Photographing the World's Biggest (8 GP+) Where's Waldo
Now that the dust has settled and the post production work is done, we sat down with Stefan Kohler, one of the gigapixel creators, for an interview.
DIYP: Hi Stefan, can you tell us a little bit about who you and Kamerakind are.
SK: Hi Udi - thank you for the invitation!
Kamerakind is a company based in Germany and our area of expertise is technical photography.
Originally we worked on fashion and beauty shoots but quickly began to combine some technical photography elements with portrait photography and it turned out to be a fruitful path.
We are three collaborators at Kamerakind, Sabine is responsible for everything model related such as make-up, styling etc, Ingo is the camera man and I am in charge of light and post production for film & photo.
We are first and foremost friends and this is one of our key strengths. Everything has to be fun, but of course it must also be professional - we are highly critical of our work and spend as much time as required for the "perfect shot".
DIYP: What is "Traunstein wimmelt"?
SK: It's our last project and we are quite proud of it: the photographic equivalent of a ‘Where’s Wally’ image. In Germany there is another similar image called ‘Wimmelbild’, which translates as ‘teeming image’. The original Wimmelbild is quite famous, I think every child in Germany has at least one book. You can find various things in the illustrations: crazy stuff, normal stuff, people - a bit different to ‘Where’s Wally’, because it's not that crowded, but everyone in the image has something to do.
We tried - as we always do to combine two things: A massive groupshot and on the other hand a panoramic gigapixel-image you can zoom in and discover even the littlest things.
DIYP: What was your inspiration for the project?
SK: I lived in Berlin a few years ago. On a nice and sunny day I went to Mauerpark to enjoy my day off. A lot of young people meet there to drink beer, play basketball, make music; whatever artists do when the sun is out. I was basically in the first group (the beer drinkers) and thought to myself: “This would make a nice ‘Wimmelbild’. But I’d had too much beer that day in order to actually make the idea a reality. A few years later the idea came back to me as my baby daughter got her first ‘Wimmelbuch’. At the same time I was building some motion control gear for timelapse photography and video (for example the camSlider [link to camSlider-article]). It was quite clear to me that it would need to be a ‘multi image’ shot.
Then we met Benjamin Von Wong, and everything was growing quite quickly and in the end the project was huge, even bigger than we could have imagined. And we said to ourselves: “Ok, that's it. This is impossible.” But we got on with it.
DIYP: Can you share a bit of the numbers involved in The Project?
SK: We only had 6 weeks to prepare the shoot. A lot of legwork was necessary, we had to organise closing the entire town square, sort out insurance, find a lot of volunteers, test the equipment, and last but not least we had to think about the content of the image and which props and costumes we would need for each scenario.
I think you get a pretty good idea if you just have a look at the numbers. ;-)
We printed one of our test shots and pinned it up. We then used post its to plan the individual shots. The following weeks involved a lot of pizza, beer and coffee.
A lot of crazy stuff, mixed with excel tables and writing emails. In the 6 weeks leading up to the shoot we had to attend to over 7000 emails from potential extras.
We had to give a lot interviews to the press and organise all the props, from an old police car to a 3 meter tall rocket to a plastic fish and so on. Even now - 6 months after the shooting, our studio still looks like a bombsite.. haha
April the 14th was amazing. Shooting day. Start 4am.
We had about 450 participants, 150 additional volunteers who showed up spontaneously, 60 helpers, technicians, makeup artists and others.
Within 10 hours we shot about 1200 pictures, 748 of which were used to make the final image. The resulting image is around 8 Gpx, the photoshop file with its 750 layers is roughly 248 GB large and it takes nearly 3 hours to save the file - even on a 4 HDD SSD-Raid 0 …
It took about 4 months to finish editing the image, the three of us spent a total of 450h working on it. That was the biggest project we’ve ever done in our whole lives!
DIYP: This is a huge amount of people, how did you get them all together?
SK: We had a contact form on our website, approached our fan and friend base on facebook and enslaved our families. It wasn’t particularly hard to get people to participate, most of the daily newspapers were writing about it at the time, we even had some television coverage and people talked about it (Traunstein is a small town after all).
DIYP: How did you plan for the shoot?
SK: We did some time-lapse photos to evaluate the sun / shadow situation over the course of a day. With the gathered information we developed what the sequence of images would be. Based on the order we tried to figure out how much time we had to allocate for make-up and styling which resulted in the desired arrival times for each extra. Hooray - more emails!
Of course we had to re-arrange a few of the slots as some people had preferences or could only do certain slots. So we had to deal with it…
Based on all that information Ben drew up the plotting scenario of the stitched up town square on his laptop for hours on end. He started to create stories and our vision slowly came to live. It was a fantastic moment for the whole crew as for the first time we the image and our creation. It was amazing! (click the image for a bigger view)
We had to find a lot of answers to various questions. Where to put the emery places (depends on the light), where should we have screens, how to deal with 24 Walkie-talkies on 3 channels (because more frequencies are quite expensive), where is the coffee filter for the coffee maker in the tower, which cars are allowed to drive on the square, how long can we use live view without getting a noisy image, what is a 400mm lens calculated to binoculars focal length and where do I get that Lens from (thank you Nikon), has anyone seen the ‘Where’s Wally’ outfit and how to survive with only 2 hours of sleep…
Of course - it was chaos - but it was a very nice chaos and most of the things turned out quite well.
