Monday, April 17, 2017

The Cutting Edge of VR

Virtual Reality is being adapted to the consumer market as shown by Sony's Virtual Reality device, the PSVR, now having sold 915,000 units, closing in one million within five months of being released. This exceeded their expectations and many others who presumed that this batch of VR could be more gimmick than something that stays.  Sony's been doing a good job of continually adding features to the PSVR until such as being able to watch 3D Blue Ray movies on the headset.

It has been said that the heftiness and weight of the VR headsets are too cumbersome, and much like many other forms of technology, in time they will be smaller, more lightweight, and less pervasive.  Plenty of people will wait for those developments, but many of us enjoy standing on the bleeding edge of technology, ready to embrace the waves of software and patch updates, willing to fully experience it in its genesis and being part of all the discussion and debate that happens, real-time.

The somewhat slow speed of game development might be the most jarring issue currently. As with any new hardware, it takes time to develop stable software and to use the full potential of the device. And to uphold the fidelity of high-quality graphics in Virtual Reality, we recommend utilizing 3D scanned assets for your entertainment projects.

Benefits of 3D scanned assets include higher accuracy to real-world counterparts, pore detail on head scans, intricate detail on clothing including seams, pockets, and collars at high quality.  There is so much you can save by having a company 3D scan some characters, objects, or environments, and preparing those digital assets for your projects, to work withing tight deadlines, and to have data surfaced and retopologized to your liking with texture maps to any size, along with the normal map, the displacement map, and the evenly lit diffuse map.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Photogrammetry for Photorealism

Photogrammetry is an emerging cutting-edge technology which creates photorealistic, highly detailed 3D models from photographs. Photogrammetry has a wide range of applications, from visual effects to engineering. Thanks to being highly detailed and photorealistic, models built with it meet the strict requirements of professional animation studios - face and body capture, are among the most in-demand. With Photogrammetry, many (sometimes hundreds) of digital images are processed by software programs which align them all, creating a thick point cloud. From there we build a mesh and ultimately a 3D photorealistic model. Micro-detail is possible in Photogrammetry if you really manipulate the environment for maximum results. For example, the camera settings insofar as the lens, the focal distance the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and metering mode affect the photos dramatically, so there are many pitfalls to watch out for. Since Photogrammetry relies on very high-quality photos, it’s important to zoom in and analyze the pictures to ensure that the sharpness window is suitable.

3D photogrammetry model of our expert scan-tech Ken James.

In addition to the camera settings, the angle in which the camera is positioned via tripod (or hand-held) is calculated and very specific, and will vary depending on the shape you are capturing. So although the concept is simple, the capture session requires planning and the technicians must have ample experience to handle the session in expert fashion to attain the full potential of the project.

Similar to a Lidar scan, Photogrammetry can likewise be a suitable method for capturing buildings. An advantage for using Photogrammetry rather than Lidar is that the high-quality texture maps have a 1:1 ratio of surface to texture; much higher than does Lidar. Challenges that arise with Photogrammetry include maintaining consistent lighting during outdoor shoots. Geographic locations also play a part since some locations simply have better light from the sun. Regardless, an experienced team can iron out any problems.

3D Photogrammetry models of the historic Point Fermin Lighthouse in San Pedro, CA.

Cars and vehicles are great subjects for Photogrammetry since they are static, thus eliminating noise. Shiny surfaces can pose problems with traditional 3D scanning methods, but Photogrammetry can dodge the noise by utilizing appropriate lighting conditions.

TNG Visual Effect's Photogrammetry can be seen in this Campbell's Soup
Well Yes! commercial.

One of our favorite recent projects was delivering extremely realistic assets with Photogrammetry for the new Campbell's Soups Well Yes! brand of soups. The campaign features the soup's fresh, healthy ingredients so capturing the freshness aspect was key.We prepared for the assignment by picking up a different vegetable or fruit from the grocery store every morning to practice, and the finished :30 turned out great (Man vs. Machine, a design and motion studio, created the kaleidoscope effect).

