Like many groundbreaking ideas, freeD was born in a pub. Oren H. Yogev and his friend Aviv Shapira were watching a Manchester United match on their lunch break and wondered aloud what it might be like to watch the game from the perspective of the football itself. The two began bouncing ideas off each other and developed the concept with Matteo, Aviv’s brother.
“We came up with this idea of capturing reality with several two-dimensional sensors, just taking as much data as we could and then building it up in the time domain—as fast as we could—in voxels (a value on a regular grid in three-dimensional space) as opposed to pixels. If we could go with a high frame rate and high resolution, then each sensor could help build a more accurate and interesting presentation of the world.” The result was freeD.
Replay Technologies was founded shortly after in early 2012. The three used a table covered in fake turf and model football players as a make-shift arena to develop the replay system that only five months later would be used in the May 2012 PGA Tournament. A mere two months following that, the technology was used in the 2012 London Olympics, showing off its capabilities to the whole world. Replay’s freeD system has already been adopted by the NBA, NFL, ATP, and MLB, garnering a 2012 Emmy win in sports broadcasting technology.
A Multidisciplinary Team
This project requires a very special group of experts. “We’re a combination of creative guys and very hard-core scientists and engineers,” says Yogev. “That’s what it takes to build something new like this, and to make it useful and applicable. Many of my partners came from the cinema industry. Some of them are computer graphics geniuses. The Chief Design Officer is an Oscar winner for Avatar. The CTO worked at Pixar and Walt Disney projects and founded the CGI department at his university. The Chief Engineer is a worldwide expert in aerospace payloads and cameras for satellites.”
The fusion of creative imagination and engineering shaped the final product. The Replay team put a lot of effort into the quality of the picture in the freeD system, with special attention to camera movements and angles. It was important that the resulting images were accurate from a technical standpoint, with very high performance, but also that it provided truly cinematic possibilities.
Yogev is aware that a cinematic approach may disrupt other industries. “The film industry has people persuaded that they have to use expensive cinema and broadcast cameras. We are able to achieve almost identical output by simply using machine vision cameras with good optics and some planning. And at maybe a seventh or tenth of that price.”
Past and Future
“From the beginning, I was fascinated by how people perceived reality, and how reality can be captured with technology. My grandfather was a photographer, and even when I was very young he’d take me to develop photos in a dark room.”
Growing up and graduating with a master’s degree in electro-optics, Yogev continued to pursue the world of photography and computer vision. He then spent 10 years working in various industries in Israel, France, and the United States. Over the last seven years he worked in observation and surveillance for the British Ministry of Defence, developing camera systems for drones.
The primary expertise of freeD lies within sports arenas, but it is already beginning to be developed as a tool in other industries. The technology is becoming more refined and accessible, and there’s promise in developments for individual uses, like creating interactive art using motion capture photography. Considering the heights achieved in only two years with this technology, its potential is exciting.
“The potential for this technology is enormous,” says Yogev. “We are loaded with requests right now. We have to decide what to do. Some industries have the money, but we are not interested in working with them — e-commerce, defense, porn…we don’t have a vision to do any of that.”
Instead, Replay Technologies is looking to introduce this technology to other popular events that could benefit from a new perspective, like music awards and the Oscars red carpet. Any event where there are multiple cameras, you can enjoy multiple angles. “It will be a powerful storytelling tool,” says Yogev.