DJI Inspire, 3D GIS Survey Tests with and GemVR

•October 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

In this video, we take the DJI Inspire for a couple of test flights to gather 4K photos to use for a 3D geographic survey. Along for the ride was a 360Fly VR “witness camera” to document things as we went along. We applied image stabilization and color/exposure balancing in post to make the 360 video a bit easier to watch — as the 360 camera was not on a gimbal. is a very cool service that allows for automatic flight planning and survey capture, and then they process the footage taken on their cloud to produce a myriad of GIS data such as elevation maps, stitched ultra-high-resolution orthophotos, and 3D maps.


Aerial Stereoscopic 360 Video And Images For True Live-Action Virtual Reality (Part 3 of 3)

•October 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

To round out this three-part post, I will describe some of the workflow that went into creating the video below:

You can also view this on if you have an Oculus Rift or similar stereo VR headgear, here:

Now, to be clear, I expected that there would be no parallax along the 90 degree yaw angle, and that there would be eye-rips due to the gimbaled camera being in the way of the back view; I used the gimbal camera for FPV monitoring while I flew. No global shutter nor synchronized shutter, either… The main purpose of this test flight was to checkout weight and balance and ensure safe flight, and to test out GemVR’s image enhancement and matching functions.

That being said, some interesting things were learned in producing the video above.

First, juggling multiple camera systems (and a drone) that all want to communicate on 2.4 Ghz is a challenge. I had to tune the channel management on the DJI Inspire to get everything to play nice together. Next is the fact that this camera system (360Fly) and the other’s I’ve used (Ricoh Theta, for example) have their signals drowned out by the DJI (plus their range is rather limited, too) so your only choice is to put the cameras into recording mode manually before the flight.

This in turn makes synchronizing the footage from the two cameras challenging — in retrospect, I should have used a Clapboard. Additionally since the two cameras are not on a single, synced global shutter, there are some eyerips during fast motion. For that purpose I just used Premiere to eyeball it and match as best as I could. Also, the B-roll in the beginning of the video had to be re-projected into equirectangular space — for that I used Kolor AutoPano Video.

The images for the two camera views were color-corrected and matched by GemVR’s magic software, which was the real purpose of the test…

No image stabilisation was performed with the above video, but Kolor’s AutoPano Video would probably do a good job of that, especially since it is stereo-3D-aware.

Now that we’ve proven out a safe flight operation and pattern with witness camera(s), the next step will be to use 4 360 cameras such as the Ricoh Theta S to achieve full parallax along every direction of the yaw, with a rig like below:


The key here is that the stereo parallax will come from disparity measurement, since all the cameras are at 90-degree offsets, but because there are beyond 180-degree cameras, there should be enough overlap to create stereo 3D as long as there aren’t a lot of objects nearby to cause large disocclusions. This is basically what quite a few others are doing, such as Facebook with their Surround 3D camera rig, but this is perhaps a little more ambitious since it’s a much lighter weight rig (able to be flown on a DJI Inspire, for example).

Also, for an example of a “simple” monoscopic 360 witness camera on the DJI Inspire, you can see a pretty cool waterfall shoot here:

This seemed to be a pretty effective weapon, aside from the FPV gimbal being “in the way” — but the 4K footage from the camera on the gimbal was actually the payload of this particular flight, the 360Fly was just along for the ride as a witness camera.

I’ll post again on this subject when we have an update about the 4-camera Ricoh rig. We’re also working with a couple of new innovative VR camera companies, which could turn out to be very useful for aerial VR 360 shooting. Stay tuned!

Aerial Stereoscopic 360 Video And Images For True Live-Action Virtual Reality (Part 2 of 3)

•August 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment

To continue this three part series, where in the first part we covered the Ricoh Theta S camera system, in this second part of the series we’ll show how we married two of these together to form up a stereoscopic VR rig, and the post-processing steps needed. In the third part we’ll cover what we did to take aerial VR 360 with it on a DJI Inspire 1 drone.

First, our camera “accessory tool bag” is quite elaborate:


The most important thing to note here is that this is a customized extension of a Fairburn Multiplate Kit (available at — Sean Fairburn puts together some great, very clever and well-thought-out kit.  This kit is awesome for when you want to marry things together that normally wouldn’t go together, and when you want to experiment.  We also added some tools, step rings, a bunch of Israeli arms/articulating arms and a focus chart.  The focus chart is useful since we’re shooting at very high resolution — 5376×2536, more than 4K for each camera. We used a Fairburn 3×1 multiplate (the little plate at the bottom left) for what you’ll see next… and yes, it all barely fits in the case (except for the digital micrometer, it has its own case):


To set this rig up you need the 3×1 Fairburn multiplate and two 12/20 screws (provided in the kit, amongst many other things you’ll never think you need until you need them), and a Phillips screwdriver to put it all together, arranged like so:


Now, with the mounting plate you can directly twist this on to any standard tripod mount or any other 12/20 — in this case, to show how light and flexible this rig is, we mounted it on a the selfie stick (Smatree® SmaPole Q3) mentioned in Part 1:


To take stereoscopic VR photos or video with this rig will require two phones or tablets, each connected to one of the two camera WIFI access points.  I’d suggest using two of the exact same model phone so the app performance and latency is identical — because you’re going to need to hit the shutter button at the exact same time on both, whether doing timelapse still images at 16Mpel or video at 2Mpel. Mismatches can be corrected in post-production… up to a point.  It’s better to match the settings, and shutter as much as possible.

