Are Slow Motion Camera Days Numbered?

Slow Motion Camera Days Numbered

Recent advances in computation, simulation, and real-time rendering have become so advanced that some visual effects artists are opting for rendering everything with CGI instead of filming it outright.  In making-off featurettes, we have seen the VFX teams scrap explosions, fluids, car crashes and actor stunts with CGI inserts that offer precise control over lighting, debris, motion, and quality which are all a crap shoot when filming with a real camera.

NVIDIA just released some demos of real-time ray tracing that surpass the best quality renderers of the 1990s with playable frame rates and ambient occlusion that in the right hands could be indistinguishable from many special effects in a film. The new RTX technology in their Volta architecture GPUs can do area shadows, true multi-level depth reflections, refraction and global illumination in real time 30+fps on a personal computer.

Video Examples of Real-Time RTX Raytracing on the latest NVIDIA GPUs:

NVIDIA RTX Real Time Ray Tracing Demo:

NVIDIA RTX and GameWorks Ray-Tracing Technology Demonstration by NVIDIA GeForce:

SEED – Project PICA PICA – Real-time Raytracing by Electronic Arts:

Reflections Real-Time Ray Tracing Demo | Project Spotlight by Unreal Engine:

How is this related to High-Speed Imaging?

From the videos above you can see that the rendering quality is now approaching a movie like photorealism. The missing ingredient is real-time physical simulation of the natural world coupled with the new Ray tracing which is already working in some limited demos.  Computer graphic simulations will reach a level within the next decade that will be indistinguishable from reality. So why create an elaborate slow-motion shot with all that can go wrong when you can simulate it in the computer and control every aspect of the process like camera angle, light gathering, lens aperture for increased depth of field, low ISO noise, and virtually unlimited frame rates.

The computer will have to render all of this in final highest quality for a movie but we will see exponential increases in computational power that will allow for truly breathtaking realism that in some ways would not be possible to capture in the real world due to constraints in the budget, camera motions, and safety.

The slow-motion camera will still have a place for examining experiments in the lab, exploring nature, observing production lines and many more uses that are based on the discovery of new unthinkable events.  But for movie making, we see a future where the simulations will be so good and so convincing that real slow-motion cameras will be rarely used for visual effects instead replaced by quasi-real digital creations.

Nvidia PhysX RealTime Water Physics Demo # 2 by TheYellowKumar:

Perhaps the most recent movie scene exploiting the use of real slow-motion capture blended with CGI slow and fast motion is the QuickSilver Scene from X-Men Apocalypse TM.  You can clearly see the use of real slow motion cameras to film the actors in several poses and motions and then the CGI team had to blend the green screen footage with digital CGI in a masterful series of shots that are not only convincing but probably a turning point for the use of slow motion cameras for complex effects.

X-Men: Apocalypse: Quicksilver Saves Everyone From Exploding Mansion by Blu-Ray Clips:

The last realm of CGI that has not been conquered yet is the complex living organism world i.e: Humans, animals, reptiles, marine life etc… There are already simulations that get perfect renderings of them on the computer that are indistinguishable from their real counterparts but the motion, animation, and physical reactions still give them away as fake. The uncanny valley is the threshold where the farce and reality of discerning realistic creatures lies. We are still by some expert estimates 50 years away from that last separation to be breached.  However look at the video below at how close we are today:

Ed hyper-realistic human simulation by Chris Jones see his work here:

Siren Next-Gen Videogame Graphics – Facial Animations/Digital Human, EPIC Games by T6Games:

Final Thoughts:

Are slow motion cameras over? Not by a long shot, most of the complexity offered by the real world is still in the realm of fantasy for a computer and artist to simulate. Physical phenomena at any scale are still infinitely more complex than what a computer can simulate due to how physics interacts with objects in the real world and how quantum mechanics govern the particles of which they are composed. Humans and other animals are harder still to simulate as we have brains wired to recognize the most minute emotions and reactions that give away even the most skilled animators work in a second.  Industrial testing, physics labs, biology, naturalists, video professionals and hobbyists will still aim for the realism and unpredictable results the slow motion camera is capable of.   In short as of today there is no substitute for capturing reality with a real camera and lens that capture photons.

The high-speed camera world is evolving with ever better resolutions and frame rates at ever lowering price points. Maybe in a few decades, every camera will record everything in super slow motion and then let people choose which speed they want a specific moment in time to be played back at.   It certainly seems to be moving in that direction with 60fps becoming standard even in phones at 4k today.

With all that said, movie makers and VFX houses will probably use slow motion cameras less and less and instead rely on the predictable control that a computer simulation offers.  Budgets will call for revisions to shots that can only be shot once with a real camera and the CGI version can be tweaked endlessly to give the desired result.   Moviemaking requires ever more impressive and awe-inspiring shots that regular slow motion cameras are unable to perform due to physical world constraints.  Although some may say that the CineBot featured below is technology advancing beyond the physical constraints of old and it is sure impressive, but this incredible apparatus is too unsafe to be used in close proximity to humans as it could cause grave injury.  From a distance with a long lens, however, it is perfectly safe.  The Cinebot ihas revolutionized high speed and every iteration makes it that more advanced with longer shots planned every day.

Bolt High-Speed CineBot Showreel by Mark Roberts Motion Control Ltd:

Computer graphics progress has been an incredible feat of human ingenuity and artistry.  In the span of 40 years, we have advanced from crude pong to photo-realistic worlds and creatures that trick our senses. If the rate of progress continues like this, it will be indistinguishable from real-world experience in less than 40 years.

Virtual reality is gaining traction ever more and the realistic quality of real-time graphics could create an immersive experience so rich that traveling to distant reaches of the globe will be a headset session away.  Corporate office meetings could be done in a realistic fashion on the computer with a digital self without leaving your home. Handicapped people could walk or run in any place in the world and feel as if they are there.  Space explorers and long voyage astronauts could remain in tight spaces but with the aid of VR be as happy mentally as a stroll through a large park.  And this is only scratching the surface as technology advances. We leave you to ponder the implications with these last videos that show where we are and where things are going. But rest assured, slow-motion cameras are here to stay for the foreseeable future -HSC

Unreal Engine 4.0 – Photorealism is here – by PredCaliber:

Unreal Engine 4 – The Titanic At Unbelievable Full Scale!! – New 2018/2019 game by PredCaliber:

A Real Life Haptic Glove (Ready Player One Technology Today) – Smarter Every Day 190 by SmarterEveryDay

Disclaimer: Image used for article head is the Area Shadow Demo by Nvidia here!

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