Steven Sebring is an artist, photographer & inventor. This is a guy who’s invented new technology and advanced the art of photography with the tools that he’s built in a world-class fashion. By his own admission, he is not a technical guy, but when you see what he’s built, you’re going to be blown away.
There’s nothing else in the world like it. There’s a lot of work going on to develop new kinds of capture systems for virtual reality that work in 360° environments.
Steven came at it from a completely different angle and came up with a completely different solution. He is putting out the most incredible content that works in 3D and in virtual reality on the planet. No one’s paralleled what he’s doing as far as I’ve seen. You really want to understand Steven and his thought process, and that’s really what we’re getting into in this episode.
I want you to be able to see how an inventor thinks when they’re trying to solve a problem that they understand. We have a lot of situations in technology where we’re building a solution without really understanding the problem or the user whose going to be interacting with it. So, this is an amazing opportunity to get to know an inventor.
I don’t think Steven has ever done a podcast before. He rarely ever talks about what he’s working on. He’s known to industry insiders in fashion. He’s shot a lot of celebrities. He goes way back with Patti Smith. He’s done cool documentaries and film and all kinds of artwork with her. And he’s shot some of the biggest brands on earth and the camera system he built is unlike anything else.
So, anyway, I want you to get in here and understand Steven. We talk about his projects for Donna Karan, Ralph Laureen, BMW, and Spin Magazine. He just has all kinds of commercial work that he’s done. He’s also a guy who has worked on art projects, that if you have any interest in art, you’re going to want to learn about his Muybridge interpretation that he’s done.
I met Steven a couple of years ago when he was doing this groundbreaking project called LIMINAL with Rodney Mullen. Rodney introduced us and we’ve been friends ever since. I cannot wait for you guys to see this stuff. This episode, you’re going to have to go to the website jetpackforthemind.com to look at the Steven Sebring episode. I’m going to post all kinds of cool stuff that Steven has created. There’s a music videos in there with Jack White. There’s all kinds of film and video projects that they’ve done with the camera system. There’s a lot to explore and I think you guys are going to be really impressed with what’s going on.
Pablos: Even though my audience is smart and technical but they know about a lot of different things so I’m not expecting them to know anything in particular. The point here isn’t to dig into the tech stuff too much. What’s much more interesting is you have this amazing, unique career in history trying to advance your tools to support your art. That’s much more interesting than what most nerds are doing. We want to try and pick that apart so people can understand. A lot of what’s holding human back is that symbiosis is missing between the tools in the art, the creation and using technology to enable possibilities.
Steven: This is beautiful. I feel honored to be here with Pablos. There is no nerd here.
It’s not that you’re a nerd. It’s all the nerds are not able to do what they’re doing.
They’re fucking nerds. That’s what they are. Nobody needs a nerd. I could use a few nerds.
That’s one thing that could be valuable here.
We’re definitely needing a lot of nerds to then obey my command.
They thrive when they have some management. You need a dominatrix to tell them what to do all of that. I’m not exaggerating about that. It’s one of the winning strategies we’ve found for some folks with Asperger’s. You get on a dominatrix who tells them what to do at any given moment who can prioritize for that. Who can tell them what to worry about next because they don’t feel they have to worry about everything? It works great because then, they can be productive. In any given moment, they can do the extraordinary thing that they’re good at and the skills that you worry about taking care of the things that they suck at. This notion that somehow the world needs more well-balanced humans, I don’t think I believe it. We have a leader that’s extraordinary.
Everybody is trying to find this balance by getting to the center. That’s the yoga strategy. They’re trying to get rid of every sharp edge and get to this center point where everything is perfectly balanced and hang out there. That, to me, is precarious. It’s not resilient. When you look, it’s trying to balance a teeter-totter on that point or trying to balance a pencil on your fingertips and that’s hard to do. If you look at a barbell, the barbell is balanced through extremes amount of weight on one end and the other. There’s nothing in the middle.
Barbells are prone to be balanced almost all the time. We’re going a little too far with this balanced human thing. When you work in tech with a bunch of folks who are on the spectrum, you start to get an appreciation for what they’re good at. It’s antagonistic to try to make them balanced like normal people which aren’t what they are built for. It’s not what we need them for. You can find somebody else to do yoga and somebody else to eat organic quinoa and all that stuff. The folks with the ability to concentrate and create something the way a lot of folks with Asperger’s have been able to do, that’s special.
That’s interesting. I love your perspectives, Pablos. To think that you fucking come from Alaska.
Nothing in Alaska is normal.
You grew up in Anchorage?
I grew up mostly in Anchorage. I spent about five years in a small town called Soldotna.
It was always dark. Do you get a minute of the sun in the winter?
You would walk to school in the dark and walk home from school in the dark. We’re meandering but I want to back up. I come from the sport fishing capital of America.
Do you like sushi?
No. It’s a problem in relationships.
Do you like cows? Do you like a good steak? Why do you think the cows are fired emissions that are affecting the climate? If everybody quit eating meat for a year, I hear that we would be in a much better situation. Is that true?
Yeah. It’s because the gas is not CO2. It’s methane. Methane is about 26 times as bad as CO2.
We got to do something about that. Why can’t they put cows in a big fucking building that’s taking the methane out of the air?
That is possible. It’s just that they keep trying to make them fart inside of a building.
It might be toxic for them. I would think that the cows would fall over in their cages.
They would. It’s nasty stuff.
What are you hearing about it?
Methane is the exact same thing as natural gas. If you could capture it, put it in cars and you can power the world.
Why can’t they capture that? Why can’t they do this?The day of that big photographer is dwindling down because now everybody's a photographer. Click To Tweet
There are inventions which try to capture methane from the farts of cows.
Whoever does that will make billions. Why haven’t you figured that out? We might have in this conversation the answer.
The truth is you could do a lot if you catch that methane because something close to 30% of green gasses is coming from the cow farts.
Why can’t they put a suction cup up to their butt?
There is a patent on that. It’s expired though. It’s an open-source thing. Anyone could stick a suction cup on the bottom of a cow and collect the methane and sell it into the energy market. I don’t know what you’re doing here taking pictures when you can be rich.
