze people, jumping in mid-air, instantly, from 520 degrees, and all from the camera phones.
"...If freezing movie time is that cool, wouldn’t freezing real time be that much cooler?"
The first prototype was made with 8 Snapdragon-powered HTC One camera phones. The results were encouraging and the phone count was increased to 20. The 20 phone trial was strong enough to greenlight the full video shoot at Venice Beach.
At this stage Denizen hired Gileas, a freelance Art Director specializing in metal-work, to design and construct a rig for 130 phones. After the rig was completed, extensive weekend home-garage testing was performed to identify glitches before the live on-location shoot was to take place. During testing, few serious issues were revealed as Philppe’s three daughters and the HTML/Fusion team attempted to get frozen in air.
The phones were simply too slow. As the Venice Beach shoot approached we were still not freezing people in air without editing and post production. But our team was determined to figure it out!
The Team on the Snapdragon Project
We are a small technology company doing big things. We are made up of an unusual cast of characters defined by our “refusal to succumb to setbacks”, “unusually creative approach to problem solving,” and “extreme determination.”
Our founder Philippe’s fluency in the full range of programming languages makes him the presiding programming expert. Todd is the backend programmer who studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon but only came west to write screenplays: a rare combo of developer and filmmaker. Jesse was a Poli-Sci major at Sarah Lawrence who only fell into a programming class in his last semester of college, got hooked and went on to work at Digital Domain (a premiere post production house in Santa Monica) where he acquired cue management and computer vision expertise. And last but not least, Richard. He studied physics, computational psychology and applied math and is also a multi-year participant in a large-scale interactive jungle gym exhibition at Burning Man. When we all put our heads together great stuff happens… like freezing real time.
We Headed to Venice Beach in Sunny California
The rig was placed on the Venice Boardwalk in a very high traffic area. The setup was open to the public and passers by were able to play and participate.
It attracted considerable attention in spite of the technological kinks that remained. The released footage racked up over 5 million views, 15k Facebook shares, 3.2 million Tweets, landed on the front page of Youtube, reached #1 on Reddit, and #2 on AdAges’s viral video chart within a month of release.
A spectacular success for Denizen and Qualcomm as they were confident to test their rig at the big New York event. But we still wanted to freeze people in the air, in real time, and we weren’t there yet. So it was time to return to the garage to prepare for the big event in New York City
And Then... New York City
With only 15 days remaining before the NYC event, we had to quickly figure out how to freeze people in the air with just the phones.
To our delight, strobe photography — requiring the use of a bright strobe — came to our rescue. Since we weren’t sure if bright light could be used in the NY exhibition, Todd suggested we test with a dog whistled as well. The strobe was flashed for an instant and the dog whistle the same. When these frames were stitched together… people were finally frozen in air!
At the big, live, highly anticipated NYC event, Jesse sat in the eaves above the action. No technical problems arose and Jesse admitted he was even bored! It went off without a hitch.
People frozen in time, instantly, from camera phones. All they had to do was enter, jump, submit emails, and receive their time-frozen selves, no post production, instantly. The GIFS appear on their devices within minutes. We know instant gratification is required in this fast paced world… so we delivered it. (Total. Success.)