Living Pictures: Stunning Images of SDCC 2012, Captured with the Lytro Camera

Heads up: all of the images in this post are interactive! Click ‘em and see!

Comic-Con International in San Diego (which, of coursehas been discussed with familial snark and affection by Coilhouse countless times before) wasn’t always the star-studded, geek-chic event that it is today. (By any chance, does anybody out there remember when Nerd Prom truly was purely a comics con?  Back in the day, there were a few hundred participants, and they held it in the basement of the US Grant Hotel down in the Gaslamp District. That was over forty years ago.) And yet, some thing never change. To this very day, beyond the shiny veneer of celebrity panels and million-dollar television studio booths, the true hallmarks of Comic-Con —celebration and revelry in comic book and sci-fi culture— can be found by those of us who know where to look.

From gore FX makeup, to minute veins painted onto a character model, to carefully-curated contact lenses and fangs as part of the perfect cosplay costume, the heart and soul of our beloved Nerd Prom is found in the details, thanks to the legions of creative and energetic (if somewhat unsettlingly aromatic) people who come together every year to bring our favorite elements of geek culture to brilliant life.

Many folks who are unable to attend SDCC, as well as those of us who do attend and want to revisit, often (re)experience the Con through pictures and video. Traditionally, during and directly after the four-day event, the internet is flooded with sweeping panoramic shots of crowds surging through the main exhibit halls, macros of various booth displays, perfunctory celebrity panel shots, and camera phone candids of inspiring (or perplexing! or horrifying!) costumed revelers. However, this year, something entirely different is beginning to crop up, imagery-wise.

The pictures you’re looking at are examples of Con-craziness captured by a new photographic system from a Silicon Valley start-up called Lytro.  These are single-exposure photographs that can be refocused and manipulated after the fact; think of Lytro as technology’s first attempt at bringing us Harry Potter’s moving newspaper pictures! Unlike a conventional camera that captures a single plane of light, the Lytro camera captures the entire light field.

From the Lytro site: “The way we communicate visually is evolving rapidly, and people’s expectations are changing in lockstep. Light field cameras offer astonishing capabilities. They allow both the picture taker and the viewer to focus pictures after they’re snapped, shift their perspective of the scene, and even switch seamlessly between 2D and 3D views. With these amazing capabilities, pictures become immersive, interactive visual stories that were never before possible – they become living pictures.” And, as you can see, here are some slices of the Comic-Con experience, presented in a series of living pictures. 

Last weekend, I caught up to Eric Cheng, Lytro’s Director of Photography, in the chaotic main convention hall. Hunkered down behind a trio of enormous trolls at the Weta Booth while thousands of people milled around us, Cheng kindly took the time to explain a bit about the tech, showed off a slew of incredible shots he and his cohorts has been taking at the Con, and we discussed why the Lytro is especially perfect for capturing visually dense, action-packed memories at events like SDCC.

Cheng says:

“Lytro light field cameras more-effectively preserve the feelings and experiences of being there because living pictures allow viewers to explore a frozen moment in time interactively. Beyond the first glance, Lytro pictures allow for exploration—a revealing of layers of detail. The camera is also perfect for capturing the miniature world: model and puppet makers, makeup artists, and people working in physical craft were intrigued by the ability to capture more of their creatings with every shot.”

“Beyond the first glance, Lytro pictures allow for exploration—a revealing of layers of detail. The camera is also perfect for capturing the miniature world: model and puppet makers, makeup artists, and people working in physical craft were intrigued by the ability to capture more of their creatings with every shot.”

“For example, at first glance the picture above is a close up of a woman’s red contact lens. But click through, and suddenly every deliberate effort put into her costume is revealed—false eyelashes, gold eyeliner, and carefully-manicured wig. And, beneath the red contact lens, a green iris peeks through—a hint at who she is in her everyday life.”

“A model of Darth Malgus allow for examination of the incredible work put into one work of art. Each vein and wrinkle expertly-rendered in plastic suddenly become clear.”

“Actor Richard LeParmentier stands behind a toy bust of Admiral Motti, the poor Imperial officer nearly suffocated to death by Darth Vader in Star Wars.”

“And, in a place where horror is uniquely celebrated, Lytro captures the vividness of impalements and dismemberments like no ordinary camera!”

As mentioned earlier, this stuff is all very, very new. The first light fields were captured at Stanford University only 15 years ago. At that time, the most advanced light field research required a roomful of cameras, all tethered to a supercomputer. But now, with Lytro, anyone can purchase and use a Light Field Camera.

The camera has an 8X optical zoom and an f/2 aperture lens, and that aperture is constant across the zoom range, “allowing for unheard-of light capture.”

Want to see more Lytro living pictures of Comic-Con? Head to Lytro’s blog to view their full archive of SDCC shots, and a bunch of other mind-blowing galleries as well. Big thanks to Eric Cheng once again for taking the time to share this wonderful stuff with us!

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