Photogrammetry has an unlimited amount of applications and is fast becoming a go-to technique. Call us with any questions, regarding this or any 3D scanning technique and what would work best for your 3D scanning project.

Friday, February 3, 2017

LiDAR Scanning for the Big Jobs

Three-dimensional scanning has its challenges, some techniques more than others. LiDAR (light radar) scanning is a technology used to 3D scan larger subjects like elephants, planes, trains, automobiles, buildings, sets, and environments. LiDAR would also be used to scan natural areas like parks, woods, or a gravel pit for a scene. With this technique, we are able to quickly capture an incredible amount of data quickly and accurately.

There are some challenges we face when using LiDAR for entertainment projects. For example, cars are a popular item to scan using LiDAR. Since the surface is shiny we have to dull it down to avoid getting big areas of reflection which will not capture the scan data. Chrome and also has this effect.

Transparent surfaces like windows do not reflect back at all and require treatment with paint or applying a covering of paper or wax to show where the window is and the curvature. Another challenge with LiDAR is movement. Say that you would like to have a boat scanned with LiDAR while it is in the water. The rocking of the boat would make that scanning session difficult. A remedy would be to get the boat onto land or a barge in order to scan it. Another solution would be to tie it down tightly between two docks, in calm water.

Scanning buildings and environments in populated areas will pose certain challenges due to people moving about within the targeted scan area. In these cases, we block off the area if possible. Windows and shiny surfaces need to be accounted for again and prepared, in addition to staying safe in a live action area with moving cars, trucks, and buses.

While in active development it's easy to plan ahead for these considerations, once you know about them. In cases when we are surprised with challenges we are usually able to iron out a solution using some grit and determination, a benefit gleaned from 25 years in the 3D scanning business.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2016: It was a Very VR Year

2016 was marked by the emergence of virtual reality to consumers with the launch of Oculus Rift, Vive and PlayStation VR. Technology now offers us passage deep into a first person experience.  Stanley Kubrick once famously said, “If it can be written or thought, it can be filmed”. This is the modern state of storytelling and gaming, the age where complete 3D worlds are created. At last, we, the viewers, are able to virtually step right into a storyline and take a look around.

According to Oculus Story Studio, early attempts at VR felt empty and strangely fake. VR storytellers strive to populate their 3D worlds with spatial story density. Spatial story density includes all of the visual details that make the worlds more real and more believable; the atmosphere, the environment, the 3D characters and everything visible through the VR headset.

Additional technologies, like synesthesia suits (developed for the game Rez infinite), offer more encompassing experiences through twenty-four sensory vibrotactile actuators. Music, sounds, and sensations are felt through the suit, and early users said that the experience was otherworldly and beyond words.

From a 3D scanning perspective, this is an exciting time. The demand for quality 3D digital assets and digital doubles from high-density 3D scans is rich in 2017. As VR expands, we look forward to the part that we will play as storytelling and gaming environments continue to evolve.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Set a High Bar for Digital Characters

If a digital character is not 3D rendered and animated quite right it can be said to be in the “uncanny valley”, a term coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori. A character is in the uncanny valley if it is not quite photo-realistic, causing humans to react with a sense of unease and eeriness. Therefore, the bar must be set very high during development to create believable digital doubles.

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Today, using state of the art 3D scanning methods, we stay out of the uncanny valley by building dense data clouds that capture every subtle nuance of the scanned character, making them a reliable stand-in. Cyber-characters are showing up in every media channel now, and the internet is a hungry player. With the growth of virtual reality, we will likely become even more accustomed to watching entire stories featuring cyber-characters, a la Rogue One.

.At TNG Visual Effects we use Artec structured light 3D scanning technology coupled with Photogrammetry to build highly realistic digital human heads and bodies. The scanned bodies and heads can be used and reused with subtle tweaks, so ultimately they can prove to be a cost-effective digital asset for your digital library. Furthermore, once the 3D models are built they can take multiple rounds of punishing action that will continue to extend your storytelling without driving up a hospital bill. And, if you set the bar high they will step into your story and do it seamlessly.