360 Videos in Museums: Shot 5 – Camera as Clock at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

At the November Museums and Computer Network conference, I marveled at the different ways museums around the country are using 360 videos with their visitors or in their education programs. To highlights these different applications, I started this limited series of interviews  – same questions, different institution – so we can look for patterns.

In our fifth in this series of interviews with museum staff around the country about their use of 360 videos, this time we hear from Caroline Record, Creative Technologist at the Innovation Studio at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, where she specializes in designing and developing software for custom exhibit-facing projects. Today I spoke with her about their use of 360 videos in  something they call the Light Clock project.

Light clock in the HallWhen did you start exploring 360 video (and if that’s not what you call it, what’s the term round your ways)?

I started exploring 360 video as the web component of the larger Light Clock project. First I will back up and explain the project as a whole.

The Hillman Photography Initiative invited the Innovation Studio to imagine a project that embodied the broad theme of a “camera as a clock for seeing”. We made a town center “clock” in the front plaza of the Carnegie Museum of Art that, rather than telling time, had a single continuously swooping solitary hand. The hand made a rotation every 5 minutes at which point the clock would take a 360 picture of the plaza.

The Light Clock. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo by Bryan Conley.

The Light Clock. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo by Bryan Conley.

An interactive visualization directly inside the museum lobby placed the museum visitor in a semi circle of screens where they could navigate around the 360 view by physically rotating their bodies left and right. The visualization didn’t display a single static 360 image, instead it displayed a constantly shifting remix of all the imagery the clock had collected up to that point. Every time the clock took a picture it would momentarily flash onto the screen, so that if you took a picture outside with the clock you could have an opportunity to see it.

The project was ambitious and had several interesting technical components. I was the creative and technical lead on the project and we created all the software and design plans in house. One of the biggest challenges was finding a robust 360 outdoor affordable camera that I could interface with through our software. I ended up working directly with a security camera manufacturer and designing a custom rig to stitch the two 180 cameras into a single 360 dome.

I wrote the software in C++ and it required a powerful computer to run well, so making a full web version would have been a significant project. Instead I modified the code I already wrote to export 360 video that could be shared and embedded via Youtube and Facebook.

What is the content you are working to put into 360 videos?

It was a remix of time lapse imagery taken from outside the Carnegie Museum of Art.

What goes into obtaining and editing the footage?

Warning: I’m going to get technical about this!

We created a custom outdoor 360 camera by mounting two 180 security cameras back to back. The cameras are triggered to save a recording to a SD card via a hard wired contact switch that is triggered every time the clock hand makes a rotation. We use the camera’s api to automatically take a screenshot from the recording. Then we use the imageMagick command line tool to mask and edit the photos. Finally we used the hugin command line tool to stitch these two images together into a single equirectangular image. Onsite my software would read in different days based off of the weather data and change the point of view based off the visitor’s movement.

To make the 360 video I wrote another version of the software that remixed all the imagery together and exported each frame as a still. Since the imagery was 4k I couldn’t edit it using my version of Adobe Premiere, so instead I used the FFmpeg command line tool to turn all of these stills into a video that we could upload to Facebook and Youtube as a 360 video.

Who is the 360 video designed for, and where will they encounter it?

The project as a whole was designed for people passing through the museum plaza and museum visitors in general. It was meant to appeal to the photography-curious as well as more expert photographers alike.


Wall label for the Light Clock. Photo by Jeffrey Inscho.

Wall label for the Light Clock. Photo by Jeffrey Inscho.

The web version was designed to be shared via the museum’s Youtube and Facebook page. So far the Facebook version has been viewer several thousand times and the Youtube one several hundred.

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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