Bullet Time – Frozen Pi Reloaded

Last year we created Frozen Pi, a rig to re-create the frozen time effect made famous by the Matrix. This year it’s “Reloaded” and improved, premièring on BBC Four as part of the prestigious Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.

Update — if you’re in the UK you can watch the demonstration in the lecture on iplayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04w84yp/royal-institution-christmas-lectures-2014-sparks-will-fly-how-to-hack-your-home-1-the-light-bulb-moment?t=25m10s Watch out for the youtube link for the rest of the world in January.

Here’s an interview about the original rig:

We improved the hardware and the software, making the rig bigger, faster and snappier. We wanted to freeze people so they appeared to hang in mid air. Here’s a sneak preview from the rehearsal.

IMG_20141211_174249This year, the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures titled “Sparks will Fly; How to Hack Your Home” appealed even more to the engineer in me, as Professor Danielle George from The University of Manchester showed how anyone can use and adapt low cost technology to achieve extraordinary things. It was a great privilege to demonstrate the Frozen Pi rig at the Christmas Lectures, as for me and many families, they’re just as much a Christmas tradition as turkey, mince pies and outrageous knitwear. Setting the rig up, and standing in the centre of the famous lecture theatre, I did find myself thinking that Michael Faraday, father of electricity and creator of the lectures, must have stood on that very spot.

We made a number of improvements to last years rig including:

  • Custom CNC supports keep the rig level and at a sensible height
  • Faster shutter speed reduces motion blur
  • Migration to the excellent picamera Python package by Dave Hughes http://picamera.readthedocs.org/en/release-1.8/
  • Capture people full height with a larger arc – means subjects can be more energetic
  • Improved debugging information
  • Faster fetching of images
  • Replaced NTP syncronisation with network multicast for faster setup

Testing the rig last year, we didn’t know whether it would work until we actually pushed the button to try it. And this year, with the new software it was just the anxiety. Would it work?

IMG_20141211_184729Huddled in the backstage corridor preparing to carry the rig out in front of an eager audience of excited children, and potentially millions of TV viewers it was quite tense.

IMG_20141211_190044You’ll have to tune in on BBC Four at 8pm to find out if it worked. We’ll post a behind the scenes after the programme goes out.Paul Wilkinson Photography Ltd.

[Photo Paul Wilkinson]