Peter Simon, Rich Watts, and Chris Parker are three friends running the Williamsburg-based creative agency Super-AOK, marrying old technology with new ideas. Their latest development is called the A1-Array, which is a camera array system comprised of multiple cameras synced to capture movements from many angles at once. The result is a swiveling, lively 3D image – also known as a motion photographic GIF.
Traditionally, splicing these images has been a hell of a post-production process, but the trio’s simplified, turn-key party vessel makes it so that you can have a cool GIF of you and your friends suspended in the air, on the Internet, forever, immediately just a few seconds after the image is taken. You’ll never have to re-live the feeling you had when you went home and worried about what your yearbook photo was going to look like that year.
With backgrounds in design, film, and hospitality, the trifecta started their umbrella company just a year ago and have collaborated with many talented brands and bands such as Vans, Opening Ceremony, YACHT, and Kool Keith to name a few. I went to their studio and spent some time with the A1-Array that’s been making rounds through offices and venues, including the recent House of Vans “Metamorphosis” showcase in Greenpoint.
GP: What’s the story!
Rich: We’ve all worked together on projects independently. Peter and I had a previous business, and Chris and I worked on a film 5 years ago in New Mexico. So Chris and I worked together on weird camera-related projects, things like motion control with robots for video shoots. We found ways to work on film or camera stuff and we were asked to develop this camera array system for a commercial photoshoot for an ad agency. The job didn’t end up happening but we did all this research into camera development and thought it would be a fun thing to work on. So we eventually came up with an automated system that allowed us to do event photography in real-time. Peter got involved and we formed the company about a year ago.
We were stealthy about it and kind of quiet, trying to figure out how it would work and what kind of model it would be. We had our launch at the end of October this past year in 2015. So we’ve only really been doing events now for about 3 months along with creative photoshoots for fashion companies and an artist series we’re going to be releasing in a month. We’ve photographed a whole bunch of cool musicians with this and have used their input to make these amazing 3D gifs. That’s kind of the story.
GP: What have been the challenges and benefits of this sort of technology?
Rich: It’s pretty hard to do 3D photos, you need impeccable timing and people don’t really know what to do when we get there. And it’s a pretty old technology where a bunch of stills happen in a physical 3D space. That’s how they did the effects in The Matrix – but it’s always been this cumbersome process. You have to set up a camera, have a crew, have wires everywhere, so it’s hard to set up and change or move your shot or not be able to get in a venue the day before to set up.
But what we’ve created allows us to do all of that. It’s amazing for people we’re working with to know we can set up 15 minutes before hand and be ready to go, and that’s opened up a lot of opportunities for us. The barrier to entry for this thing has been high for a lot of people. Because it costs us less to do this and we don’t need a whole crew, we’ve been able to do a lot of creative things.
Peter: We’re all trying to make the business work in a seamless, fun way. It’s an all hands on deck operation. Event photography for high-end creative shoots gives people a different impression of how this technology can be used.
Chris: It’s been fun connecting with that kind of crowd because a lot of those people come up with ways to use it that we haven’t thought about, so getting that kind of exposure has given us a ton of opportunities that weren’t on our radar from the beginning.
GP: Having been a user personally, the experience of the whole process felt very instantaneous and gratifying.
Rich: When I developed the software for this we were figuring out how much time to shave off and finally got it down to a 10 second preview. With a lot of technology you don’t get to see the results in real-time and there’s a whole post production process afterwards before you can see these images.
Peter: It creates a moment of anticipation; it’s fun to think you think you did a terrible job or your photos’ going to look so good and then be really surprised or overwhelmed with how the photo turns out.
Rich: ….Like that Polaroid moment when you’re shaking the film.
Chris: It lends gravity to the photo and it’s been fun to watch that.
GP: How long has this camera array technology been around?
Rich: The big commercial use I know of is The Matrix, and that was done on film. But it’s been around for a lot longer than that. A lot of our projects are based around the fact that this is an old idea but we’re using them in a new way.
We work with a few companies to develop this sort of this thing but for installations. If you’re a cool brand and would want this to be a photo booth for your office, that’s some of the kind of things we work on. All the discussions we’ve been having are for projects that would involve some sort of photo booth component or installations that involve image-capture in 3D or novel, automated fashions.
Peter: Events and event fabrication, it’s one of the things that’s so engaging about this. Once you go through the experience of playing with it, it shows the value of looking at an image in a unique way. Getting those challenges come across our table is kind of a nice place we’d like to be.
GP: Where does the name SUPER-AOK come from?
Rich: It’s positive. Like things aren’t going to “just” be ok… They’re going to be SUPER-AOK.