GV - December 1997

QuickTime VR is Out of This World
by Sheldon Liebman

When QuickTime VR was first introduced a few years ago, many people looked upon it as a neat little toy that may have some applications in the video gaming industry. Between advances to the technology and the growth of the Internet, QuickTime VR has now become a very usable tool for many different types of applications, including video production.

QuickTime VR, or QTVR, is the interactive or virtual reality part of Apple's QuickTime. It allows you to move around objects or rooms, look up and down and zoom in and out. With the latest releases of QTVR (2.0) and QuickTime (3.0), any application that can play QuickTime movies can also play QTVR movies. This is a key accomplishment with respect to moving QTVR into the mainstream. Marrying these two formats was accomplished earlier this year on the Mac platform. The public beta of the Windows version should be available as you are reading this story.

Even without the latest versions, you can view QTVR movies on both Mac and Windows machines. The difference is that the new version supports both from a single player application.

There are two types of movies that are used with QTVR. The first one is called a panorama movie. This is an actual environment around which you move when using QTVR. The panorama is basically a rendering of the QTVR environment that is mapped onto a cylinder. The second type of file is called an object movie. With an object movie, you are defining an object that can be picked up and manipulated within the QTVR environment. These two types of movies can be used alone or together. When used together, they create a complex virtual reality world.

Another concept used with QTVR is called a node. Basically, a node can be thought of as being the point at which a camera tripod is placed. From a node, you can view a full 360-degree panorama as well as zoom in and out. When multiple nodes are specified, you have the ability to move from one location to another within a QTVR environment to view things from multiple perspectives. Moving around from one location to another is accomplished through hot spots that are defined within the QTVR environment.

Version 2.0 Adds Features and Capabilities
QTVR version 2.0 adds features in a number of important areas. The first, as we mentioned above, is the ability to view both QTVR and standard QuickTime movies from a single player application. Another significant upgrade affects object movies.

In QTVR version 1.0, zooming and hot spots were limited to panoramic movies. With the new version, you can zoom in on objects and define hot spots that can be used as links. You can also save objects and panoramas together in a single file and link them together without using an authoring package.

QTVR 2.0 also supports all QuickTime compression options. This means that JPEG compression can now be used for cross-platform QTVR movies and that all future compression algorithms developed for use with QuickTime will also be available with QTVR.

Finally, QTVR 2.0 adds motion, sound and QuickDraw 3D capabilities through a software interface. Standard QuickTime movies can be added to panoramas giving more depth to VR scenes. Sounds can be defined as directional, so that they become louder or softer as you move closer or farther from them. You can also add QuickDraw 3D models into panoramas, creating true 3D objects that can be viewed from any angle.

Building Panoramas and Objects
Due to the popularity of QTVR, many software programs can now be used to generate panoramas or objects automatically. For example, using Specular Infini-D software, you can create a panorama from a 3D environment or generate an object from a 3D model. Using this program or others like it is the most automatic method of generating QTVR content.

In many cases, however, you will be starting with a set of photographs and will want to turn those into a virtual world. Apple has a software package called the QuickTime VR Authoring Studio that is designed to accomplish this goal.

QTVR Authoring Studio contains five tools that are used to create both simple and complex QTVR worlds. The first one is called Stitcher. With Stitcher, you can take individual photographs and blend them together to create a panorama. This program provides tools to blend the seams between photos and to position photos on top of each other so that the images can be quickly and easily lined up. The output from Stitcher can either be a single panoramic image or a panorama movie.

The next tool is Panorama Maker. Panorama Maker is used to take panoramic images and turn them into full panoramic movies. This is a powerful tool that can be used with the current generation of panoramic cameras. Once an image is created with one of these cameras, it can be brought into this program.

Another tool is the Object Capture program. Object Capture links video cameras and many different types of turntable and gantry systems to create a series of images that move around an object. Once these images are created, Object Capture combines them and creates a QTVR Object Movie.

The fourth tool in QTVR Authoring Studio is called Scene Maker. Scene Maker links multiple panorama and object movies together to create complex virtual worlds. With Scene Maker, drag and drop editing is used to place all the elements into a world. Links can be visualized using a map and hot spots are defined that provide movement between locations within the world. Scene Maker can also be used to create links to other types of local or Internet-based data.

Finally, QTVR Authoring Studio includes an Asset Management module. This program manages all the content for large, complex virtual worlds, making sure that everything is accessible. It also lets you go in and change any part of a virtual world and then rebuild the world to accommodate the changes.

Video Applications of QuickTime VR
Probably the most well known application of QTVR technology is the recent Pathfinder mission to Mars. The images that were sent back from the red planet were stitched together into a beautiful panorama of the Martian landscape. With QTVR technology, anyone with access to the Internet could visit the NASA web site and move around Mars on their own.

This has a pretty significant implication for video professionals in the area of location shooting. Many times, it isn't practical for everyone involved in a production to go out and visit a potential shooting site. With QTVR, one person can visit the location, take a panoramic set of photographs and merge them together into a VR movie that everyone can look at.

Another current user of QTVR is Century 21. Their application can also be adapted to our use. The company is taking photos of homes and letting people move through them over the Internet or in a Century 21 office. The same concept can be used in the area of set design. If a set has been built, pictures of the set can be used to let people view it from a number of angles. If a set is being designed in 3D software, output of a QTVR movie can allow a very interactive look around the area.

With a little thought, other uses of this exciting technology can quickly be determined. At this point, QuickTime VR has truly become a tool that we can use to help us do our jobs. If you want to check it out further and you have access to the Internet, point your browser to www.quicktimevr.apple.com. The world will never look the same to you again.

Back to Recent L&S Marketing Articles