NAB: Lytro to Unveil Light-Field Camera System for Hollywood

It will also debut ‘Life,' a short film from ‘Maleficent’ director Robert Stromberg that was created to give the system a test drive.
Courtesy of Lytro

Silicon Valley-based tech developer Lytro is unwrapping a new camera system designed to use light-field technology for visual effects in film and TV production next week at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas. To demonstrate its ability, the company will also premiere a seven-minute short titled Life that was produced using the technology and directed by two-time Oscar-winning production designer and Maleficent helmer Robert Stromberg.

The science of light field dates back to 1846, but in recent years, related imaging technology has steadily advanced and it's shaping up to be a much talked-about topic at NAB this year. With light-field technology, the recording device can effectively capture the color, direction and placement of every ray of light, and what that means for filmmakers is that they can create a 3D model of what the camera is seeing, explained Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal.

“For the film and TV community, that means they can get shots that previously weren’t possible, that defy the laws of physics [i.e. in depth of field]," he said. "Computers and storage and bandwidth have finally caught up to a point that makes it practical, with the level of quality for demanding production."

The Lytro Cinema system consists of the camera, related software and processing and storage to enable light-field production in film and TV. At least for now, the system would work in conjunction with cinema cameras, and would be used for actual takes that would later involve VFX-intensive work. To demonstrate this, Rosenthal said cinematographer David Stump shot Life half on Lytro and half with the Arri Alexa.

Life tells the story of a boy's journey during the WWII era, and Stromberg personally created the matte paintings in the short. The goal was to demonstrate how the Lytro system could fit into a postproduction workflow, with its software that Rosenthal said could can be used as a plug-in with tools such as The Foundry’s VFX system Nuke or Adobe’s Premiere Pro.

The Lytro Cinema system will be available as of NAB on a subscription basis, with packages starting at roughly $125,000 (which would provide enough processing and storage for roughly 100 shots, according to Rosenthal). Separately, Lytro already offers a version of the system aimed at virtual reality production.

Among several other NAB exhibitors focused on this technology is Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, which will show its light-field software plug-ins for The Foundry’s widely-used Nuke. Now available, its goal is to provide light-field tools for VFX and postproduction to take advantage of any multicamera array data.

Said Fraunhofer Digital Media Alliance's Siegfried Foessel of the system: "You can use the same processing steps for creating a virtual reality environment that makes the stitching easier." Foessel told The Hollywood Reporter that he's also involved in an ad hoc group looking at light-field presentation. "The goal is to check if there's a need for a common format," he said.

The NAB Show is set to run April 16-21.