Imagine being able to open a window on a moment in time, viewing a crystal clear image of every face in the crowd at the 1995 Rugby World Cup or seeing exactly what was happening at both the Texas School Book Depository and the grassy knoll on the day JFK was assassinated in Dallas, in 1963.
A Durbanville-based company’s innovative reimagining of the humble photograph is likely to see many of us pondering the awesome new potential to capture iconic moments in human history. Founded in 2010 by three Stellenbosch University graduates, Fancam’s super high resolution, 360-degree images now make it possible to find the proverbial needle in the haystack, even if the haystack happens to be several kilometres away from and behind the viewer.
Tinus le Roux, James Taylor and Schalk van der Merwe met at university in 1995, while living in the same residence.
After finishing their studies, they collaborated on various projects. Then, in 2005, they founded Virtual Africa, which focused on 360-degree imagery. A new technology at the time, they started creating high-quality interactive images to be used in South Africa’s tourism industry.
In 2009, Virtual Africa started experimenting with gigapixel technology. One gigapixel is equivalent to 1 000 megapixels.
Before Fancam took off, Schalk was working as a change management consultant, James as an engineer and Tinus a pastor.
Tinus, the CEO of Fancam, says in simple terms it works as a super high-definition, 360-degree image of a crowd and is viewable online.
“Anyone can zoom into the finest detail to identify faces way at the back of the crowd.
“Fans can interact with this image and tag themselves as if they were there, or share a screenshot of a specific view with their friends on Facebook, Twitter or via email.
“Fancam is especially big on social media because it allows you to tag yourself in a seemingly vast crowd.
“You can also zoom into the image and see a crystal clear picture of yourself, no matter how many people there are.”
The Fancam photographers use top of the range DSLR cameras (Canon 5DS) to capture their images.
They have custom-built computers able to deal with massive images.
They use standard software programs but have developed customised techniques to create their images.
Once the pictures have been taken, the photographer uploads them onto the servers at the offices in Cape Town.
The production team then stitches each image together, and then they tile every image by dividing it up into thousands of smaller images.
The tiles are then arranged so that different zoom levels are created for every part of the image. Once the tiles have been created, they’re uploaded to the servers and made available for fans to see.
One of the more recent images that they captured, on Sunday February 21, was the Daytona 500, one of America’s biggest racing events. It is one of the biggest pictures they’ve captured to date, and if printed out, it would be 508m long and 254m wide.
The concept has taken the international market by storm. They’ve captured a U2 north American tour, Taylor Swift’s Red Tour, The Indian Premier League, UEFA Champions League, Swedish House Mafia at Milton Keynes and more.
They were also the architects behind the Cape Town in 360 image which shows off the Mother City in all her glory from a rooftop in the CBD.
Their international breakthrough came in 2010 for the Indianapolis Colts, an American football team.
“We scraped together our last couple of bucks, and went to a ‘sports conference’ in Atlanta. The host of the conference, Pat Coyle, set us up to do a ‘proof of concept’ for the Indianapolis Colts. We did it, and the next week they paid us to do another one. From there on in, it was chaos,” said Tinus.
Their first major international client was Michigan University where wildlife photographer Max Waugh photographed 110 000 university fans in a stadium.
“Their university was about to play its main rival, Notre Dame. Waugh captured a picture which was 20 000 megapixels” Tinus said.
To put this into perspective, a top of the range DSLR Canon 5DS has 50 megapixels.
He believes Fancam’s greatest achievement has been not only keeping its ahead above water but blazing a trail through uncharted territory.
“It’s tough clearing a path where no one has walked before. While the events we cover are glamorous and we’ve become used to receiving international recognition, it requires a lot of mental and psychological toughness to build something like this,” he said.
Fancam is now considering a possible move to America’s hi-tech heartland: Silicone Valley.
“It may be a requirement to take the company to the next level,” said Tinus.
If Fancam were able to capture or record anything without any limitations, what would it be? Tinus replies: “I’d go back in time and capture the crowd at Dr Martin Luther King’s speech at the Washington Mall and the moment at Wembley Stadium during Queen’s Live Aid performance in the 80s.”
* For more information about Fancam, visit www.fancam.com