Another interesting property of this rig is that it’s fairly forgiving of alignment — the individual cameras take care of most of the stiching and camera removal.  However, lining up the cameras carefully with a caliper/micrometer pays off in that the amount of “other camera” each other camera “sees” can be minimized, which makes “rig removal” or inpainting in post production much easier:


One note about the monopod arrangement here — it’s a little top-heavy, so make sure that when setting the monopod up that it’s on a flat, stable surface.  We made the mistake of attempting a midnight moonless night shoot, putting the monopod and plate rig in an elevated flower pot.  The result was tragically predictable — the monopod tumbled about 8 feet to the ground, and landed with one of the cameras head-first taking the full impact.  Thankfully the optics didn’t get scratched up so we were able to perform a little microsurgery and put Humpty Dumpty back together again:

Here is “first light” from the rig.  You can view this on the GemVR channel on YouTube (along with other experiments) or the GemVR channel on if you have an Oculus Rift and the VRideo app.  You don’t need a Google Cardboard nor an Oculus Rift — if you view this with just a computer or phone without other elaboration it will be monoscopic (but still cool). Be sure to set the resolution settings for Youtube to the highest allowable:

Now, two problems with this — you can still see the plate and mounting, plus the cameras are “seeing each other”.  One can use Photoshop CC which has a great in-painting function, or use a free tool called G’MIC (  Since the rig removal occurs at the bottom of the equirectangular projection(s), before inpainting it’s best to convert to a cube map projection first — we used PTGui (


Which netted the following cube-map projections:


Once in cube map form, rig removal and inpainting is easy (we used Photoshop CC’s context-aware inpainting in this case).  Note the bracket, tripod kickstand legs, and shadow have magically disappeared:


For video, there’s good news:  the mask for the rig removal does not change from frame to frame so one can automate this process using Imagemagick and G’MIC, (which we’ll demonstrate in Part 3).  Then we go back to equirectangular projection (PTGui won’t do this easily, so for this step we used Pano2VR (available at

pano2vrNext, we create a stacked stereo (top-and-bottom, or TaB) video from these single left-eye and right-eye frames with the following ffmpeg commands, run in succession:

ffmpeg.exe -loop 1 -i left\left_inpainted_equi.jpg -c:v libx264 -t 15 -pix_fmt yuv420p -vcodec rawvideo Left.avi
ffmpeg.exe -loop 1 -i right\right_inpainted_equi.jpg -c:v libx264 -t 15 -pix_fmt yuv420p -vcodec rawvideo Right.avi

c:\ffmpeg\ffmpeg.exe -y -r 0.405 -i Left.avi -r 0.405 -i Right.avi -pix_fmt yuv420p -s 5376×5376 -filter_complex “[0:v][1:v]vstack[v]” -map “[v]” -pix_fmt yuv420p -vcodec rawvideo stacked.avi

This next one encodes it at a resolution and file format that Youtube will understand:

ffmpeg.exe -y -r 0.405 -i Stacked.avi -s 4096×2160 -pix_fmt yuv420p -vcodec libx264 -profile:v high -level 52 -crf 18 stacked.mp4

The final step is to use Google’s free “Spatial Media Metadata Injector”, available here. This tool allows you to mark the video as both 360 degrees, plus the fact that it’s stereoscopic.


Now it’s ready to upload to Youtube, VRideo, and other services.  Here’s the final result:

Youtube (works with Google Cardboard, obviously):

VRideo (works with Oculus Rift):

There are a few eye-rips here and there but it’s not too bad for a first pass shot.

In the next, final, third part of the series we’ll go over how we mated this rig to a DJI Inspire 1 Raw drone, in order to take aerial stereoscopic VR.  In that case the “rig removal” includes the entire drone platform, which requires some elaborate inpainting!

Aerial Stereoscopic 360 Video And Images For True Live-Action Virtual Reality (Part 1 of 3)

•July 16, 2016 • 1 Comment

In a previous post, I described in a 3 part series the research project that we did a few years ago (2011) to capture stereoscopic 3D video at A2Zlogix.  Over at GemVR we’ve been experimenting with 360 degree video (including stereoscopic) using camera systems such as the Ricoh Theta S, and marrying them to drone platforms for aerial stereoscopic 360 degree video experiences worthy of viewing on today’s best VR viewing platforms.  At only around $350, even using two of the Ricoh Thetas for stereoscopic capture is now approachable, if only you could get the stereoscopic part to work well.  In this first of the series, we’ll talk about the Ricoh Theta camera that we’re using, it’s strong points, and some of its quirks.

