SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Some day consumers may be able to create videos like those on display in The Matrix, the Hollywood blockbuster that sported stop-action stills viewers could tour in 360 degrees
Camera pioneer Timothy Macmillan is “tinkering with” such capabilities at GoPro Inc. However he declined to say exactly what the consumer camera company is planning.
British native Macmillan has been developing so-called time-slice cameras since college days in the 1980s, initially for the BBC. His company Time Slice Films later developed professional systems used in a generation of TV commercials and movies like The Matrix.
Recently he showed executives at GoPro how he could synchronize their consumer cameras to create similar stop-action effects. The company hired him as its multi-camera development manager working on video arrays.
“We’re tinkering and having great fun, but it’s not a product,” Macmillan told an audience of engineers in an evening talk here. “It’s a very full horizon… I have a purpose, but I can’t share what it is,” he said at the event sponsored by the IEEE Consultants Network of Silicon Valley.
Macmillan is not an engineer, but got inspired by early work in 3D and motion effects. “I started life as an art student and got interested in how to make images, so I had to learn how to make cameras...
“I like the concept of taking a circular camera and making a single moment of time an endless loop.”
His first college project used a set of cameras mounted in a loop to capture a 360-degree image of someone throwing a bucket of water. The BBC later hired him to make special cameras for filming exotic insects for its nature documentaries.
The BBC camera was a custom design using plastic lenses from Kodak and a novel high-speed flash system. “I singed my hands before I found out what a capacitor was,” he joked.
In 1996, he created what he called his Josephine camera, a 300-kilogram video system with a programmable shutter. Later he helped build custom systems for The Matrix.
Macmillan in 1996 with his Josephine camera array.
Images from the movie sometimes suffered from the variable average shutter speed in the cameras. British firm Snell & Wilcox helped save the iconic film by applying to the movie a special “Flomo” algorithm it developed.
Today developers are pushing the edge of computational photography with innovations such as light field cameras. However, they have yet to find commercial applications, said Macmillan.
“It’s been difficult for this technology to find its market or purpose, so I feel for anyone trying to do investments in this area.”
By contrast, Macmillan recently received praise from a surgeon in Europe using two of his cameras mounted on goggles. He sent real-time video of an operation to his students, who viewed in on the Oculus Rift. “It’s great to make stuff people can really use,” he told us.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times