I own 1,200 acres in South Dakota with oil on it. I own mineral rights to the land. I can drill tomorrow. I just haven’t drilled.
How did you choose South Dakota?
I inherited it from my great-great-uncle.
Did he want to get it oil?
No. He was a sheep farmer. He had cattle and horses of about over 60 or 80 that ran around on his land. I did a book called Bygone Days of all his found photography and negatives. I remember going there when I was a little kid so I became close to Johnny. He lived in the original sod house that he was born in. It was the first homestead in the area in Dakota. It’s in the North-Western area. It’s incredibly beautiful. He put me in the will to take care of the land and keep the place but I’ve never drilled on it. As soon as I remember, when they were reading the will, people are coming up to me and say, “You can drill. There’s oil here.” I’m like, “Really?” I’ve never done it.
It’s still going to be a little late.
I should have done that deal with Halliburton sooner.
This was your grandfather.
Great-great-uncle of mine and I did a book called Bygone Days on him.
Did you go to visit him?
All the time. I loved it out there.
Where were you growing up?
I was born in South Dakota, Aberdeen and I have relatives in Sioux Falls and stuff that. My parents moved to Arizona when I was one because there were jobs there. There were nursing and teaching jobs, and it was starting to blossom in Phoenix. I grew up in Mesa which is outside of Phoenix. It’s lonely back there and it was suburbia. I didn’t have much culture when I grew up at all. It was cowboys and a lot of cotton fields. If my parents had $5,000 or $4,000 to buy land out there, they would have been great because now it’s sprawling.
Was this in early or mid-’70s or something?
I was born in ‘66. In 1967, we were out there and my sister was born. We lived out there. That was my life.
Is your uncle the one that got photography in your head?
No. It’s bizarre. I was a tennis player. That was my big thing. I was playing lots of tennis. I found a girlfriend of mine and she modeled in Phoenix. I started taking pictures of her and I’m going, “This is cool.” All my family is artists and teachers in the arts. I started taking pictures and I didn’t want to go to college for tennis or anything like that so I never went to college. I graduated from high school. I started a studio. I took pictures in Phoenix. I got over that then I went to Italy. I used to shoot cars and I shot all different things like food and all product stuff. I was into photographing girls. I built a book. I went out to Italy and that’s when I started photographing a lot of models. I came back and I ended up in New York City with this portfolio that I created in Italy and I landed a Ralph Lauren campaign. It was quick and I never went back.
Is that the moment that legitimizes your career as a photographer?
As a photographer, you start shooting a lot of editorials so you do a lot of magazine work before you get a campaign. You’re building your style and your image shooting editorial. For some reason, I did the Double RL campaign which is cool vintage type stuff. My portfolio was about doc style. I had a style for sure. I also did things instead of putting pictures in a portfolio like a normal portfolio, I’d design cards that folded out with my picture. I designed boxes that people would look at my stuff more design creatively and that showed off to people that I was thinking differently and I nailed that.
That’s when I started shooting editorial because once I did the Double RL campaign, I did two of them and that was my launch. I started shooting a lot of male and women celebrities. I started shooting a lot of men’s stuff with L’Uomo Vogue doing stuff for W when W started. It started propelling my career and then I started shooting women. To shoot women’s fashion is a hard thing to get to. It’s the cram of the cram to get the best girls in the world where I could get the best guys in the world. That leads it into shooting women celebrities. I shot a lot of women celebrities for magazines then that propelled me to now.
When the crossover was more about the woman’s celebrity than a model on the cover of a magazine or in an editorial because nobody cared about that, that’s when it was easier for me to do because I was shooting a lot at women celebrities. They became that fashion model in a way. I was on a plane once to LA and I was watching this woman. She had Vogues and all these magazines. I was watching this woman flipped through the magazine. When it came to an editorial with the model, she just kept flipping. When it came to an editorial with a celebrity, she stopped and read. I was like, “That’s a big indication that you have to be branded as a person.”
We had a lot of experience in the last few years of a celebrity being the driver for everything. Now, we have a multitude of celebrities. For the first time, as far as I can tell in human history, their primary thing is being a celebrity. We used to have some legitimizing career to go with it.
If you’re a new model, your mom and dad are celebrities. You’re almost branded immediately. That’s the only thing that people care about now. You see influencers that are branding and they’re doing all these different things. They’re now apparel designers or they have a soft drink. That’s the new thing now to keep up to have a girl come out of the woodwork from someplace. Male America and become a star are very rare anymore because nobody wants to put the work in to brand that. They want it to be already done. You come from this family and now you’re somebody.
There are counterexamples like Charli D’Amelio on TikTok who came out of nowhere doing dance moves. Now, she’s the biggest thing on Earth.
It’s insane. Every brand wants to link up to that because that’s the fan base and that’s how they sell. It’s a crazy time because that fashion or iconic photographer that shoots big ad campaigns that are fantasy and all this stuff has gone down the tube because nobody wants to pay their fees anymore and somebody can do it on their phone. The day of that big photographer is dwindling down because now everybody is a photographer.
In some sense that the tools and skills became democratized because the phone in my pocket is now better than anything, you used in your entire career. You’ve got the same phone on your bike. We all have these tools and it makes everyone think they’re a photographer even if they haven’t done the work to build up the skillset. A lot of those skills are obsoleted. The position we ended up now is what you’re describing where the professional experienced photographer is not being hired for that photo skillset.
Not much anymore.
Their creativity is also less valuable because you’re competing with such a high noise score.
There’s so much noise in how you breakthrough. You see now photographers in the fashion community using Instagram to help promote themselves. The actual photo agent is a difficult time now for them, but there’s only a certain amount of work out there. Now with the pandemic, where are the budgets? You could still be out there and be a cool photographer. It doesn’t mean you’re making money. For me, I’ve always evolved so much because when I was taking pictures, I started getting into film and I was interested in filmmaking. On a job, I met Patti Smith and shooting her for SPIN Magazine. I met her in Detroit and I started falling for her.
That’s when I started like, “I want to start filming you.” I started learning. I didn’t go to film school. I bought a camera and started filming her. It wasn’t video. It’s always a movie film. It’s footage like Sally Lloyd. That was an eleven-year project for me for her and I self-financed it. I was taking my still world and getting into the storytelling world. When people heard I was doing this, that’s when people started having me shoot. I used to do more filmmaking. When I did Donna Karan stuff, I did these two short films. It was when the BMW films came out. These are short stories. I was doing that with fashion brands.
