Moving my Blog to Medium.com

In an effort to get my writing in front of a broader audience, I've moved my blog over to Medium, everyone's favorite micro-blogging website. 

Check out my thoughts & musings on VR, AR and everything in between: https://medium.com/@bilawal

You can also find select writings on Virtual Pop, Medium's largest VR publication: https://virtualrealitypop.com/@bilawal

Edit: Recently got rated as a "Top Writer in Virtual Reality" by Medium. Awesome :) Definitely motivates me to keep putting pen to paper... figuratively speaking of course! 

Imaginfinity - Hit us up on Social Media!

For the last 8 months, I've been hard at work diving deep into VR content creation for clients and originals under the Imaginfinity banner - everything from stereo 360 videos to photogrammetric capture and mixed reality experiences. We've made a slew of experiences you can check out today and immerse yourself in the beauty of Yosemite in California or the awe inspiring energy at the India-Pakistan border ceremony in Amritsar. Perhaps you want to chuckle a bit and see what it's like when a Snapchat filter comes to life on Halloween and overruns the city. There's something for everyone and we hope that you'll check out our 360 platform links below. 

Education and democratization of VR content creation has been my second major focus. It's tempting to create this veil of mystery around VR, as many are now with the goal of capitalizing on the lack of awareness for near-term monetary benefit. I firmly believe spatial media such as VR, AR and MR will only reach its true potential when content creation is in the hands of the many versus a select few, as it is today. I've been speaking at Meetups and Workshops, as well as creating web content with the goal of making VR content creation accessible and transparent. Check out How-To-Make-360 Playlist on YouTube to get started! 

Stay up-to-date with the latest and hit me up on my social media handles below!

#firstpodcast

It was a blast chatting with Micah and Adam about all things VR and AR. Also my first podcast appearance. Micah Blumberg is a VR and neuroscience enthusiast who runs some of the largest VR-centric communities on Facebook and co-organizes the Women in AR/VR meetup. He's current working on VRMAAdam Alzoni is quite the renaissance man - a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, podcaster, futurist, inventor, programmer, author and currently works at the Millennium Project.

In the 40th episode of Adam Alonzi’s podcast Micah Blumberg, Bilawal Sidhu, and Adam discuss augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, Micah’s advocacy for women in VR, sensors, the present, and the future. We also dissect the technology’s implications for entertainment, social media, empathy, food quality control, education, and society. We also give a tips to those who are looking to get in on the ground floor of this burgeoning behemoth of an industry, which is searching for bright and talented people to swallow whole.

Light Field Capture — A Paradigm Shift for Cinematography, Visual Effects and Live-Action Virtual Reality?

Source: Lytro.com

Source: Lytro.com

The Lytro Immerge has been hailed as the holy grail for cinematic VR production — the camera that could change everything for live-action capture. There is wide consensus among VR experts and enthusiasts that light field imaging is the future of cinematic content in immersive mediums like VR and AR, eventually superseding 360 videos. Let’s see what the hype is all about...

Read it on Medium

Read it on Linkedin Pulse

Agent Akaal / Fakir - Short Action Film in Punjabi & Hindi

Desi Jason Bourne? Splinter Cell? Jack Bauer? None of the above... 
Say hello to Agent Akaal Singh, urph (aka), Agent Fakir Rehman, a double agent tied up in the deadly games of the two premiere intelligence agencies in South Asia - India's RAW (Research & Analysis Wing) and Pakistan's ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence).

Special thanks to Amandeep Singh for playing an excellent double/triple agent and to my dad for some solid outro vocals.

Filmed a while back in Chandigarh, India and edited over a recent vacation. Shot, edited and post produced by yours truly. 

And just in case you're wondering: all characters appearing in this work are indeed fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

Google X's Smart Contact Lens Project

Today Google[x] announced their next project- a smart contact lens that detects glucose levels from your tears. Basically, it's an extremely small wireless chip and a miniaturized glucose sensor sandwiched between two layers of contact lens material. The lens measures and relays your glucose levels around-the-clock, making diabetes management a significantly easier task. Soon enough, diabetics can say good bye to finger pricking. 

Hand holding - zoomed in.jpg

So it's not a contact lens version of Google Glass... yet.

Google is already testing working prototypes of their lens and has begun talks with the FDA. Project co-founders Brian Otis and Babak Parviz say their next step is to explore "integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate glucose levels having crossed above or below certain thresholds." Naturally, this technology is still in it's infancy, but given the exponential rate at which technology is advancing, squeezing in an array of LEDs could happen sooner than we think.

Naturally, Google isn't the only one working on smart contact lenses. Researchers at UNIST and Samsung are working on their own smart lenses for glaucoma patients. So while it's not a contact lens version of Google Glass just yet, these project gives us a teaser of what's lined up in the next generation of wearable and augmented reality tech- full-fledged immersion:

The Augmented Reality Workplace

SAP is partnering with Vuzix to create the next generation of augemented reality solutions for the enterprise. Much like Google Glass, Vuzix "Smart Glasses" are also an Android-based wearable computer. The key difference is that Vuzix's Smart Glasses M100 (besides looking clunkier) are targeted at commerical and professional users. This concept video showcases a warehouse picker navigating his environment while accessing relevant information feeds in real-time.

Now imagine a world where augmented reality, smart devices, drones and analytics work together seamlessly... Coming soon to an Amazon warehouse near you ;)

VFX Test Film - Super Hero vs Mech Warrior

Here's an extended edit of the final project for my advanced Maya class with the ITP 3D wizard, Prof. Lance Winkel. The objective was to model, texture, rig and animate a 3D character from scratch. I had already been looking to do a CG + live action test using Image Based Lighting (IBL) so I thought I'd spice things up by making the project a live-action short. 