DIYP: What gear did you use?
SK: We used a Nikon D800 as the main camera. Nikon Germany kindly lent us this incredible 400mm f2.8 lens for about two weeks so we could do some tests with it. Unfortunately the motion control from ditogear which we planned using was not able to move that weight. So I did a bit of research – unsuccessfully. Most devices are either fully automated or way too big, too small or simply not available. That was when I did some basic 3D CAD drawing, ordered the parts and started to pray.
The D800 was connected to a MacBook Pro via USB3 and we used Helicon remote for the tethered shooting. That meant we had a real time histogram and a live view on the computer screen.
Our own Gigabit Wireless Lan was connected to a Synology 4-Bay-Raid NAS. This was quite important in terms of security. The only computer with access to write to that part of the server was the one with the camera. A second (read only) MacBook Pro was used for real time stitching. It was fast and sloppy stitched, but we had a visually reference - just in case we forgot something. A third laptop was on the NAS to collect files from the guys who did the making of. Phtographers and camera men turned up with their memory cards every 20 minutes to copy the data onto the NAS.
A 250 m long fibre glass VDSL network between the top of Jacklturm to the ballroom where the make-up area was, which was equipped with a second NAS that was synchronised with the one in the tower.
We had massive help from Neumann&Müller, which is a really great partner for such an event. Well, for N&M it was “just” a trainees project ;-) A real-time video editing place was used to feed large screens with footage of the shooting.
Due to the fact that we already had the signal, we decided to set up an online live-stream on youtube (an additional real-time video converter was necessary for that because the source material was in 1080p).
Anything else… um… huge amount of gear was involved… artificial daylight lamps for the ballroom… coloured lighting for the aftershow band (yes we did indeed have a live band and provided free food and drinks for everyone!).
DIYP: Tell us about the pan/tilt head?
SK: The second we became aware of the problems with the OmniHead (it was the first version, the new one might be stronger) I started to think about an alternative. Fortunately I already had a pan-tilt-head in mind and some of the parts ( in this case the pan-axis) was nearly finished and luckily solid enough.
It is a 5mm laser cut steel plate with two heavy duty axial bearings attached to it. The rest of the construction is made of aluminium panels. Only the sleeve for the tilt axis bolt is custom built, everything else is more or less off the shelf. All moving parts are made with bearings in order to maintain very smooth movement.
With a few counterweights and two 110ncm stepper motors the motion control is strong enough to handle the weight of the 10kg heavy camera/lens construction to move it around the no-parallax-point.
The controller is a simple combination of an arduino, a joystick shield, a I2C-display and two stepper drivers (actually designed for a cnc-milling-machine). I have some experience with stepper motors and arduinos, so the electronics and programming weren’t a big deal.
DIYP: How did you coordinate on the field?
SK: We had 34 people on set to coordinate and set up the scenes, bring extras into position and make sure that everything else was in the right place. Ben, Ingo and Sabine used binoculars to supervise everything from the top of the tower where the photographs were taken and communicated with their assistants (the so called ‘Avatars’) who were on location via headsets.
The Avatars were responsible for any other fine tuning on set.
It sounds like fun, but imagine 34 people coordinating hundreds of volunteers and communicating only via Walkie Talkies. There is still this running gag in the team, if a lot of people talk a lot of nonsense at once it is called ‘channel 2 massacre’.
DIYP: What is your favorite scene?
SK: There is no favorite scene - I really love them all. I could probably tell a story about every single one of them. I like the bank robbers, the apple tree girls, the fire breather, the storm trooper... There were some tricky scenes like the bikers - because they were moving we had some timing issues and the same applied to the fire breather. I also like the kids in the image who pretended to be sledging or the people in the fountain because it’s so absurd. I don’t know, really. There are more than 100 scenes in the image and every single person has their own story, that’s why it is so hard to tell. When I show people the image I usually start with the fighting princess, the Batman and Robin, the choir and after that it’s completely random. it’s funny but even though we’ve had the image for a few month now I discover something new every day. There is such a huge amount of detail.
DIYP: What were some of the difficulties on the shoot. Can you share any "war stories"?
SK: One of the most difficult things was to stop onlookers walking though the shot and make the extras stand still until the shot was done. Within the periphery of the cafe it was pretty much impossible to control any movement and therefore that area is quite messy - lots of ghosts there.
Of course some people had to wait for quite a long time and some of them lost patience and we had to deal with it by changing the running order. Others had to leave or didn’t show up at all, in turn other weren’t in position when we shot their scene. Well, humans. I think this is absolutely normal and we were prepared.
Another big problem was the weather. Early in the morning we had perfect conditions, it was cloudy which meant we didn’t have to deal with a lot of contrast and moving shadows. But then it started to rain and it was really cold. After a few hours weather changed again to sunny and really warm. That’s the main reason why we did a color key in the end - we couldn’t manage the color shifts in the images. There is a big difference between normal photoshopping and this image - it is huge in every single perspective…
War stories? No... The mood of all those people, the crew and even the ones who are not in the image was absolutely amazing. I think you can see it quite clearly in the ‘making of’ and a lot of these emotions are reflected in the image - and that’s what makes us really really proud.
Because after all, emotions are what people photography is all about - it doesn’t matter if it is a single person or a thousand people.
[Traunstein Wimmelt | Kamerakind]