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[Videos] A 'Stranger Things'-Esque Vietnam Through the Lens of a VFX Artist

Narrow alleys have long been a defining characteristic of Vietnam’s cities, with many tracing their origins to the rice patty embankments that once crisscrossed an agricultural landscape.

Each has its own story and character; though like all matter, they are a sum of common molecules and atoms. This is the concept of Dissolving Realities — a series of advanced 3D videos, that through a unique processing method, record and deconstruct scenes of everyday life, along with the imagination.

Dissolving Realities is the work of Ruben Frosali, who goes by RubenFro, an Italian living in Tokyo who specializes in real-time VFX and 3D development. Last year, he launched a project called FutureCities, along with a few other like-minded individuals, with the goal of capturing street life in a different medium than traditional photography or videography.

Frosali says this technology, currently in its infancy with consumer products, will become mainstream. “In a couple of years we’ll be able to record in 3D what we see with our smartphones instead of only using photos or videos, allowing us to 'explore' a place from multiple angles after it is recorded,” he told Saigoneer.

For now, only specialized professionals like Frosali have access to such hardware, and he brought it along on a holiday to Vietnam in 2019 where he recorded, among other things, the buzzing streets of Hanoi. The capital’s narrow alleyways proved to be the perfect setting for capturing scenes in 3D that showcase the potential for the medium.

But while 3D imagery is cool, leveraging the technology to create something much deeper in the post-production process inspired him the most. “What I find extremely fascinating in using volumetric 3D capture to document reality is that it’s basically a process of deconstructing reality. You take a series of photos/videos and let a computer analyze them and create 3D models of these places. In short, you start from images and end up with a very long list of 3D points floating in space. All those points together compose the videos of 'Dissolving Realities.' And while they depict a real scene, they are just mathematical data with simple characteristics (xyz position and color).”

This painstaking process, known as photogrammetry, reconstructs 3D models by employing layers of scripts to extract frames and reconstruct models of real-world locations. To visualize the 3D scenes, Frosali uses a 3D realtime engine called Unity which is specifically designed to render large data sets of point clouds in a cinematic way, with various visual effects seen in these videos.

A similar approach was used for the sound design, where field recordings of the actual locations were processed through different filters and mixed with the sounds of 3D particles colliding. “My goal was to recreate ambient sounds connected to the real locations but at the same time completely alien. Sort of like moving through a frozen second,” RubenFro told us.

This is the science behind it — the molecular breakdown of life, but RubenFro says the series also has a distinctly human element: “... the dissolving effects I created depict very well the concept of dreams and memories. So close you can almost touch them, but suddenly collapsing and dissolving as soon as you try to reach them.”

RubenFro is currently working on music videos and visual effects for movies and commercials, but would like to focus on VR experiences and interactive installations in the future. You can check out his latest music video for Ital Tek’s new single 'Leaving the Grid,' which was selected as Staff Pick and Best Video of the Month on Vimeo.

Check out more of his work on his Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages.