Digital experiences such as AR and VR allow for boundless creativity, opening the door to expressing imagination in previously inconceivable ways. Even though these possibilities are endless, there is something that is often still missing: people. Not human based characters or avatars, but real human beings. This is the role volumetric video played in our recreation of Maastricht.
When you think of cities, you might imagine buildings and streets, easily created from the mind or based on maps, for example. However, a very important part of making cities feel alive, are the people.
Maquette to conquer Maastricht
Maastricht is a city in the south of the Netherlands targeted by France in the 18th Century. Before they attacked, Netherlands sent people to memorise the cityscape. This information was later gathered and used in the making of a town maquette.
This inspired Willem Beex to 3D print the maquette a few years ago. This was the birth of a research and development project between City of Maastricht, Centre Céramique, Tijdlab, the BUas, Dutch Rose Media and 4DR Studios.
This project explores the possibilities of bringing life into a digital maquette with volumetric video. The final goal is an augmented reality exhibition, where people can travel back in time and visit the old city of Maastricht.
Futuristic technology to discover the past
Combining history from more than two centuries ago, with futuristic technology, we can allow people to experience 18th century Maastricht as if they were there. In order to bring the maquette to life, we needed to create real people, and this is where volumetric video plays its role.
For the first time this technology will allow for a three-dimensional video based on real people. They will be able to walk through the city maquette alongside visitors of the exhibition.
These digital people tell different stories, to give the audience a variety of perspectives and improve the overall experience. For example, in one of the storylines a citizen shows the visitors Sint Gilles Hospital and tells them about the last she was there when the hospital “was packed with soldiers”.
Which challenge did we face?
While this technique is exciting, volumetric video remains a new technology and with it comes many challenges. Something as simple as cutting out the exact sequence we want from a larger segment could be tough with volumetric video.
While this may seem simple, even this basic tool is not available for volumetric video yet. Currently there are two options available to solve this problem.
Firstly, you can manage the visible portion of the volumetric video in Unity3D. However, this does not reduce data volume. So, if your original sequence is 3 minutes and you only use 10 seconds, your data volume is still 3 minutes. This, of course, is a major drawback.
The second option is to request a new export form the volumetric capture system. Fortunately, this does not trigger a new rendering process, but once you receive the new export you have to redo the import and alignment in Unity3D. So, this option requires more manual work than you might think.
We need software solutions for handling volumetric video, preferably without deep coding skills. Sense of Space, is targeting this exact problem and we are rooting for them to succeed. We will be working together over the coming year to create a sensible editing tool for volumetric video.