That propelled me into more shooting fashion and then pulling stills from the cameras and that’s your ad campaign. We were doing that digitally with 2K files and we were finding out that it wasn’t enough for resolution for billboards so I went back to Sally Lloyd and I started filming. We’d get 2 for 1. Now with the cameras with the reds and all that stuff which I was one of the first guys to shoot the reds and higher resolution. You were getting 2 for 1 but you had to know how to run the camera to get a still because of motion blur and all that stuff. That’s when I got into app publishing. That’s when I started getting into more immersive content and pushing that.
What year was this about?
I started doing that many years ago. I was always interested in why people are interacting with a PDF file on a tablet and it seemed flat. I started getting into all this 3D stuff and using turntables but nobody made stuff that was automated that was quick that understood my workflow. That’s when I got into this with this camera and putting tons of money into the technologies. That’s how that happened.
You’ll do a better job than this. Describe what you built here and what it’s capable of.
This is the new photo studio. I call it the SRS. It’s the Sebring Revolution System. I put a lot of time into it where it’s automated and fast. You turn it on, you’re shooting and you’re getting 2D stills as well to feed the 2D roll. You’re getting everything done at once.
I’m going to describe it for people reading. We’re sitting in a 30-foot diameter cylinder with twelve-foot walls. It’s white inside. There are 120 DSLRs mounted in the wall all the way around. Every three degrees is twenty megapixels camera. We weren’t going to tell a lot about the tech but the point is, Steven can set up a scene in here, a model, an athlete, a picture of a whole music video, or whatever. He’s filming the whole thing from every three degrees. He’s able to do real-time.
I can tell the cameras what I want them to do. It’s a rabbit hole stuff where I’m constantly trying to find new dimensions and concepts. It’s Eadweard Muybridge concepts but I’m tapping into Eadweard Muybridge who was a genius and who is the godfather of filmmaking. All his studies on Stanford University with multiple camera systems were mind-boggling. What I’m doing is I’m creating the same concepts but it’s staggeringly fast because we need to make content fast and see results immediately. It has that ability and then I started telling cameras to do different things. That’s when I started seeing motion and time.
That’s what all the great masters like Marcel Duchamp with Nude Descending a Staircase. You see Bacon and all these guys who looked at Muybridge photographs. When I started seeing things dragging and seeing a time and the light scene in this 3D world, I started seeing a lot of the cubistic and the Bacon’s and all this stuff. I always had been tapping into the arts and what were they seeing. That’s why I keep pushing these cameras systems so far. I want to go a lot further. I feel like I have now worked this much that I want to take it into another realm.
One of the things here that stands out is you ended up in a different place than the rest of the tech world did in trying to create 3D content. You ended up in a place that’s much more photorealistic and compelling. You don’t have the uncanny valley problems that we have with volumetric capture systems trying to overlay textures on point clouds and all this stuff because you have photos and everything in the photos is real. It’s much more compelling to me. It’s been fascinating to me to be able to interact with the things you’ve created because they have that visceral connection that you skipped over all the problems everybody else is trying to solve.
I’m not letting the tech rule my art and that’s the thing. For me, tech is a way to make new art. A photograph is the purest idea or way to capture a moment. At the end of the day, it isn’t about the cameras you’re using. It’s what you have at the moment. The fact that I’m using these whole camera systems laced with LED systems and it shoots with strobe. I’m not worried now about how I need to light something for an isolated image. I don’t give a shit about that. Honestly, the lighting, contrast and how fucked up I can make the picture and having high resolution, all the isolating tools work.
Even if it’s flawed, that’s okay because that feels new. Everybody is trying to refine it and make it so straightforward and realistic that they’re missing the moment and the art and that doesn’t grab your heart. Nobody gives a shit about that. The fact that I can do it and see things within twenty seconds, it’s done and I can interact with things quickly. I can pull high-resolution stills quickly in all my workflow. We’re now accessing a lot of AI where all the posts workflow is fast so I can generate different assets quickly that work in VR, AR and all this stuff.
The R&D that I’ve been doing here for years, I know exactly what I need to do in camera to eliminate posts. When I work with fashion brands or shooting high jewelry with Tiffany’s or what we’re doing with Christie’s and other auction companies, it’s about how quickly you can achieve the asset because you don’t have a lot of time with this stuff. If I need to do a campaign, I have to get 30 looks and I have to do some broadcast, if I can’t do that immediately in a day, as if I was at a normal photo studio, you’re dead in the water.
Everybody else is trying to spend weeks or months creating 3D models and rendering them per seat.
The money is not Hollywood. This is a thing that is always been important to me because I work with a lot of creative directors and I speak the language, the music and designers. If we can do things working with their existing budgets, you win. If you can deliver things in a day, you win. You delivering it in a way and you’re creating in a way that we all know. I designed these camera systems based on what we, as artists, do. That is where we are different. The approach is what I know and I don’t also want to see technology. When you come to my place, you don’t see technology, green screens and all this. You’re cooler because you see more tag. For me, that’s gross.
It’s the opposite of modeling.
I don’t want to see that. I love that but when you’re working with artists and designers or whatever you’re doing, the aesthetic is about design. I’m very much in design. When you’re working on this camera, you feel like you’re working in an installation and this is like Philip Johnson or Mies Van Der Rohe. You’re tapping into great artists and you’re lighting artists.
It’s an extraordinary experience coming here. All that soulfulness that you’re trying to describe comes through for me. I’ve been here multiple times. It was struck hanging out there. I wanted to take a picture of the theater but you’ve got these camera systems that you’ve developed out here. One of the things I’m curious about that I wanted to pick your brain on is since I’m from the tech industry and we are motivated to advance the technology. We’re trying to get more megapixels in your camera, better specs on everything, more gigahertz, terabits and everything. It’s important. We have this abstract notion in our minds that like, “This is going to matter to somebody someday.” People like you enable artists and creative people to do more. That has been true but you’re coming at it from the opposite side. I don’t think you give a shit about any of those specs or numbers. As you said, you’re trying to hide the technology.Tech is just a way to make new art. Click To Tweet
It’s not the arrows, it’s the Indians.
