Making the business case for the Lytro Cinema Camera

Written by Patrick Jong Taylor

Lytro / RedShark NewsNo green screen required

In a packed NAB conference room, Lytro revealed the first film shot with its massive, 755 megapixel light field Cinema Camera. But, for all its size, the camera wasn't the only elephant in the room.

At the start of the presentation, the curtain was literally pulled on the Lytro Cinema Camera, which looks somewhat like the consumer camera, except it's roughly the length of a Prius. The first film shot with the Lytro Cinema Camera, titled Life, also employed an ARRI Alexa for half the footage, so that the company could show how well the two cameras blended together. Technicolor also played a hand in the color grading of the short, which was exhibited for the crowd.

The Lytro Life

The director of Life, Robert Stromberg, introduced the film, extolling not only the virtues of the camera, but its potential for future productions as the camera system is refined over time. The film travels down well-trodden territory, chronicling the life of a boy becoming a man, finding love, going to war and beyond. But for those in attendance, the story was secondary to the obvious benefits of shooting in light field.

Our Editor-in-Chief, David Shapton, has already profiled the Lytro Cinema Camera, which utilizes scores of micro-lenses with sub apertures for each, practically creating 36 images per lens. This enables the 755 megapixel camera to do the same defocusing and variable depth of field trickery as the consumer camera, but to an almost inconceivable extent, capturing imagery and depth information at 300fps and allowing such mind-boggling feats as keying without a greenscreen.

In production, there is a live preview monitor that displays your production decisions as it pertains to camera, but the system records the entire light field including all light and depth information. The Lytro Cinema Camera constitutes the first end-to-end light field cinema solution, from camera to server, from editing to distribution. The company also declares that the camera can get the impossible shot and will be the ultimate VFX tool.

The most compelling capability of the Lytro Cinema Camera may center around its cloud-based post workflow. After upload, when manipulating Lytro's light field 4D video, users work on virtualized spaces without any need for local storage. All editing and compositing tasks are actually occurring in the cloud, with the local device only displaying the user interface. Whether sitting at a workstation, in front of a laptop or your phone, whether on a fiber connection or low bandwidth broadband, the process of shaping your light field originated creation, ideally, should just work, as your screen is just a graphical communication of the magic that exists elsewhere.

The real Leap

During the presentation, Lytro's partners were mentioned and thanked on numerous occassions. The Foundry and its powerful 3D compositing application, Nuke, took center stage in the VFX breakdown. I must say that the union between the two was impressive, as we got a glimpse as to just how flexible and robust this solution could be. But the real star of the show might have been another familiar name with its own light field agenda.

The cloud-based infrastructure that makes the Lytro Cinema Camera's workflow possible was, in large part, due to the efforts of Google (or is it Alphabet). Lytro has been working closely with the giant of search-and-more to ensure that this part of the workflow is reliable, which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense...for Google.

This is not Google's first moment of support for a light field-based product. The company has made headlines with its funding, through its VC wing Google Ventures, of another noteworthy company, namely Magic Leap. The ultra-secretive startup has generated billions of investment dollars, led by Google, for its light field-based augmented reality system, which very few people have ever seen.

Information on Magic Leap has been scant. However, regular readers of RedShark News are likely familiar with one of Magic Leap's content partners, Weta Digital, which has provided some of the most stunning cinematic VFX for recent Hollywood blockbusters. Now, we see another potential partner emerge and, conversely, Lytro's high-end camera may already have a high profile client in the wings.

To be honest, I initially had trouble seeing the business case for the Lytro Cinema Camera, as I doubted that its use would make financial sense for even the biggest budget productions. However, in the light of Google's assistance in making the camera's end-to-end workflow a reality, not to mention the Weta involvement, it looks like Lytro's prospects are decidedly sunnier. 

Tags: Business

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