Could a $79 iPhone Attachment Revolutionize Documentary Filmmaking?

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Kogeto's Dot attachment will allow iPhone owners to create 360° video.

Kogeto’s $79 attachment, called Dot, will allow iPhone owners to create 360° video.

In part one of this series of posts about the potential for 360° video, we looked at some of the best examples of interactive panoramas and introduced Kogeto and EyeSee360, two companies that are set to release affordable tools for independent filmmakers. With Kogeto’s Dot on track to ship in September, we took the opportunity to talk with its head, Jeff Glasse, about the potential of these tools for filmmakers and what else Kogeto has planned.

The Kogeto Dot is an attachment that snaps onto the back of an iPhone 4, fitting snugly over the phone’s camera. The device contains a cylindrical mirror that directs light from every direction down into the lens. Free software will allow the user to de-warp this donut-shaped footage and share it online in an interactive player.

POV: There are a lot of things about this technology that could be interesting for documentary filmmakers, for instance, the ability to avoid a predetermined point of view for documentarians working in observational styles. Can you think of any other benefits of this format for documentary filmmakers?

Jeff Glasse, Kogeto CEO: For me, the big value of it is that people forget about it in, like, 20 seconds. As you said, you can put it anywhere. If I was making documentary films right now, especially if I was following subjects around, I would absolutely put a bunch of Lucys (Kogeto’s higher-end camera), or a bunch of Dots (Kogeto’s iPhone attachment), in their lives, and just make them available. Because reality television has become so pervasive, people will basically start performing for you when the camera comes out, they’ll try to be the best version of themselves. We want to be this unobtrusive thing — you can walk in and put Dot down on the table and record 360 degrees, then later cut an interview between the two people. You get a much more candid, canned, less produced experience.

POV: So you can cut selectively from this 360° footage to make a film in a traditional rectangular format, with the benefit of not having to select a camera position beforehand. However, you can also edit and release videos in the interactive 360° format. What’s the editing process like — how much editing can you do with these videos once they’re recorded?

Glasse: Right out of the gate, it’s just a very, very wide MPEG-4 video, so once its de-warped you can pull it into Final Cut Pro — or anything else — for editing.

Raw and 'dewarped' video footage taken with the Kogeto Dot

Left: A still frame from a 360° iPhone recording. Right: Footage “De-warped” for easy editing.

POV: You’re developing a variety of online mechanisms for users to share the videos they’ve created. Can you explain the Connect the Dots feature and describe a scenario in which it would be used?

Glasse: We have an application for the iPhone called Looker, which enables you to capture videos and view them in a cylindrical player, as well as upload and share them. So that’s the core-use model — you capture, you click ‘Facebook’ and it uploads to your Facebook. We call that “Dotting.” Of course the iPhone has GPS, it has a compass, it has an accelerometer. So when you upload that video, we know not only where it is — assuming you click yes when it asks for your geographic location — we know where it is in space, how it’s oriented in space, and when it is in time. That means we can do pretty fun things with multiple panoramic points of view.

Let’s say you go to a soccer game, and I go to a soccer game. You’re sitting on one side of the field and I’m sitting on the other. We both Dot the game, we upload it to Facebook, we set the permissions to be public. You can look inside your panoramic view and you’ll see a little dot in it — in the crowd, across the stadium. You click on the dot, now you’re watching it from my perspective. Let’s say 20 people go to a baseball game and they all Dot it. Now you can do cool things like open-source Matrix shots, where you can freeze the moment when your son cracks the ball and look at it from 10 different camera perspectives.

Say you have 30 to 40 Dots, properly distributed, and the video gets fed to our service. Now, not only can you pop from every point of view, but you can use video analytic software to actually build a 3-D model, so you can arbitrarily fly around the game. You can say, “I’d like to watch the game from the point of view of the ball,” and you can do that!

Another thing we’re interested in is letting people navigate around inside of the panoramic video and storing the record of where they looked, so you can play it back. This is something we want to build into the web service, probably in the first quarter of 2012 — the ability to make a little edit decision list. You can go, “OK, look at me, now cut to Jeff, now cut to me, now cut to the dog who’s looking at us, and back and forth.” Because the media’s there. And there’s no reason not to do that all online, because making the choice is literally two numbers, the zoom level and the angle of the lens.

Down the road, we also want to provide video analytics. For example, you put your Dot or one of our higher-end cameras, Lucy, down in a classroom. You’ve got a lecturer walking around giving a talk. You could say to our web service, track with this guy. Now you’ve got an automatically moving camera that will track the person when he walks around in 360°. And because you see 360°, it’s all there.

POV: How do you respond to people who say panoramic video technology is frivolous or a gimmick?

Glasse: Since there are a lot of filmmakers here (at Kogeto), the idea is empowering people to get reality — real reality. “This is something that’s interesting that’s happening now…” and I can take my Dot to just record it. One of the things we’re going to put in the software is a preference so it will automatically start recording when you launch it. So you just launch it and put it down. It’s always ready if you’re in an interesting situation or about to meet somebody, or you just want to unobtrusively record yourself talking to someone.

Anything that’s empowering, in my view, will be used to a large degree for frivolous purposes. But we’re more interested in the creative people and in how it will empower people to capture their lives in an interesting and new way.

The $79 Kogeto Dot 360° video attachment for iPhone begins shipping in September, and is available now for pre-order.

Read part one of this series for a review of some of the best 360° videos online today.

Have you come across any other interesting 360° documentary projects? Are you working on one now? Do you think panoramic video is a gimmick or a potential game changer? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comments below or on Twitter @povdocs (use the hashtag #360movies).

Ashlin Aronin
Ashlin Aronin
Ashlin Aronin is a 2011 intern in POV's Digital department. He is currently a student at Wesleyan University where he works as a videographer in the New Media Lab. Ashlin enjoys watching a wide range of films, but he is particularly interested in those which blur the line between truth and fiction. His favorite documentaries include: 1. Nobody's Business - Alan Berliner 2. Exit Through the Gift Shop - Banksy 3. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki 4. High School - Frederick Wiseman 5. F for Fake - Orson Welles
  • Barry

    Awesome. I want one. 

  • http://twitter.com/msgeek93 Michelle Hass

    If it will work with an iPod Touch Gen 4, I’m all over it.

  • jglasse

    Sadly, iPod touch is not high resolution enough to get a panoramic image – at present only the iPhone 4 has a 720p sensor. But I promise we’re watching very closely, and will bring our iCONIC lens to other HD-capable iOS devices as they come out. 

    Check out our site (kogeto.com) or our blog, dailydots.tumblr.com, for video examples. And friend us on Facebook for a chance to win a Dot when we ship in September. JeffKogeto