Tell me what that means.
What that means is that if you’re a skilled Indian, you don’t need the best arrow. It’s about what you have. I’m working with cameras that are fifteen years old in some of my older systems.
You’re also the Indian who built the first crossbow.
I’ve never heard that one before, but that’s funny.
That’s the interesting thing to me. You may be a skilled photographer and that’s great and all. There are other skilled photographers and I can’t tell the difference between them and that’s fine. What I can tell is you did something they didn’t do. You took that bow and said, “I want to be able to shoot three times as far. I want to be able to get something well beyond what any other photographer could do.” You built the system to do it. To do that, you had to have the vision for creating this thing. I know that you went through various iteration of this concept and prove that. That’s normal.
As you said, we’re many years in here but all along the line, you had to go engage nerds who could make your vision a reality. That’s one thing I’m interested in is what has that process been like? As far as I can tell, even sixteen years in, you’ve done an extraordinary job of not becoming one of them. I come in here and you were like, “We have cameras and you know what they are.” The point is you had to be able to express your vision for this tool you wanted to create and it’s very technical. There’s a lot of work to build this thing. This is a big hardware development project. You’ve done that and you had to get help. When you first started, where’d you get help?
I started accessing people that I knew that knew developers. I went through the gamut and not being a tech whatsoever. My son knows more things than I do. I’m very slow at it. I’d spent a lot of money and then I was like, “I can’t work with you anymore.” I’d bring in another developer.
What’s an example of why you can’t work with somebody?
They were arrogant. There was something about the arrogance of the developer that blew my mind. I would bring in another developer and they say, “We can’t build upon what he did because he built it in this language where I can’t do.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” “He wrote it in this language and I can’t build upon what he did. I’m like, “What are you talking about? Can’t you finish the job?” He goes, “No, we have to start over.” This was my life and it was hard. At the same time, I’m not making money doing this. I have a life of shooting fashion and making TV commercials so that was my life. That’s how I supported all this tech. I kept throwing money into it and then eventually got the right people around me, developers and coders.
We did a lot of R&D and they were understanding a lot because they were designing software that was my brain. When I saw a glitch in the tasks, I would say, “I want that glitch. Give me a button.” They would say, “We’re having difficulties because of the glitch.” I’m like, “I like a glitch.” That was an interesting moment because they were like, “You like it to be imperfected like not perfect the software.” I wanted perfect software but I wanted to be able to say I want to fuck it up too because that’s when you’re going to get something different.
When I’m seeing a girl jumping in here doing something weird with shooting 600 frames per second, it’s slow-motion stuff, she’s glitching out because cameras are not timing perfectly. I like that but then I want to do it perfectly. This camera shoots 1,000 frames per second. It’s fast. I felt captured a strobe in the filament. That’s how fast this camera can be but if I wanted to put motion with it, I could do that too.
I wanted to push it in such a hard world way through my mind but the challenge was the developer’s understanding of what I wanted. We hired a lot of junior developers because it was something they didn’t know anything about and they had to create it. It was interesting. They weren’t specifically image software guys. They’re guys that were trying to think differently and building hardware that was ours. Everything is proprietary. We were trying to do things like that. It’s one of those sayings that everybody can have an electric guitar but you’re not going to be Hendricks.
You’re always going to come up with your own way of how you’re capturing stuff. They had to have that attitude that we’re trying to find new things that created emotion but also understood my workflow as a photographer. It has to be fast and I have to see playback immediately because when you’re working with creative directors and models or music stars, they need to see it quickly. All a sudden, you’re creating an environment where it’s happening organically together. It’s a true collaboration because you see the content in front of your eyes happening. That was a big push. I didn’t shoot a lot of stuff until my workflow and the post on these cameras were so fast.
We call that rapid iteration.
If I didn’t have that, I was done.
There’s something analogous to that in almost everything in the world. One of the things that we’ve experienced in the last couple of decades in our lifetime is Silicon Valley took over every other industry. The reason is we use software to reinvent those industries. That was powerful. The software gave us this superpower of rapid iteration. Imagine if you’re doing the photoshoot, you’re planning it 1.5 years in advance what you want the picture looks like and you’ve got to get one click and it better be right. You have to plan everything but you can’t chart the timeline, you have it all figured out. That’s not going to be fun. It’s not going to be creative and you’re not going to end up with the image that the world needs right at that moment.
Rapid iteration software development is I dreamed some shit up, write some code and launch it into the world. If it isn’t exactly right, no problem. I’m going to update it tonight or tomorrow morning. We’re launching 5 or 6 versions a day of those these days, which is enough that gives us the ability to steer towards what works and what’s successful. You don’t have to guess a year in advance what’s going to work, delightful, or meaningful to the user or the customer, whoever is at the end of that. That’s what artists like you’re describing, the photographers, were able to do as these tools got faster and faster. Twenty seconds later is fast. Much more you than I started with photography with chemicals so it took you at least a day to see what your picture came out to look like.
I hated that process. When I started shooting, I did a lot of ad campaigns for big designers and I only brought a Polaroid camera. That’s all I shot with it. When the scanner came around, I could scan the Polaroid. It was a huge revelation because when we shot Polaroids, there was a moment of immediate gratification but there was always an off moment about a Polaroid. That’s what I wanted this to be.
I wanted it to be something that you pushed it whether it was lighting or flaring the cameras. It has to have something that felt good because I think about the user. That’s all I think about right now. Brands are now accessing me to design the things on how the user will see, experience the jewel and the fashion. For me, this camera system is the place where you experience the content too. It’s being created in the camera and being seen in the camera. I love those new environment concepts and all this played into this camera when I was building it. Aesthetically, it has to be the new museum as well.
Now, with projection mapping and all this stuff, you can go ballistic. We’re finding a new way to think of a hologram when you’re projecting stuff with motion, now that human being becomes a hologram of itself. We’re doing things where emotionally to any user they’re going to be like, “What is that?” That’s what you want. It took me a second to make it. That’s the more fun thing about it because I get bored.
It’s tough to get you to go shoot in a regular photo studio. Why would you do that?
People ask me, I was like, “I moved on from that because it seems one dimensional.”
Plenty of people could do that and they’re still trying.
This is the thing. They’re all still trying to do the same thing. When I monetize this company, I built these camera systems that other people would understand because they know who I am, our workflow and what cameras we work with.
A regular creative director or photographer come in here and create stuff. They don’t need a nine months training program. They can be shooting tomorrow.
They’re going to be like, “I get it.” The workflow is familiar to them. I call the SRS camera. It’s a camera, it’s not cameras. I always say revolutions because we’re doing different things in that 360 space. We’re calling it different things because being able to do 30 seconds takes in here with dialogue and all this is a different approach. It’s deep and it’s cool. You start adding the voice to it and all these things but it’s all happening in camera. That’s the thing that we understand. We don’t understand the value metric capture, you have to light it flat and you do everything in post. You strip in the backgrounds and stuff like that. It needs to be done more pure and quicker. That’s the way you can meet a deadline in 2 or 3 days. That’s the approach.
There’s some interesting stuff here when you were talking about developing it. I was laughing on behalf of our audience who can relate to the notion of hiring a coder to build this thing or some developer who then tells you that they have to start from scratch because the language is wrong. We’ve all been through that many times. I’ve certainly been through that on both sides where I’m the guy telling you, “You have to start from scratch.”
If it was done this way, we can’t achieve it.
That genius was dumb shit. I’m smarter than him, I’m telling you.
There are twelve languages.
There are more than twelve languages for every day of the year but it’s not just the languages. There are a lot of other things that come out. Some of them might’ve been right but I understand from your perspective like that’s ridiculous. Along the way, you said you worked with a lot of junior developers. It may have been necessary for some sense because they don’t know what can’t be done.
Everybody else is being bought up by Google.
You were still able to make successful progress at least to some point.
I was doing stuff in the wrong way but in those early days, I looked back at those captures and they’re brilliant. They’re stuff that I want to get back to. That’s how crazy that is. I was in the trenches, I looked back at that stuff now and I can see it in augmented reality. That’s isolating material.
That’s one of the interesting things that in the time that you’ve been working on this, the headsets for AR have advanced and you serendipitously made content that was compatible with that.
Before, I even knew what AR was. People are talking in VR and all this stuff. I was interested in capturing a 2D picture and having an interactive on your phone. That was about it. When I started understanding all these other things, that’s when we started testing it all. Even when we were doing Rodney Mullen, it’s an incredible project. He is so inspirational. It all came together through Dhani Harrison. In my early app days, we produced the George Harrison Guitar Collection app. I went to Friar Park and I photographed all Harrison guitars in 360 and all that stuff, and then we created this app that is incredible. Dhani who I adore.
I remember he did the track for Liminal.
He did the track for Liminal and we cut Liminal.
Did he introduce you to Rodney?
Yes. Dhani is a skateboarder. His dad would bring in great skateboarders to Friar Park and all that stuff in and then Dhani started doing some skate tricks in the old cameras that were in a geodesic dome which was cool. It was all mirrored out and it was badass. I’m like, “Dhani, you can skate cool.” Dhani is like, “I don’t know if we can do it.” It would be ultimate to get Rodney captured like this because he is the Holy Grail. I didn’t grow up skateboarding. I didn’t grow up with Patti Smith. I entered these things not knowing a lot. I liked that because I get to know who they are. When I first met Rodney, when he came, did a few things and Rodney started seeing the results, it was heaven.
It’s cool because you come out at it without being sycophantic for sure. In both of those cases with Patti and Rodney, you’re working with a living legend. That could have been true with other skateboarders but what would not have been true is this who Rodney is. He’s perfect for this project.
It was incredible to work with him. As a human being, I absolutely adore him. He’s as much of a brother and I miss being able to talk to him more. We love to talk more, even with Dhani, I don’t talk a lot which is hard. Being able to capture Rodney doing a trick and you still don’t understand what he’s doing, he’s Yoda. All that stuff works in all these new applications. That’s what’s incredible. It works in the augmented reality. We started seeing how my camera systems in the early stages were practically volumetric and this was years ago.
That was a time when I did study a pose, which is 1,000 poses of Coco Rocha. I created the book and those now work in VR, holograming, AR, you can make 3D models because of our data. It lives. If there’s a new application that the tech role created, I know it will work. For me, being able to archive great moments, I always look at what I’m doing is an educational study. It becomes this 3D of Getty concepts where now you’re creating archives of skate, music, and people. It’s like doing this farmer imagery back in the early 1900 where there’s photographing. It’s like Richard Avedon’s Americas. I think like this.
I want to do a version of Avedon’s Americas in these camera systems and now you’re documenting humans in a way that’s new and exciting and that’s not happening. I wanted to get Robert Frank in here who I’ve met a few times but he passed away. It’s one of these things that all they have to do is to come in, I do a couple of shots and I’ve got them forever. For me, this is also to the new portrait moment. There are a lot of things. What they capture into reality, it’s not made up. It happens like that Polaroid moment. That’s why it was important for me to get into the arts as well because the art world is about purity, reality, archiving and how you can make art of art because you got data.
There’s another interesting thing coming that will give yet another form of life to what you’ve created.
That’s why you’re here too because of Rodney Mullen.
If you think about what you have, even watching Liminal, it is artistic in its editing. There are tricks in there that have never been done before like karate created new tricks that no one can comprehend but they’re in there. They’re presented in Liminal video in an artistic fashion. When you put on a Magic Leap headset, you can walk around Rodney and watch him while he’s doing those tricks. When I was a kid, I first knew Rodney because I got Thrasher Magazine and there are three images of Rodney on a skateboard, Rodney with his skateboard nine inches in the air and then Rodney with a skateboard in the air a foot and a half up without even touching anything but his feet.
That was the first frame sequence of an ollie. I couldn’t understand. There was no way from those three images to figure out how to learn how to ollie. I was in a Podunk, Alaska and no one for 1,000 miles had ever got any close to a skateboard. I’m trying to learn from that but what we could do now is put me in the magical headset next to Rodney. In slow motion, he could do a trick. I could rewind back up, pause, move around and see exactly how he’s doing it and where his weight is. The computer can watch me try and do it and tell me what I’m doing wrong.
I always going to be wrong with a Rodney Mullen.
It’s always good luck because my body can’t move his ways but the computer now can watch my motion compare it to that reference that can come from what you’ve already captured. You’re not even a century, in 5 or 10 years, people could learn to skate by skating right next to Rodney from that content you’ve already made.
That’s where you come in. For me, I’m creating the assets as beautiful as possible. My desire with this company is to have a team of monsters that can take my content and go ballistic with it. That’s something I dream about.A photograph is the purest way to create or capture a moment. Click To Tweet
That’s why it’s cool that we are doing this because this audience might have those monsters you need. If you’re out there, a software engineer and you want to figure out how to do the future of 3D art, this is the coolest stuff that you’re working on.
You’ve always had an interest here when we first met and I always thought that I was amazing. I am interested in the deep world of that part. I only know how to create emotion, moments and capture things in pure reality being able to take it further in the tech world.
We have the opposite problem so much more where I come from. We have engineers, technology, all this stuff and we don’t know how to make anything compelling with it. That’s happening a lot. What I’m always excited about is figuring out how you cross-pollinate those communities, the skillsets until you fulfill the potential because technology is meaningless until humans put it to use. It’s quite frustrating to see a lot of meaningless stuff being done with technology in the so-called tech industry.
They’re being funded with lots of money and you’re still seeing what they’re creating. You’re like, “What? I have no funding here. I’ve been doing this for sixteen years as a hobby.” All of a sudden, here’s a pandemic that is propelling immersive content that I’ve been creating for years with brands and now you’re starting to see a market. My timing as a photographer, filmmaker, artist or whatever you want to call me, there’s nobody that has this anywhere that comes from these communities. That’s something that I’m fascinated with.
When I think about having the right partners and the funding because I built it all and it’s monetizing this concept and then adding to the camera systems with great texts that can understand how much further we can go and create a new future for somebody to see our content. That’s what I love about things. People ask me, “What is that?” I’ll say something and it’s like, “What am I seeing?” I’ll call it something. I almost feel like, “What did I call that?” They’re like, “I’d never heard of that before.” These people are going, “You’re doing volumetric capture.” I’m like, “I guess so. I call it this.” They’re like, “What is that?” I’m like, “I just call it this because it’s not how people do volumetric.” My approach is different. It’s like if I can’t do it fast, I don’t care because I don’t care.
There are different reasons that aren’t important to pick apart here about why different approaches have been taken to creating 3D models and 3D imagery but it is fascinating that you ended up where you are. It seems like a natural soulful toolkit to use for artists and for people who have the experience that you have. Who should be in here right now? It sounds like it’s brands that have products because this is, by far in a way, the fastest, easiest, most beautiful way to get a product in 3D. If you had a brand in which we’re trying to put products in 3D environments.
It might be true that this would be a better way to shoot products even if you didn’t care about 3D. If you’re trying to do any artwork that’s a performance with humans, it’s better to do it here than on any other stage. You’re going to end up with beautiful 3D compatible imagery that could go in a 2D environment. You can get 2D at the same time from every angle. It gives you the ability to do make more editorial decisions after the photos are made instead of before. Those are people who should be here. Anyone filming a music video should be doing it here. Where else do you want to?
When I did the Raconteurs with Jack White and gang, Jack embraced this quickly but I use the camera system. I also walk in with a handheld camera. I use the space shooting regular video as well. I like to mash the two together. It’s interesting to tell stories. You can take the assets from the SRS and then create the other deliverables. That’s why this is such a great camera because even if I came in here and I do that too when I have folks in here, I’ll use my iPhone and take pictures. Here are my pictures that I’m doing as I would as a fashion photographer, I’m shooting video and then I’m shooting this camera so it becomes a tool of a tool.
This becomes another tool to use to create an interesting video. Instead of going to a soundstage and you’re going to get a 2D moment on a YouTube channel or something. Here, I can do that but then I can also take it into the augmented reality world and the virtual world. It’s interesting because, for over years and being in all these brands and stuff, they never understood the fact that, sometimes they thought it was a risk working with the SRS. There are absolutely zero risks because you’re still getting 2D as what you get now.
They could not get their head around that. I would say, “Here’s a picture. Here’s your still and you got a still from all angles. Here’s your interactive, virtual and augmented reality.” They are like, “What?” It was hard. I built this camera to say, “If you go to a photo studio and you take pictures, you’re getting a 2D picture.” That’s all you walk away with. For the same amount of money, what your budgets are, you shoot it in the SRS and you get your 2D what you would walk out of in the photo studio but you also get the 3D element.
We need some forward-thinking art directors and brands to get in here. I don’t mean for this to be a commercial but we’re the only one in the world. It’s a special thing. People don’t even know.
We’re based off here. I’ve been working with Tiffany’s brands, Christie’s, a lot of other auction companies, Smithsonian, we’re doing fashion brands and they’re all starting to now understand. I was working with these brands pre-pandemic in this world. That’s the other thing too about me is that I’m always working with the highest luxury brands in the world. I’m not interested in the low brow. It’s like LVMH or Chanel brands, Balenciaga or Alexander McQueen. These are the things that I do.
Our level of luxury and sophistication in the way we capture stuff, we take it to the storytelling and then we take it to the user’s experience, that’s what we do here. Budgets are crashing if you look at the retail industry, the music industry, how do you tell stories differently and help them sell. The only thing that they’re interested in right now, the brands I have been working with is like help us now create a solution to help sell things differently because it’s not about a 2D campaign anymore. They’re approaching us now with help us. How can you help us plug the hole in the ship?
To be able to go online in a much bigger way than they had prepared for.
The bureaucracy has gone by the wayside. You’re still seeing a bit of bureaucracy with these big companies but what the companies I’m seeing that are little bureaucracy, they can move quickly. Those are the brands that are going to win because there’s no time to have 80 people trying to decide if it’s something that they should do. At the end of the day, I’m building my own auction platform. I’d much rather do my own thing and then work for you because I can give you my technology and ideas. I’ve come to the part now where I’ll do it for myself, cut out the middleman and make more money. Create original content, licensing and royalty deals.
You can move faster. If you’re dragging along a big partner or whatever, it can be pretty inefficient.
It could be inefficient and these are the things that I’m thinking about now.
I’m curious, if somebody who’s a photographer like you were sixteen years ago, a professional photographer coming here, I’m sure there are things that you’re getting out of this system because you know it so intimately. Anyone else can get 80% or 90% of the value without having to have that intimate understanding of the system.
It’s funny because I remember years ago a designer was like, “How can we use your camera and be different than that designer that you already did something with?” At that time, they thought that this was a gimmick like it was a one-off concept. I was arrogant at that point, I said, “This is bigger than your brand because it’s a new camera.” People shoot with cameras. How are they different? How H&M, Gap and everybody else is different? It’s because they style it differently. They have hair and makeup differently. It’s still the same thing. It’s a camera. It’s what you do with the camera is how you be different. What this camera is doing is giving you everything you need as far as assets.
That’s a normal problem when there’s a new technology. People can have a difficult time extrapolating what the implications are so they underestimate it.
That’s precise. A lot of people still are trying to get to wrap their heads around it because they don’t realize how deep this thing is as far as creating content.
An important piece is the Nude Descending a Staircase I did. It was based on Duchamp’s Nude Descending painting that was based on a Muybridge captures of a Nude Descending a Staircase.
It’s an artist, photographer, and art history that’s a critical one.
I think they’d understand that because what we did was in the 6th rotation or 7th rotation. The video shows rotations as I shot it. It was the 7th or 8th rotation, we hit perfectly the Nude Descending painting. I’m using a strobe. There’s no composite work. It’s all on camera. Once we nailed the Nude Descending then I had her doing descending the stair backwards and doing all these weird things. I took the strobe away and then I took it to constant light where now I’m dragging cameras. That’s when we started seeing a lot of Bacon and cubistic stuff.
Is this something that when they’re looking at Muybridge, they’re dragging with paint and we’re dragging with light? There’s a lot of interesting dolly moments. We were tapping into that. Nobody has ever brought the two masters together in this realm using what Muybridge did. We feel that that is an important piece to see. What drives me is tapping into these masters and their early works. The stuff here is we’re going off the charts with stuff. We did this project pre-pandemic with a dear friend of mine, Jordan Roth, and he and I did something so crazy here.
He’s a great guy that socially is much in the industry. He works on Broadway. He is part of all this and he’s a great artist himself, and we did some masterpiece that we’re working on slowly. That piece is outrageously extraordinary. We are trying to figure out how to take this to an audience where they’re immersed with it. We’re not using goggles or things but more being in a space with this content where we’re projecting in and out at the same times where you’re in a theater and you feel like you’re with him. They were trying to figure all that out. He’s in fashion so he’s wearing great designs and it’s an incredible moment. That’s something to look forward to. That one is a crazy rabbit hole stuff.
Anything that you can think of that we can ask the audience like things that you want from them? What do you want help with?
We’re looking to build the teams here taking the technologies further. When you come here, I know you’re always thinking of how the camera systems can go even further. For me, we’re sourcing these teams of guys that work in AI because all my posts, I wanted to go quickly delivering me immediate assets in different applications. I’m a real believer in that machine learning stuff. There’s a way to use that stuff with our optical picture or whatever we want to call it and make the workflow faster. I’ve designed mobile systems where we’re going to be putting these camera systems on the back of semi-trucks and going to the people.
There’s some engineering stuff there. We’re going to have them touring and going to the people, PGA, franchise as the NBA, shooting horse and nature. We want investors. I designed the systems using Tesla trucks which would be a great way to show future concepts where now you have the SRS pulling up in the most futuristic truck where you don’t even have to the plugin. Everything is open you up the back and it’s working. We’re putting the product systems on Q-trucks. This is something we want to do so we can go to where the auction and all the stuff are. We’re trying to get rid of the ability to have to bring stuff to us. We go to that. In the auction world, that’s a big hurdle. Insurances and moving, it’s not proactive.
My thing here is the engineering of the systems because the technology has been done. It’s now engineering them where you press a button and it works. Everything opens up and it’s all these cool renderings that we’ve done. Years ago, I did these designs and we access the people that can build these trailers. You spend $1 million on these things and they super cool. I was like, “We should put it on a Tesla truck. That could be the tractor. Make it like the Space X crazy thing that shows up at somebody’s house.” It’d be cool to access these concepts. That’s where I see a big thing. With the post workflow, that all is happening where these trucks are sending us data. How do you make that go faster?
We’re trying to figure out, maybe Hollywood owns one if they need some characters. It’s one of those things that could be easily sponsored and branded. We want to build another one of these things in Europe. We want to build one of these in LA but the trucks right now, even with COVID, are perfect timing because nobody’s getting on airplanes quickly. That happened a lot where people can’t get to us and I’m like, “Those are the way to get to them.” That would be the perfect solution and upgrading the existing technologies here. I already know what I want. It just needs to be done. These are iterations of the growth of the camera systems. For me, it’s less about the capture and how we’re doing it. It’s more about where can you see my stuff.
That’s what I keep feeling. You know what’s here because I’ve been here, but I don’t even have no other than LIMINAL. I’ll have something to show people. They don’t even know where to go to find your stuff.
I’ve been selective too on who I’m doing stuff for. Having a place where people can navigate, working with the gaming engines, and stuff like that, and being able to deliver all these different applications through one site, it feels more focused than the capture because we’ve done it, we know how to take it further. Now is like how can we think about how to control that working with influencers, brands and our own content? I want to make movies with this camera. I want to make short stories. It’s a great moment for Amazon Prime.
You almost need a new generation of creative directors to figure out how do you tell a story.
For me, it’s about doing things. I’ve written some ideas where I’ve been wanting to do this film for many years where the SRS camera is a character in the movie. It’s an actual physical character of this camera. It’s almost like a spaceship. You see the movie traditionally, I’m filming with cameras and I’m using content from the SRS, which is a character in the film which I see this as a character in all my short stories and films like horror films and all this stuff. After you watched the movie, you can then go into the mind of the character of the SRS. Now you’re seeing and being a part through AR and virtual.
