Where’s Willis. The story behind the creation of a 2.6 gigapixel image of Londons Southbank

Where's Willis

People who are following my blog on a regular basis have without any doubt noticed that I have somehow become fascinated by gigapixel panoramas over the past couple of months. A few weeks ago, SkyMovies contacted me asking if I would be interested in working with them to create a gigapixel panoramic picture for their website.

The interesting part of the project for me was that they were not only looking for somebody with experience in taking the actual picture, but who could also assist them in the post production work up to the actual go-live day of the actual project.

The actual deadline for the project was rather tight, causing us a number of issues. The first step was to identify the perfect location to take the actual picture. London is these days not an easy location for anybody who wants to take picture, for private or commercial use. You need permits everywhere! We had to exclude some locations which we identified during the first few days simply due to the fact that it was not possible to get the necessary permit on a short notice, in our case within a couple of days. The fact that we were just a couple of days before the G20 Summit in London didn’t help, as security measures in many places had been raised up a nodge.

We finally decided to take the picture from the roof of the IET building near Waterloo Bridge. The view from there is simply amazing, from the City on your left, the Southbank and the London Eye in front over to Westminster and Big Ben at the far right!

The concept behind the project was linked to Action movies, which was the theme for the month of April at Sky Movies. As such the idea was to show that all of London has gone “action mad” showing a number of Sky Movies and action heroes related items in the picture motivating people to discover as many of those as possible. This starts with action heroes showing up at several location, Sky Movies signs/posters, unusual street  and building names and much more. Some of these were present during the photo shoot, and others have been added during post production.

We were a bit unlucky with the ever changing weather conditions. While the forecast was for a bright and sunny day, the weather unfortunately changed during the afternoon of teh photo shoot and it became rather cloudy once we started taking the pictures. Due to the amount of preparation needed, and the tight deadline, this was something that we couldn’t change and had to live with it.

The equipment used to take the picture was the ‘GigaPan Epic’ robotic camera mount, a Canon G9 camera with an additional Teleconverter lense, and although I love the G9, the combination of the G9 with the Teleconverter lense requires near perfect lightning conditions for best results.

The viewing angel that we decided to use for the actual panorama gave as a field of view that was 100 degrees wide and 32 degrees high. This resulted in 836 images at 12 megapixel each to be taken (44 columns by 19 rows). To keep the quality as high as possible we took the pictures as RAW images, resulting around 19GByte of images as basis for the panorama.

Creating the actual final panorama using the GigaPan stitcher software took nearly 18 hours on a rather fast and recent MacPro. The result was a Panorama with a resolution of 90334 by 28821 pixels, meaning 2603 megapixel!

Over the days following the photo shoot, we finalized the necessary changes to the picture, including removing some of the artifacts created during the stitching ( i.e people/cars moving between two pictures etc…)

For a number of reasons, we decided not to host the picture on the gigapan.org servers, but host in on servers under our own control, which in this case was the content delivery platform of Interoute.

There is much more that can be said about this project, and it was an excellent opportunity and experience for myself. Over the coming weeks I will add some further details about teh technical bits behind Gigapixel images, some post production tips and tricks and especially some how-to type guidelines related to hosting GigaPan panoramas on your own servers.

Now, go over to Sky Movies, and have a look at the final result for yourself.

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