Volucap – Pushing technology boundaries to deliver true 3D video
(April 2023) A picture is worth a thousand words. But what if you could step back into the past to relive a favorite memory? Or experience someone else’s reality? What would that be worth?
Volumetric capture is an emerging form of video technology that delivers an experience that is so real, it feels like the viewer is part of it. And among the leaders in the emerging art is Volucap, a German startup that is pushing the limits of what is feasible. The firm’s main customer is currently the film industry, with Matrix Revolution one of the movies in which Volucap’s technology was used.
An actor filmed in a Volucap studio is made to appear in another setting
“We are capturing a person not from just one angle, but we’re capturing from all different angles,” explains Sven Bliedung, CEO of Volucap. This requires the simultaneous use of up to 40 cameras all shooting in extremely high-resolution HD video. The result, he says, is that “you really have the feeling that the person is next to you.” Other than entertainment, the technology has also been used to help a mother recreate the experience of holding her daughter when she was a baby.
Once a person’s likeness has been digitally captured, it’s possible to have it interact with different environments, real or imaginary. This could mean having a character realistically walking in the snows of Antarctica or interacting with the world Steven Spielberg created for Avatar. And this doesn’t look like computer graphics. “We can really capture the spirit of a real person, it’s not some animated digital puppet,” Bliedung says.
Digitizing a person’s face
But delivering video outputs of the quality that Volucap aims for involves transferring and processing titanic amounts of data. “The data of all the books in the world is equal to only 5 minutes of volumetric capture with our current system,” Bliedung explains.
Volucap’s technology in mid-2022 captured 650 megapixels per frame, which is equivalent to 70 times 4K resolution. In 2023, the company is launching an upgraded technology with five times more resolution, or about 3,000 megapixels per frame. One of the reasons that volumetric capture is so data-intensive is that, unlike 360-video, it also captures depth of field, allowing the viewer to choose a view angle anywhere in the video.
Bliedung (left) with Huawei account manager Woroshazi
Despite great advances in network and computer technologies in recent years, volumetric capture still poses a challenge. “With our systems now, it takes 10 hours to copy the data,” Bliedung says. In fact, it takes so long to transfer data from cameras to computer systems that it can interfere with the shooting schedule, he says. “Ideally, you can do that in a lunch break and when you come back, everything is copied and you can continue to shoot.”
In March 2022, Volucap turned to Huawei for help in managing its data transfer, storage, and processing needs. It was a task unlike any that Huawei’s engineers had seen before. “Our team was double checking whether we understood your use case right,” recalls Andre Woroshazi, a senior Huawei account manager. “They were really confused but also challenged in a way.”
Processing of volumetrically captured images
It took about six months for Huawei to get back to Volucap. In Huawei speak, one of Volucap’s key requirements was to achieve an average data upload rate of 13 gigabits per second. Huawei’s engineers managed in October 2022 to complete a half-day shoot transfer in two hours, roughly achieving Bliedung’s hope of “lunch break” time span.
Although a significant milestone, the fast data transfer is just a step in Volucap’s ongoing journey. The company is currently (March 2023) developing the capability to make volumetric capture equipment portable, further expanding the constraints of the possible. 3D video, Bliedung expects, will be as big a change in the way we communicate as film was in the early 20th century.
Watch the video below to see Volucap in action!