It’s a movie about a photographer who invents the SRS and then keeps it stealth for sixteen years. Nobody knows about it. Meanwhile, he’s making all this incredible art and then he gets run over by a Tesla truck. Somebody discovers all these hard drives, wipes them out and uses them to store Instagram photos. There’s your horror movie.
I did a project with Rick Baker. He won eight Academy Awards. He did American Werewolf. He’s the guy who did all the special effects makeup. He did Thriller, Planet of the Apes and all that stuff. He retired early because the CGI took him out of the world. That’s the most tragic thing in the world because when you see the movies he worked on, Men in Black and all that stuff, it’s all cool. I want to bring him back in here and we do short horror films like B films and say, “Rick, go ballistic.” We’ll create short scenes in the SRS and then we can deliver through the TV a code. You take your phone or your glasses and now that character is in your house. We’re making this stuff. That’s what we want to do.
If I could have put that Pennywise character in my daughter’s bedroom.
How cool would that be? That’s the stuff that I want to do. I’m looking to free myself up so I can do other stuff. I don’t want to oversee technologists. I’m at a point where I want people to oversee those people. You have to hire somebody to oversee them. It’s not me. You need managers and all this stuff. We’re starting to fill positions as far as creative directors and producers within the beauty world or sports world. They’re focusing on the medical world and all these things and how we can tap into these industries.
They’re becoming their own teams because we have content in all these different worlds because we’ve created it for many years. That’s what we’re growing and developing the businesses in sports capture and all these different concepts. It’s all educational too. One of the things that I did a whole render on and I created the whole concept was pro bull riding. They work with bulls and train bulls in a 30-foot diameter cage. Think about capturing a bull rider in this way. My thing is that capture and that experience of a bull with a rider at that moment but my move is to put it in MoMA or put it at the Met.
People look at now who’s not so interested in bull riding but sees it as a Picasso or sees it like this is work of art that you can immerse yourself into and walk around it. You can go up to the bull’s nose. These are the things that I want to do more of. I’ve already thought about it but that’s the most obscure thing in the world like, “Let’s capture a rider on a bull.” It’s like, “What is that going to look like?”
Let’s wrap this up so you can get to making awesome shit like that. Thanks a ton for hanging out with me.
Thanks a ton for hanging out with me.
I’m happy that you’re here and I’m glad we reached out to you because you didn’t reach out to us. We didn’t know you were in New York. What is the timing of that?
Daniel emailed me and he’s like, “I want to show you some cool stuff we’re doing.” I’m like, “I’m in New York. I’ll come by.”
What are the odds of that? The universe is colliding. Rodney would be super stoked and coming from Dhani and David Sunshine how this little family has come to be. We’re lucky. Thank you.
Good luck with this. Hopefully, something good will come from the show. We’ll get some more of your amazing creations.
You might end up having a glorified position here. You can take it over.
Once that Tesla truck gets you on.
Do you think it’s a Mercedes?
It will cooler to be run over by a Tesla truck than a Mercedes. You could survive the Mercedes isn’t as heavy. You don’t want to survive.It's not the arrows, it's the Indian. If you're really a skilled Indian, you don't need the best arrow. Click To Tweet
Have you done all the physics on that?
I have figured out. If you’re going to go by being run over it, you want it to be swift and effective. You don’t want the job half done.
What do you think about every day, Pablos?
I think about dying on impact. That’s what I’m going for. I want a long slope degrading into cancer. I want to get my kid through high school. It’s all fast cars, motorcycles, helicopters and skydiving. That’s what I think I’m going to do. I don’t know if I’ll pull it off or dying with cancer like everyone else.
Don’t say that. I know it’s a scary thing but I love the idea because I’ve always wanted to fly choppers.
I’ve flown one.
I want to fly one.
You can do it. It turns out there’s nothing to it. You don’t need a driver’s license, just show up. You go out on the Tarmac and take the doors off. There’s a preflight inspection and they teach you how to do which is try to rattle anything on the chopper. If you can rattle something, don’t fly. That’s all you do. I do it in Hawaii. It’s fucking beautiful. You can fuse of Hawaii, you’d never get otherwise.
Do you have a license to fly a chopper?
You don’t need a license because you have an actual license from the chopper pilot.
They’ll let you take the reins.
Take the reins. You try to kill yourself over and over again. Right before you succeed, they save you. It’s like having your life saved 1,000 times.
I didn’t know that.
I love it so much because I suck at flying choppers. It’s 99% ways to die and 1% away of flying. This is an amazing experience.
I love helicopters.
They’re super cool. They’re obsoleted by drone technology now.
The drone you get into and it takes you where you want.
That makes way more sense than a helicopter and safer. A helicopter pilot is an amazing tuned instrument but they’re simpler than a Volkswagen Beetle. Every part is observable. There are only a few moving parts. You can try to rattle all of them. It’s an awesome experience. I’ve auto rotated landings on black sand beaches with no road access in Hawaii. Shout out to Mauna Loa Helicopters. They’ll train you how to fly it all the time.
I had no idea.
It costs a couple of hundred bucks for an hour.
Have you flown a plane then?
I’ve never flown a plane. I don’t even have an interest in it. I’ve flown on planes a lot.
You’re not interested in a Cessna.
I’m only interested in jets and then I’ll let you start with them. I’ve lost interest in flying a plane.
It might not be too late for you to join the military.
The military had a few minor concerns about me. I’m already on all the lists you can get on.
With your traveling experience, what is going through security like?
I don’t have a problem with it. The TSA knows me already.
When are you going to do your book?
People ask me about that all the time, but I don’t write.
You’re talking to the thing like I would be the writer and then I would be here with you.
Someday, I’ll do that. We can take all the podcast and turn it into a book.
- Sebring Revolution System
- George Harrison Guitar Collection
- Coco Rocha
- Nude Descending a Staircase – YouTube
About Steven Sebring
As humanity undergoes global changes, evolution presses forward, industry after industry is shifting views, protocols and priorities adjusting to the new demands of our time. This is the revolutionary photography of the future, heralding a new era of interactive multidimensional content. An emerging visual distinction where authenticity is the epicenter of our new digital consciousness. We are redefining the experience of fashion, music, sports, art, science, education and technology with unprecedented personal engagement and connectivity.