Lighting the CG model: I captured an HDRI probe (read: cheap reflective garden dome) on location and utilized Image Based Lighting (IBL) to light all the CG elements to match the live action footage. IBL is extremely useful, especailly in low-light scenarios as was the case in my footage. Sure, additional light sources and tweaking is required based on the specific angle/scene, but the HDRI map creates a solid starting point and does most of the work for you. 

mechwarrior_HDR_unwrapped_8bit.png

3D Camera Mapping: As is the case with most short notice video shoots (done in two hours over finals week), some of the footage I went home with was less than optimal for vfx work. Most notably, the video I shot for the mech running down the tracks sequence had too much motion blur to be tracked in Boujou. To salvage the shot, I took a good clean frame of the train tracks footage and recreated the set using 3D camera mapping (also called photogrammetery). After some photoshop clean up work to fill holes that the perspective shift would cause I had the flexibility to do a lot of different camera moves. This made the the zoom in and out on the mech running towards the camera at a very easy task and gave me flexibility to create the exact camera move I wanted in the comfort of post-production, without sacrificing realism or quality. 

Even very basic geometry sells the trick. The key is to lock in on objects close to the camera that will experience a significant shift in perspective and ensure you fill in any holes that'll become visible. In this case, it's primarily the street light pole on the left and the platform divider on the right. 

Even very basic geometry sells the trick. The key is to lock in on objects close to the camera that will experience a significant shift in perspective and ensure you fill in any holes that'll become visible. In this case, it's primarily the street light pole on the left and the platform divider on the right. 

test composite mech.jpg

Learning Resources: Paul Debevec, AD and professor at the USC ICT  is a pioneer in the areas of HDRI, IBL and Photogrammetry. He also happens to have a plethora of resources about these areas online, including research papers and HDRI probe images: http://ict.debevec.org/~debevec/

Mechwarrior (Mad Cat) 3D Model

Modelled, rigged & textured from scratch in Autodesk Maya:

 

 
Early reference sketch blocking out the basic shape and structure of the 

Early reference sketch blocking out the basic shape and structure of the 

 

I'm going to use this model in a short live-action video. I'm looking forward to integrating 3D elements with live-action footage, especially since it's shot in a low light environment (a majority of the video take place at a tram station at night). I'm planning on using HDRI environment maps I shot on location to extract lighting information and light the 3D model to match the background footage we shot. The addition of accruate reflections are also an important touch to create a realistic looking composite. The render above has been lit with one of the two HDRI maps shot on location.

The lull before the storm

An immensely enriching semester has passed. Undeniably daunting, but nevertheless successful. Learning SAP, User Experience Design and good old Discrete Math has added yet more tools to my pallete. While they might seem disparate at first, in this world of convergence and technology, everything is applicable.

It's also been incredible connecting with more creative thinkers and artists here at USC. Plus, Professor Lance Winkel's Advanced 3D Animation class has carved space in my schedule, allowing me to pursue that which I do for fun and get elective credit towards my engineering degree :) 

With winter break behind me and two very different projects ahead, I'm excited to finally have time for my more artistic pursuits. But after an extruciatingly long flight from New Delhi, I must first rest and recouperate. But man, I can't wait for school to start!

Combining Art-forms: Gloving VFX Light Show

Test Film #1: Introducing the first ever VFX Light Show

Please step up the resolution to 720P so as to enjoy it as intended by the creator :)

Youtube (720p): http://youtu.be/eOoQH9hZ770?hd=1 

Vimeo (720p): http://vimeo.com/30180719

This is the first project I've been able to make time for in quite a while. It's been great getting back into video. Working on small projects has given me the opportunity to relearn these amazing tools I used so long ago. Needless to say, the hardware and software is incredibly powerful now and I can't wait to see how far I can push the envelope. Merely editing 1080P HD footage seemed like a daunting task for most machines in 2005, let alone rendering 3D sequences in HD resolution. But now, my 27inch iMac can take on almost any challenge I throw at it. Cheers!

A little bit of variety

Gloving Compositing Test #1 from Bilawal Sidhu on Vimeo.

This past weekend was relatively light for me. I ended up spending an evening with one of my fraternity brothers who has been very diligently pursuing the art of gloving. For the uninitiated, gloving is a relatively new art form in which an individual wears a pair of gloves with bright LED's embedded at the finger tips and moves their fingers in precise rhythmic movements choreographed to a song. After watching a few gloving videos on youtube, we immediately felt that the a well recorded light show could be digitally enhanced with visual effects in order to better recreate the live experience. Curious to learn more we brought over his gloves so that we could record a few test shots. This short clip is what we walked away with.

Mutewatch wrists-on: vibration based reminders

Add syncing ability with google calender and you have an instant winner. With vibrations you really have the ability to assign more detailed reminders. I especially like the sleek minimalist design that doesn't scream "look i'm a digital gadget! stare at me in amazement!"

Back in the day, Casio came out with one of the first mp3 watches and camera watches. For far too long the electronic giants of the world have been ignoring the potential of the wrist watch formfactor. It perfectly supplements the handheld portable nature of a cellphone. Additionally, the hands on form factor allows the device to give silent reminders through vibration alerts.

Synced with your phone/mp3 player, you could also utilize such a watch to keep your workouts on track by letting your phone send you designated reminders for different portions of your routine. I will definately be picking one of these babies up in the future.

Social Vending Machines

Just another clever example of how adding a social dimension to an otherwise mundane activity can transform the experience completely. A soda costs next to nothing but it is yet a tasty and refreshing beverage that most people would appreciate. Brillant concept! So go ahead, gift me a can of soda. Unfortunately, I will first have to find one of these darn touch screen vending machines before I can get my pepsi on. But don't worry, a day will come when we all will be living in a web 2.0 compliant universe ;)