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Lytro’s 755 Megapixel Light Field Camera Aims to Change How Hollywood Makes Movies

Lytro_Cinema_3
Courtesy of Lytro

Digital camera startup Lytro took the wraps off a new project Monday that could fundamentally change how movies and TV shows are filmed: Lytro’s new Cinema camera aims to bring light field volumetric video recording to Hollywood, allowing filmmakers to record a magnitude of additional imaging data, and then make key decisions about a scene in post-production.

Lytro first made its name when it introduced consumer-grade photo cameras in 2012. Lytro’s photo cameras made use of light field technology to not just capture the intensity of light for any given photo, but also the direction of individual light rays. The result were data-heavy photo files that could be manipulated after the fact, allowing photographers to change the focus and other key aspects after they had taken the original photo.

But while Lytro initially focused on consumers, it long aimed to bring the same technology to professionals. “This was the dream from the get-go,” said Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal during a recent interview with Variety. “We have been thinking about this and dreaming about this market for a long time. We are very excited to be taking this first step.”

And it’s not a baby step, by any means: Lytro’s Cinema goes far beyond what existing cameras are capable of. The camera captures 755 megapixel RAW video images with a frame rate of up to 300 frames per second and up to 16 stops of dynamic range. Add the ability to capture 3D depth information, and you have a ton of raw data than can then be used to change the focus or the depth of field after the fact, or even transition from one setting to another within a scene. “In light field technology, you can recompute all of this on the fly,” said Rosenthal.

What’s more, the ability to capture depth information for each and every pixel means that live actions scenes captured with such a camera can be easily combined with visual effects. Green screens, for example, could be a thing of the past: Filmmakers can instead just shoot scenes in natural lighting, and then separate the foreground from the background.

“Maleficent” director Robert Stromberg and award-winning visual effects specialist David Stump used that very trick for “Life,” a short film that Lytro company is going to show at NAB later this week to officially introduce its Cinema camera. “Life” was made by Stromberg’s Virtual Reality Company, which at one point shot the film’s actors in a studio parking lot, only to replace the cars with a stunning blue sky in post-production. “We are doing something that simply is not possible with today’s tech,” said Rosenthal.

Lytro is introducing Cinema as an end-to-end solution that includes a server and cloud storage to capture and process all of that raw data on as well as light field plug-ins for existing editing options. The company aims to make production packages starting at $125,000 available later this quarter, and will also offer studios to combine Cinema with its other key project: Last year, Lytro introduced a light field virtual reality camera called Immerge. Rosenthal said that Immerge and Cinema use a lot of shared infrastructure, making it easier for studios to eventually capture assets for both, and use the same sets to produce feature films and virtual reality experiences.