Here’s a bullet time video booth you can build yourself
Ok, so this is going to require something of a budget. This is because of the simple fact that shooting bullet time requires a whole mess of cameras in order to pull it off. But this creation from Sebastian Staacks takes bullet time to the next level. Designed as an alternative to the standard photo booths often seen at weddings and events, Sebastian’s project is a bullet-time video booth.
As well as the usual array of stills around a subject, it also shoots video, allowing you to capture a short clip before spinning around the subject, and then it comes back to the video at the end. It’s an interesting project, with a lot of problem-solving and challenges to overcome. Sebastian walks us through the process, including everything from picking the cameras to creating the final result.
Sebastian’s video begins by explaining what bullet time is and how that translates to a video booth. After this is the camera choice. Back in 1999, when The Matrix was released, digital camera choices were quite limited. These days, though, there are a million and one cameras you can choose between, from smartphones and action cameras to ridiculously overkill (for this purpose) and expensive mirrorless cameras.
Surprisingly, the best choice for something like this in terms of the cost-performance balance are DSLRs. Not just any DSLRs, though. Older DSLRs. In Sebastian’s case, that meant the Canon EOS 400D – or EOS Rebel XTi. While this is a pretty old DSLR, its 10-megapixel sensor creates 3,888 x 2,592 pixel images. This is larger than 4K UHD, however, the stabilisation process required in post to clean up the images does mean you’re going to be scaling and cropping.
The resolution here, though, was 1080p. The images fro the Canon EOS 400D are more than plenty for this, even after being warped, scaled and cropped. Sebastian’s budget only allowed him to pick up 12 of those Canon EOS 400D DSLRs, but he was also able to add a Sony A5000 for shooting the video segment.
What’s particularly interesting about the project is that he just has big giant green and red buttons to mash when you want to start shooting a sequence. This makes it ideal for events like weddings where you can’t really rely on the subjects knowing how to work a camera – let alone a rig containing a dozen of them, connected to a computer to process the images.
Initially, a Raspberry Pi was used to pull images from all the cameras. But Sebastian says it took over a minute to process the final result after hitting the shutters on all the cameras. So, he swapped that out for an old Dell PC to speed things up. There’s also a lot of tricky wiring in there to fire everything, not to mention two completely self-contained wireless giant buttons to start and stop the process as needed.
You can read Sebastian’s complete write-up to go along with the video on his website. And if you want to have a go at making one of your own, Sebastian has released the code for you to download from GitHub.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.