Bogen Flies High On Wings Of Smithsonian
New Air And Space Museum Is Now Shown In The Right Light--For All To See

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Construction of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which opened on December 15, 2003.
Photos © Mark Avino/NASM Photo, All Rights Reserved

Well-grounded in the photo biz as one of its premier suppliers of photo gear, New Jersey-based Bogen Imaging Inc. (www.bogenimaging.us), formerly Bogen Photo Corp., lent its support to--and you might say, shed considerable light on--a project that is expected to soar in the eyes of the American public. This project involves producing a fully immersive record of the aircraft housed in the latest addition to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, namely the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The Udvar-Hazy Center, which opened its doors to the public on December 15, 2003, is located at Washington Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia. A few of us were privileged to get an advance sneak peek. I, for one, left there with a much greater appreciation for aviation history.

The Udvar-Hazy Center (www.nasm.si.edu/udvarhazycenter) is, at its heart, a gigantic airline hangar. But outward appearances can be deceiving, for housed within its walls is a congregation of both vintage and modern airplanes, along with space artifacts. Encompassed in the collection are a French Concorde (which we glimpsed) and the US space shuttle Enterprise (due to arrive days after our visit), with a vast variety of craft that flew in both war and peacetime.

The Vought F4U-1D being hung on the north end of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center aviation hangar.

Bogen's involvement in this project began months before. Dennis Biela (www.lightspeedmedia.biz and www.wayaheadgroup.com) and David Palermo (www.worldvr.com), both with LightSpeed Media, were hired to document the new wing before it was opened to the general public. These two had a daunting task in front of them, made all the more so by limited government budgets. So Bogen stepped in with a generous loan of equipment, adding to Nikon's contribution to this endeavor. (We should add that they're using Nikon D1X digital SLRs.)
The focus of Bogen's involvement centers on Apple's QuickTime VR (Virtual Reality). As Apple (www.apple.com/quicktime/qtvr) explains it: "At the intersection of commercial photography and new media technology, QuickTime VR moves the photographic image from the flat, 2D world into a more immersive experience, complete with 3D imagery and interactive components. Interactive content design and immersive imaging allow the viewer to explore and examine detailed virtual worlds using a computer and mouse, (without) cumbersome goggles, headsets, or gloves." At the heart of QuickTime VR is the still image captured digitally, except not one but a series of images that, when combined on a computer, form this immersive quasi-reality. (Log on to the National Air and Space Museum's special website, www.nasm.si.edu/interact/qtvr/uhc, and check out QuickTime VR for yourself. You'll also find lots more data on this project.)

With Elinchrom Power Packs by his side and a Manfrotto QuickTime VR head in the cockpit, David Palermo is able to get the precision he needs to document an important piece of history, one of the original Mercury Capsules.

Elinchrom And QuickTime VR
In a telephone interview, Marc Schotland, Manfrotto Product Manager at Bogen, noted that this company's relationship with the National Air and Space Museum goes back a while. In the past, Bogen provided the National Air and Space Museum with photo gear for a book on Star Wars, as a tribute to the movie. On that earlier project, they'd worked with staff photographer Eric Long--on stills. Long also documented portions of this project as well.

It became clear to Biela and Palermo that consistent lighting was one key component to QuickTime VR, since the various images needed to be the same in terms of exposure, contrast, and color balance, considering that numerous shots were required of the same subject, taken from different angles. Given that one of them had prior experience with Elinchrom, it was only natural to go to the source, Bogen, Elinchrom's US distributor. Their studio lighting of choice for each QuickTime series was the Elinchrom Micro AS Power Pack system, whereas other aspects of this project would involve Elinchrom Monoblocs (these monolights would be used to provide overall fill from a vantage point on an upper walkway).

The first row of planes to be hung at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Biela pointed out that when shooting VR, "I have to think in 360Þ, not only about what's in front of the camera. When we light, I have to light both sides at the same time. I can't have the light and shadows shifting during the shot. So it's important to get the lighting right. And it's what's behind you that's always the killer, trying to get the shot to look good when the camera's facing 180Þ away. So hiding the lights also becomes a big thing."

These photographers proved themselves to be very resourceful indeed. Each lighting situation is approached individually. As Biela described it: "It depends on the aircraft. Things like the Concorde were a nightmare, because it's so long. Other airplanes are really easy: We can set up the strobes right on the outside; flood the cockpit with light, because it's open, and not worry about anything."

On The Lighter Side
Biela noted that other lights may come into play. While we were there, he proceeded to illustrate how he used what he calls his "Home Depot special" fluorescent bulb fixtures, which alleviated any concern with heat inside an aircraft. "We hide them inside the cockpit, behind the seats, and in different spots so we can light the interior. We also employ linear fluorescent lights, and they work well down in the foot well, or underneath the seat. Or I'll use a lot of holiday tree lights in cockpits, winding the lights around to get just enough light to show up. Since we always shoot raw, I adjust color balance in the computer." While the 3700K fluorescents in the cockpit lend some warmth to the shot, other lights may add a nice contrasting cool tone, especially in shadow areas.

Given the different light sources, color management was critical to the project. Toward that end they made use of GretagMacbeth's Eye-One color calibrator to create the monitor profiles, with Apple ColorSync completing the job of color management.

As Palermo pointed out, "The first thing we had to think about was color management, making sure that we had a certain consistency on our project. We shoot a color wedge chart and a gray scale at the beginning of each shoot, so we have a master image as our point of reference." It may take a half-hour to 45 minutes to complete a series of VR exposures. The software involved includes Nikon Capture, Photoshop CS, and VR Worx from VR Toolbox (www.VRToolbox.com).

For the cubic VR interiors specifically, they use REALVIZ Stitcher (www.real viz.com). "We always shoot in raw mode, because we can do so much more with the material," Palermo added.

Museum staff carefully unload the Curtiss P-40E Warhawk in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy aviation hangar.

10Þ Of Separation
Bogen also provided Gitzo carbon-fiber tripods, Lastolite reflectors and diffusers, Gossen meters, and most important perhaps, Manfrotto 300N and 303SPH QuickTime VR heads--all on loan. Schotland explained that the 303SPH allows them to do a full 360Þ cubic VR (consisting of vertical and horizontal shots). "That head," he pointed out, "is used only on the interiors of the planes. On the exterior, they're using a combination of our QuickTime VR heads and also our standard tripod." Some interiors instead made use of a motorized head--each head suited to the situation.

Biela and Palermo are also producing more conventional 3D images--the ones that do require the special glasses (www.3-D.com for more info). QuickTime VR movies, free of such encumbrances, do come with their own set of needs, especially where these aircraft are concerned. Each QuickTime VR--interior and exterior--had a couple of things in common. First was a rotating view of the artifact, 10Þ at a time. The technique evolved. Initially small craft would have to be physically revolved about an axis. VR heads made this unnecessary, since all movement was now on their shoulders, aided by a laser pointer to mark of 10Þ detents.

Second came shooting against a blue screen (actually a huge blue plastic sheet), so that they can later drop in various backgrounds. In fact, blue-screen photography was used even with interior shots, so that various sky and scenic views could be dropped in to give the appearance of an aircraft in flight.

Whichever method is used, the resultant QuickTime VRs leave quite an impression on the viewer. Interactive kiosks throughout the building will give visitors this immersive experience. There will also be a series of interactive CDs available for educational purposes and on sale to the general public.

For more information on this project and for visitor information log onto: www.nasm.si.edu/udvarhazycenter.

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