ANGOULEME — What if, thanks to technology, you could literally dive into pictures? This technological prowess would make dreams of unexplored applications come true, especially with regard to defense simulation or the presentation of urban projects.
Andreas Koch, a 54-year-old animation entrepreneur in France, has reinvented the 360-degree image. The idea is not altogether new. In the Théâtre du Rond-Point (Roundabout Theater) in Paris, where the word “panorama” is carved in the pediment stone, fixed pictures that would wrap around the viewers were already on display at the end of the 19th century. Nowadays, at the Futuroscope in Poitiers as well as other theme parks, films made especially to be projected in 360 degrees are commonplace. But Andreas Koch has taken it one step further.
His work is based on his experience with Cortex Productions, a small company he owns that specializes in digital animation for medicine and pharmacy. Its offices are in Angoulême, a town in southwestern France that is also the capital of comics, where Koch moved 15 years ago. “I wanted to create beauty,” he says. “I wanted to do spatial art.”
With the help of two engineers, he developed interactive 3D panorama. The prototype has been on show all summer, just next to the Comic Strip Museum. Highly symbolic perhaps.
The company invested 750,000 euros ($1 million) in its “PARI” (Animated Tridimensional and Interactive Panorama), with the help of a regional authority that supports innovation from small- and medium-sized businesses. The prototype consists of a cylinder perched two meters up. The cylinder itself is 25 meters in circumference and 3 meters high, making it an 80-square-meter screen.
“It would be possible for the screen to be more than 2,500 square meters,” Koch says. Surrounded by the image, the viewer stands in the center, on a platform, wearing binocular glasses. “It’s a place of spontaneous exchanges, which is an important sociological element in an individualistic society,” he adds.
Two short films were created for the experiment. In the first, a dinosaur walks around in the countryside. When the viewer claps her hands, the scenery changes from day to night. In both cases, the viewer instinctively moves to avoid the dinosaur’s tail. The second film fits more into Cortex Production's savoir-faire. This time, the spectator is taken inside the human body, into the blood vessels, and is being bombarded with white and red blood cells.
Koch is very confident that his “PARI” project will be a success. “I know that prototypes don’t always find their audience in the market, but I’m convinced this one will. What we have to offer is a technological turning point,” he says.
There are two main reasons for his conviction. The first is that his small team has already overcome the technical barriers. After hours of calculations and programming, the six prototype projectors are perfectly coordinated, and the team succeeded in removing the usual splice that is visible on classic panoramas. The second reason is that the applications for this technology need not be limited to gaming or education.
“Imagine a candidate city for the Olympics that would present its project with an interactive 3D film,” he says. “That would be a game changer. And it’s now possible.” But Koch isn’t using this particular example randomly. He’s already looking for potential clients.
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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