(click for larger)

Digital Replicas of the Real World in Stereoscopic 3D:

Laser scanning is not new, and for that matter, neither is stereoscopic 3D. It’s been the domain of Oil and Gas exploration, data visualization, Geological and other surveys and in Medicine for a long time. But it’s time to shine has only recently come with price of hardware and technology in general becoming more accessible and affordable to everyone.

Quite a few Hollywood productions have already used Laser Scanning in blockbusters (mainly 2D films). Laser scanned ‘digital assets’ are in-valuable in VFX work.

However with stereoscopic 3D movie-making gaining a strong foothold, it is our belief at the Stereo 3D Lab, that laser scanners are going to become a part of staple kit that goes out with previz crews, and even during production.

I invited FARO lasers to give us a demonstration of their new FARO FOCUS 3D scanner. The lure of this scanner for me is that it fits in a backpack and has a simple, easy to use touch screen interface to operate. It even records all those millions of points (that form the point cloud) directly onto SD cards. This is perfect for today’s generation of film makers and technicians who are used to finger flicking their way through a GUI a la i-phone style.

The image above is a complete scan of our 3D LAB, done in under 10 minutes from two scan locations, complete with an (upto) 70 mega pixel color photo overlay from the unit.

To drive the point home… This is a complete scan that is accurate to a few millimeters (it can go to higher accuracy if needed) that can be used as a digital record of this brick and mortar structure.

The video below shows the quality of scanning and the huge number of possibilities that it opens up to every department of a film production unit, today. As we are interested in stereoscopic 3D film making, let’s look at some of the areas that laser scanners can be of unique benefit. I will leave out the more technical aspects of laser scanning and focus on the creative aspects and applications of this technology.

In Previz:

  • A laser scanner that fits into a backpack and is completely battery powered, allows the freedom to scan an entire location no matter how complex, so that back at production base, all the guess work can be taken out on what 3D rig will fit through a narrow alley-way or door frame. Point cloud processing software allows a user to intuitively ‘measure’ distances between any two features in a scene.
  • Because the laser scan can be rapidly converted and imported into standard 3D software such as MAYA, Autocad and others, a complete digital “Set” can be built of a location allowing for pre-visualization of camera IA, flight path of camera and resulting effect in full stereoscopic 3D.
  • Choice of IA can be worked out if needed using this accurate (to scale) Digital Asset. (i.e would the resulting camera move or choice of IA lead to gigantism/hyperstereo/hypostereo effect etc)
  • Imagine being able to import a whole digital set into Stereo3D pre-viz software such as Frame Forge 3D and the resulting precision and planning that could result. Alfred Hitchcock would have been envious.

In Shooting 2D for 3D:

  • Fudging pixels is an artform in 2D to 3D conversions. A laser scanned asset of the location, and/or of important props and even the talent would lead to invaluable visual information to the roto/compositing artists in the 2D to 3D conversion department. Coupled with high resolution photo scans, on non-closeup scenes, the background objects and scenery could be given more “3Dness” rather than the “living wallpaper” effect we see in some of today’s 2D movie conversions.

On location and Principal Photography:

  • Achieve camera moves that are impossible in 2D (much less with a stereoscopic 3D rig) with a highrez laser scanned and mapped location. As a side note, how many realized that the entire city block was a CG model in the Burly Brawl sequence from the Matrix. I do not know however if laser scanning was involved back then.

The Faro Focus3D scanner at my S3D Lab, UAE:

With the compactness of such laser scanners as the Faro Focus 3D and other laser scanner manufacturers such as Leica, it is now becoming possible for even more spectacular and sophisticated movie making in stereoscopic 3D.

In an earlier article almost exactly a couple of years ago, I’d touched on the subject of Documenting real world locations in movies and how Hollywood could help preserving via digital means…the real world, long after some unfortunate natural or man made calamity strikes. Now with laser scanners costing less than $50,000, this is entirely possible!

Using laser scanners in stereoscopic 3D movie making is just scratching the surface of some of the on-going creative investigations being done at the 3D Lab. Laser scanned locations also form the basis for realistic VR simulations in Emergency response training (Oil&Gas, Homeland security, Medicine).

The future of movie making is in real time photo-realistic rendering of such digital assets in resolutions of 2k and above, and of course in “Hybrid movies”. An example was Avatar.