Diving Into Photographs: Behold Interactive 3D Panorama
Ivan Drapeau

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.

Computer-generated images

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.

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