Show-Focus is a tool targeted at the filmmaking industry and designed to provide a new type of information through augmented reality. The concept is to create a physical representation of the invisible plane of focus so as its precise location (where the image is going to be in focus) is known at any time.
The idea is to help the Focus-Puller to know where to focus in the scene without having to use physical marking on the set (Spikes) and on the lenses.
To achieve that, Show-Focus is composed of 2 components that communicate through wireless connection :
1) A Camera Module: Attached to the movie camera, it provides in real-time a depth map (a 3D view) of what is being filmed and has the ability to control the focus ring with a simple motorized gear mechanism.
2) A Controller: In the hand of the Focus-Puller, it displays in 3D the depth map provided by the Camera Module with the position of the focal plane and enables remote control of the focus ring.
This enables anticipation, precision and adaptation to hard to handle situations (e.g. unexpected movements). It opens new ways of creativity in filmmaking and documentaries. On more specific targets, it can simplify focus pulling in stereoscopic filming (where you add synchronization of focus as a possible issue) and multi-cameras settings (sitcom, television).
Inspiration / Process
Moving from photography to filmmaking with the improvement of DLSR cameras I discovered numerous issues that can be discouraging if you are not seriously equipped. Having the focus right is one of them and I became interested in how it is handled in the professional industry. Long story short, I discovered that focus pulling has not really evolved since the early ages of cinema and can still be tricky for small crews or specific shots. In parallel, knowing a bit of 3D animation where everything (including the focus) can be easily controlled, I had the feeling that something new could be developed there.
I started to sketch and met professionals in order to confront my vision to their experience. Through these interviews I became aware that innovation in equipment could actually open new creative perspectives and I decided to aim for a device that would make focus pulling simpler and enable more complex shots.
Having explored different concepts I chose to go for a non-intrusive innovation that could make the focal plane physical as everything in focus-pulling seems to be about guessing where it is. The Controller shape was found through various iterations shaped with vacuum formed plastic and tested with the real knobs.
The final prototype of the Controller has two knobs to orientate the visualization of the point cloud, one focus wheel and one button for calibration. It has a fake screen as a computer screen is used for the tests. The communication with the computer is done through a microcontroller, inside the 2 plastic shells.
The Camera Module prototype is purely functional and built to adapt to any DSLR camera with all sort of lenses. The time-of-flight camera used is a Kinect.
The programing was done using Processing and incorporates a calibration mode: Before shooting the user checks if the plane on the depth map matches the image from the camera. If not, he presses the calibration button, moves the plane to match the image and the calibration curve is modified in the program when the button is released
Once calibrated the prototype provides an accurate vision of where the plane of focus is in the space and can be used to focus while shooting without the help of any marking.
The whole idea of the project is to provide the best tool for focusing and filmmaking in general. At some point we can easily imagine that the controller may be completed by a simple pair of augmented reality glasses that enable the Focus-Puller, and also other people from the crew, to see the plane of focus (and the frame) overlaid on the real actors, in real-time.
Guillaume Couche. May 2013.