Camera System for Studio 39

I used to do some freelance work with a company called Studio 39. They had a storefront on Pier 39 in San Francisco where they offered ‘magic carpet rides’ through San Francisco. They had a green screen cyclorama with a rotating platform that a persian carpet sat on. Tourists would come and sit on the platform and video would be shot of them with a robotic camera which was composited in real-time with pre-shot footage of San Francisco that made them appear to be flying around on the carpet. When I started working for them, they had a simple system already working but wanted to refine the motion and how it was controlled. We eventually ended up controlling everything with custom electronics that I designed that made everything move smoothly with no jarring stops or starts. Control was done with a standard Playstation II controller that was attached to an accelerometer unit that allowed them to control the roll of the camera.

The video above shows the system in use with the composited video that was the result of the system. One problem with this system is that because the camera system and controller was moving around for about 16 hours a day every day, I would have to come out to Los Vegas every few months and do repairs because of broken wires. I was getting tired of doing that because even though they had spares of everything, they would generally wait to call me until everything was broken and I would have to drop whatever I was doing and fly out to fix things. I decided to try to talk them into having me write some software that would replace the functionality of the camera in software. Here is what I came up with for them. It was an earlier prototype so everything was controlled with sliders at that point. The output of this software was meant to feed into their chroma key unit so that they could arrive at the final composite. The plan was to eventually record all of the 'camera' movements for various numbers of people on the magic carpet and have the system be completely automated so that the composite was done right on the computer. Unfortunately, while I was working on this, the company had a hostile takeover by one of its investors. The original owners ended up with ownership of this software. They tried to set up a new company in a different city but their former investor sabotaged things for them at their new venue so this software was never used.

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