What is Panoramic Imaging

Dateline: 5/26/99

Family in Space (QTVR)
Family in Space (click to see QTVR)

Tired of all those polygons? You want to have a photographic environment? Well step right up to the wonderful world of panoramic imaging. First started by Apple with their QuickTime VR technology (QTVR) back around 1994ish, panoramic imaging lets you create a virtual environment from photographic images.

From a viewers point of view a typical panoramic image (often called a pano) is a photograph that appears in a window or on a web page. However you can put the cursor on the image and while you move it around the image moves also, it's as if you are at the location of the image and are turning your head. In fact the image was most likely produced by placing a camera on a tripod and taking several photographs, just like you turning your head. The resulting collection of images are "stitched" together to create a single seamless 360 degree panoramic photo.

In reality there are several methods for producing the 360 panorama. Some systems such as that from "BeHere" use a cylindrical mirror to allow the author to create a 360 photo with a single film exposure. The advantage of this method is that you can make time stand still. The disadvantage is that you need special hardware.

Some panoramic imaging systems let you map the images onto a cylinder and some to a sphere. Obviously a photographic environment is not the same as a polygonal one. You don't have the freedom to travel anywhere you want. You can simply travel to those places originally photographed by the author at the tripod locations. You can however create scenes with a lot of tripod locations, for example many locations of a retail store, and click on "hot spots" in the images to jump from one location to another. Given sufficiently closely spaced tripod locations travel through spaces is quite effective. Check out some of the examples at "Arm Chair Travel" a QTVR company in the UK.

You can also create totally synthetic panographic images. I created the illustration at the start of this article by using a program called Bryce 3D. It can output 360 degree panographic images. Once you have the image itself you simply run the image through one final processing step to create the QTVR file. Each of the images in the spheres was a digital picture mapped onto a sphere. Fun stuff!

The International QTVR Association is a great place to find out info about QTVR, techniques, hardware and services. Of course do check out my Panographic links and applications on this site also.

In a future article I'll show you how you can combine VRML with panoramic images to create interesting environments which have the advantages of both polygonal and image based qualities. Why there is even a tool to let you paint images directly onto the 360 degree panorama called SkyPaint.

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