To cut to the chase, if you have a Google Cardboard (or Oculus Rift or similar) you can experience acrophobia below — my first time viewing this, I had to grab onto a table.  We may be the first company to achieve aerial full stereoscopic live-action 360 degree video — this is harder than it sounds.  When your stereoscopic VR rig weighs 50 kg, you need a Sikorski Helicoper, not a drone.  We did this with a DJI Inspire 1 Raw with two Ricoh Theta S’s, with mounting plate around 325 grams in total. You can see the result here:

This was just a first aerodynamic and load/moment test to make sure that the Theta S’s “bunny ears”


didn’t unduly affect the control dynamics of the aircraft, so forgive the eye-rips if you view this with an Oculus Rift or a Google Cardboard. It’s also not full action video, we had the cameras set to interval recording mode every 8 seconds, but it gives you time to look around a bit before the frame changes.

But first let’s go over the basic camera system in this Part 1 of 3.

The Ricoh Theta S is a pretty nifty little camera, smaller than an iPhone 5, and capable of shooting 360 degree photos and videos. To do so it employs two fisheye lenses on opposite sides of the camera body, with each shooting a hemispherical fisheye image more than 180 degrees field-of-view.  The camera is also brain-dead simple to use, as it stitches its own images, which is normally the hardest challenge with 360 video or photography, normally requiring expensive software, or in the case of free software, a good deal of finesse and expertise in the subject to create a worthy final result.

For conducting shoots like for virtual tours, it’s very well thought out since the camera control is almost completely controlled via its own WiFi access point.  This means that you can set the camera up on a selfie stick or monopod, duck behind a bush (or door in a different room), and push the shutter button in the app on your phone — ensuring that you’re not obstructing the shot. Since the camera captures the whole environment, one has to be mindful of the photographer themselves being in the shot!  The WiFi control effectively alleviates the problem in many situations. Very clever.

The camera is very small and I’ve found the most flexible and convenient platform for mounting is a Smatree® SmaPole Q3 monopod with the accompanying micro-tripod (some these days would call it a selfie-stick with a kickstand) seen here:


A quick turn of the telescoping rod allows the monopole to be extended to eye-height, which is usually the ideal shooting position.  This very simple setup allows for some pretty cool 360 photography at 12 megapixels (final images are 5376×2688).  Still images are stored as equirectangular, stictched automatically by the camera.  Here’s an example:


This image points out another feature of the camera:  it can shoot HDR images, or to be very precise, auttomatically shoot bracketed-iris images.  Meantime you can let the camera select it’s own shutter speed or provide your own.  To get a good sky exposure I used a shutter speed of 60 seconds to capture the above image.  The main ISO ended up being 1600.  For indoor photographs this is pretty important, since it’s common to have a dark side of the room, and an outside window or windows that typically would be competely blown-out/overexposed without a bracketed shot.

Once you’ve taken the shot, it’s pretty much ready to upload to your Facebook timeline, or other platform that supports 360.  Ricoh provides a free flickr-like service called which can host the images (or video).  This brings us to an important matter — playback and reconstruction.  Shooting 360 is all well and good, but how do you show it?

There are many ways to do this, but Facebook has a pretty clean workflow for it.  All you have to do is upload the 360 photo to your timeline — the metadata in the photo tells Facebook that it’s a 360 equirectangual image, and it knows to embed the right kind of javascript player to render it.

You can see a less over-exposed playback of the image above here, hosted on (be sure to look up!):

Milky Way nightshot, 360 degrees. ISO 1600, shutter speed 60 seconds. Liking this camera more and more… #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

We’ll go over combining two Theta S’s on a Fairburn Multiplate in Part 2.

Digital Representations of Light/Sound Fields for Immersive Media (

•June 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Today I ran into a very interesting newly published technical report from the JPEG organization that deals with coding and representing light and sound fields (read: virtual reality and more).  It’s a very dense report, but if you’re interested in VR/AR, lightfield, or multichannel object-based audio, it’s worth a glance.

It reminds me of some of the work I did back in the day with MPEG4 BIFS, abusing it to efficiently encode VRML…

The publication from is here:


eleVRant: 360 Stereo Consumer Cameras?

•June 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Over at eleVRant, I discovered a very well thought out article about the possibilities for 360 degree stereoscopic camera arrangements.  While cameras like the Kodak Pixpro and the Rich Theta S are becoming mainstream monoscopic 360 degree cameras (which is cool enough), this article explores what would be involved to do the same, but in 3D stereoscopic capture.  Have a read, here:


The Best Encoding Settings For Your 4K 360 3D Videos + Free Encoding Tool

•May 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This post shows a pretty awesome bit of work at PurplePillVR.

Plus they have a FFMPEG build that includes Facebook’s cube-map filter!

All in all, if you’re involved with 360 or stereoscopic video, this is certainly worth a read.