The Gigapanorama

A New Perspective of Pittsburgh

To access the complete Pittsburgh Gigapanorama with more than 200 snapshots, visit http://gigapan.org/gigapans/47373/
A rotatable, 3D360 pano version can be seen here: http://www.3dpan.org/47373. The viewer was created by Jason Bucheim and the image posted by Brian Richards.
For more information on the Pittsburgh Gigapanorama Project visit www.gigapanorama.org

Behold a vista no one has ever seen, even though it has been here since 1970.

Yes, that’s the new ConSol Energy Center on both the right and left ends of the picture. In between is Pittsburgh’s entire circle on Earth.

This first Pittsburgh Gigapanorama is an interactive, 360-degree portrait of southwest Pennsylvania as seen from the roof of the U. S. Steel Tower. Assembled from over 4000 individual pictures taken on the chilly morning of October 19, 2009, this photograph contains 31.3 gigabytes (10.5 gigapixels) of information, ranking it among the largest digital images ever created. What you see on-line is a small window onto the overall image, as is the printed Gigabanner which measures 48 inches high by 23 feet long! In truth, if this image could be displayed in its full glory, its dimensions would be 50 feet high by 285 feet long, far bigger than any screen could accommodate! While only a fraction of the full image, this virtual version has some amazing advantages. Yes, that’s The Point in the foreground, but try zooming in on any distant point, for example up the Monongahela to the horizon. We think that might be Laurel Ridge out there to the East, silhouetted by the rising sun. As vast as its vistas and impressive its vital statistics are, how this image came to be is equally interesting. The story starts with a standout structure. Rising 841 above Grant Street, the one-acre rooftop of the U. S. Steel Tower is both the high center point in a broad circumference of southwestern Pennsylvania and the largest, highest space on top of any building on Earth! Its flat rooftop is so large, that even though a few people have been up there for a variety of reasons since the building opened in August of 1970, no one has ever had this complete, 360-degree view that includes so much of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela River valleys in a single glance. Nor were they been able to focus in on sights as detailed, distinct and distant as the airport and the Cathedral of Learning.

Creating the Pittsburgh Gigapanorama

In a real sense, this vista captures the essence of the Investigation, the incomparable view available from the rooftop that towers over any other point of perspective. For the uninitiated, a Gigpan is a photographic system developed at CMU for NASA’s Mars Rover program to facilitate the taking, processing, and presentation of large composite digital images.   A camera is attached to a robotic mount that rotates horizontally and vertically, automatically snapping a picture at preset stops to create a matrix of images, which are then “stitched” by a computer into a single picture.  As the inexpensive, easily available technology spreads, thousands of images are being archived on at www.gigapan.org.

Numerous magnificent other Gigapans of Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle have already been produced from the usual vantage points, such as Mount Washington and the West End Overlook. However, producing this 360-degree image involved special challenges presented by trying to capture such an encompassing sweep. And while even greater Gigapixel photos have been created, this is the only one that involved the melding and extensive photo-processing of four such large files. In addition to getting access to the building’s roof, it meant having to take separate Gigapans each facing in a different direction, then figuring out how to adjust the resulting files for differing illumination and angles, and finally how to photographically join the huge images together. While these might be relatively simple manipulations in Photoshop, these 15 – 20 gigabyte files overwhelmed even the most powerful computers and the standard software they run.  The vertical banding that is most evident in the sky is a consequence of having to cut the images into right byte-sized vertical strips so they could be processed.

The closer you get, the more you can see

What can you find in this Gigapanorama?  In addition to familiar landmarks and personal places, close examination will reveal so many details it’s easy to get lost in the landscape and sky. For example, can you find the plane approaching the airport? If you do spot something special, it’s easy and free to register on the site and take snapshots. You can even write a few lines about that place and what it means to you. We’ll be gathering suggestions into a YouTube video tour of the Gigapanorama that will be produced and posted in the coming months. Yet inevitably such a vast and complex image also contains myriad anomalies, most resulting from processing limitations and the stretching and parallax distortions of puzzling so many crazy pieces together again.

A Cast of Many

Shooting and producing this first Pittsburgh Gigapanorama required nearly six months of involvement, expertise, dedication, and innovation from many talented volunteers. We all learned so much in the process. The four separate Gigapans were shot by Randy Sargent, Paul Heckbert, Dror Yaron, and Goutham Mani of CMU’s Create Lab. The thousands of images comprising those four Gigapans were stitched together by Paul Heckbert, who has also helped coordinate the project. Ruth Karlin provided extensive post-production Photoshop artistry; Art Wetzel of The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and his 8-processor, 64-Gig RAM computer helped manage, adjust, and assemble the full image files. Gursimran Koonjul of CMU offered computer assistance. Fran Flaherty of CMU’s Digital Print Lab figured out how get the image out of the computer and on to paper. Andy Wisniewski of C.B. Richard Ellis arranged access to the roof. And finally, both The High Point Park Investigation and Pittsburgh Gigapanorama project have received financial support from the Heinz Endowments and a Seed Award from The Sprout Fund.

Pittsburgh Gigapanorama Prints

Prints of the Pittsburgh Gigapanorama are available in a variety of sizes:

Aspect ratio 1.5 (The Pittsburgh Gigapanorama)
H x W
6 x 30 –   $50
16×80 -   $250
24×120 – $575
36×180 – $1300
44×220 – $2000
60×180 – $3600

To obtain prints, print and mail this order form.

Comments?  Send e-mail to high-point-pittsburgh@andrew.cmu.edu.

You can like and follow the project on Facebook.

Help the Investigation

The High Point Pittsburgh Investigation

The Pittsburgh Gigapanorama is one outgrowth of an idea that began during David Bear’s tenure as Post-Gazette travel editor. Looking at a satellite image of downtown Pittsburgh, he noticed that in U. S. Steel Tower closely mimics the Point in both outline and orientation. Realizing the roof also measured an acre, he began to wonder what use could be made of that flat, empty area. That question started a process that led him to The STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, a center for experimental enterprises across academic disciplines at Carnegie Mellon University. He was invited to explore realistic options for transforming this singular platform into a high-visibility, publicly accessible, sustainable facility that has been tentatively titled High Point Pittsburgh. Initial analysis indicates such as facility could become an important civic asset, a unique, downtown first-day attraction that could earn a regional, national, even international reputation for the Pittsburgh area as a leader in green innovation and foster a reevaluation of the uses of high rooftops everywhere. The project has already received letters of support from VisitPittsburgh.com and The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. More importantly, the Investigation has engaged myriad creative minds in the Carnegie Mellon Universe.

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