Guest Blogger: Kai Godfrey, Game Design ‘18
Imagine a technology that would allow you to put on a Virtual Reality headset and be instantly immersed in a photorealistic simulation of any place on Earth…or even fictional worlds, rendered almost indistinguishably detailed compared to the real world.
Believe it or not, this technology already exists. In fact, it has existed for about as long as modern photography has, and it’s called photogrammetry.
“Photogrammetry” comes from a combination of ‘photo,’ ‘gram’ (meaning drawing), and ‘metry’ (meaning measurement), which rather elegantly sums up how Photogrammetry works. By taking many numerous pictures with a digital camera and plugging these pictures into certain applications, photogrammetry assembles these photos to create a map or 3D model. The application in question studies the provided pictures and finds every discernibly similar detail across them. It then draws a 3D shape that conforms to the dimensions across every perspective in each of the photos, and then overlays said photos onto this model. The result is an uncanny and realistic digital representation of real life, the likes of which can’t be easily imitated through traditional means.
To illustrate this point, look around for a tiled surface somewhere nearby. It might be some bricks or a wood-panel floor. Virtual reality and video games almost always use tiled textures in 3D spaces, so it shouldn’t theoretically be too hard to realistically create your tiled surface in a simulation, right? But look closer at your tiled surface. It’s not actually truly tiled—there are tiny fine details that distinguish each tile from the others. Maybe there are blemishes, faded colors, or scuff marks, or perhaps a bit is chipped off here and there. Not every tile is affected in some way, though…yet, these tiny differences and variations are next to impossible to imitate reliably in 3D spaces. It might not seem to make a meaningful difference, but our brains unconsciously pick up on these realistic details all the time. Photogrammetry allows us to record reality and port it to virtual space, eliminating the unconscious reminder that we are not in real life whenever we enter a simulation or play a video game.
So if photogrammetry has existed for so long, why is it exciting now? In short, photogrammetry provides depth and realism that we couldn’t appreciate in digital worlds until we had more powerful computers and a means to observe 3D depth on those computers—or, in other words, virtual reality, a technology that is only now becoming widely available. By using photogrammetry to record spaces to simulate in virtual reality, developers are making programs and experiences that allow you to travel to and interact with places anywhere in the world, without a distinguishable loss in immersion or realism. The possibilities are limitless; with nothing more than a virtual reality headset and a capable computer, we could become global tourists, experience historical reenactments in their original locations, or travel to fantasy worlds that look as real as life.
Cult, Cargo. “Photogrammetry in VR.” Steam VR. N.p., 21 Sept. 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2015. <http://steamcommunity.com/games/250820/announcements/detail/117448248511524033>.
Poznanski, Andrzej. “Visual Revolution of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.” The Astronauts. N.p., 25 Mar. 2014. Web. 09 Oct. 2015. <http://www.theastronauts.com/2014/03/visual-revolution-vanishing-ethan-carter/>.