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cyber scan

cyber scan

The Process Behind 3D Scanning & Processing Data

There are clear cut differences between 3D scanning a human character and a hard surface object. When 3D scanning an object, you will receive precise and accurate measurements because an object does not move. A person, however, cannot remain entirely motionless which results in creating an alternate way of 3D scanning a human to locally obtain tight alignments that provide good measurements. Larger objects require larger 3D scanners or at least larger 3D volume boxes, which are calibrated for their size, and thus a smaller 3D volume box has less chance for incongruities.

3d scanned sunglasses

To begin with the process of 3D scanning an object, reference pictures are first taken which aid the 3D modeler, 3D texture artist, and during final QC (Quality Check) to make sure the 3D object matches the real life counterpart. After the object is 3D scanned (sometimes multiple scans are needed), the scan data is aligned and fused together. A good alignment requires some pre-requisite factors such as having overlapping data and choosing intelligent places to start and stop scans as well as the angle of the scanner at the time of the scanning. Once the 3D scan technician acknowledges they have as close to 100% coverage as feasibly possible, the scan is complete and can be processed.

3d scanning before & after

Processing the data can take a longer or shorter time depending on the resolution needed. The higher the resolution you work with in 3D, the slower the process. It’s much easier to work with 5,000 to 500,000 polygons versus 5 million to 50 million polygons. In fact, when working at such high resolutions, decimation (or multiple) must take place (and at the right time within the process). Once the scan data is processed and decimation has been executed, the 3D modeler can begin their work. With the use of the images captured from the professional photo shoot, along with a perfect silhouette and scale of the item provided by the 3D scan, the modeler will 3D model out the many components and unwrap the geo for the 3D texture artist.

lidar scanned vehicle, 3d scanning

The texture artist then paints the object (or projects images) as well as paint seams of where the UV coordinates were cut. The completed texture is given back to the 3D modeler who will bring out further detail through sculpting. As the model is finished off, the normal maps and displacement maps are generated. These maps provide multiple ways for the 3D model to be viewed; taxing the render engine less and proving a higher quality result.

 

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An Overview of Current State of 3D Scanning in VFX

Seekscale interviewed Nick Tesi, Founder and President of TNG Visual Effects, a 3D scanning company based in North America known for its 3d scanning work on many hits lately (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Once Upon a Time and Sleepy Hollow). While 3D scanning technologies are focused on 3D model production, which is a very specific part of a VFX pipeline, they are a great indicator of global trends at work in the industry.

3d scanned train

I was told by a studio that they used 3D scanning for 2 applications: to create 3D objects and for VFX insertion. What do you scan exactly?

We scan people, animals, cars, buildings, scenes, etc. Animals are typically difficult to scan because of their fur; however we use different technologies for different scanning targets.

We are a one-stop-shop for film, television, and all of the entertainment industry. One amusing point is sometimes we’ll scan and deliver 3D models that are within minutes of their death. Studios often need a 3D replica just before they blow up or freeze a character, or throw them from a cliff.

We’ll scan anything people need scanned! We take a lot of different types of work. A few weeks ago a friend called us from the California Science Center to 3D scan the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

What is your technology stack? Are you a services company or a technology company? Do you use proprietary algorithms?

We are a 3D scanning services bureau for the entertainment industry.

For example, we provide scanning services to Blur (a lot of cinematics and game trailers), Stargate (episodic television work), ABC and Fox (Sleepy Hollow) to name a few.

For our technology stack, we use LIDAR to scan buildings, structured light scanners for people, and professional photography for texture mapping. We really use different tools for different use cases.

On the software side, most scanners come with their own software, and proprietary algorithms. Once we get a 3D model out of the scanner software, we go to Maya for quality control, then Mari for texture mapping, and then Zbrush to fine-tune the details.

Are your 3D models used for previz or for final results?

The studios don’t always tell us what they do with our 3D models but they can be used for either. If it is a character that we scanned, then usually the next step is to rig the model by inserting digital bones. They may want to add cyber hair, etc., and we also offer 3d scanning for facial expression to give the character more life.

We could expand into a rigging business, but currently we leave that to the studios because there is no standard yet, everybody does it differently. We usually ask for wireframes so that we can anticipate problems and provide ready to use 3D models.

What are the transformative effects of 3D scanning over a VFX pipeline? From the logistics, timing (scheduling, fixing emergencies etc), rendering, data volumes point of views…

The big studios put together a VFX team for each project. This team will go out and find production houses with the right skills for different sets of shots. They then come and see us and ask us to send our 3D models out to the production houses that will be working on the models so they can match the plates.

As a result we don’t have much visibility over each house pipeline, so it’s hard for us to answer that. However, one thing is clear, more and more studios now call us at the last minute (1 or 2 days notice) and we’re now becoming known for our flexibility and speed of delivery. The industry is going towards shorter cycles, and towards local partners. We try to adapt, and recently launched satellite offices in several locations throughout North America. We think 3D scanning is becoming mature, and like all mature and efficient technology, people turn to it to assist in their production.

Is 3D scanning technology becoming commoditized?

You see consumer devices that are able to do some 3D scanning (Kinect for example), but they are still low-end, not good enough for production purposes. The better your scanner is the better the model is, and the less work humans will have to do. So there is a strong economic drive to pick top-notch hardware.

For example, Lightstage provides the most expensive 3D scanning solution, and then you have other companies doing photogrammetry (mainly in the UK with investments between $100K-$250K) with 100 or more cameras surrounding the target, you can find hardware at all price tags.

When picking hardware, you have 2 criteria: portability (if you need to go onsite), and resolution. For resolution, we provide 3 levels of service: low resolution (for an extra in the background), medium to high resolution, and high resolution for main characters needing a good amount of screen time.

There was a Star Wars teaser where an actor was moving, and in real-time a Stormtrooper was moving in the real movie environment. This is real-time MoCap, could we have real-time 3D scanning soon?

That’s a combination of a motion capture device and a rigged 3D model. These are clearly awesome technology, but keep in mind that 3D models have to be rigged first. We can’t just scan someone in real time, rig in real time, and then have the person appear in the movie environment. Moreover, doing this for high resolution would be problematic since there is always a lot of 3D modeling and manual cleaning involved. So unfortunately, I think we won’t be stopping expert manual work anytime soon!

Where do you see your business going?

Personally I think all movies will soon be all-VFX. Most characters would be filmed on green screens and cyber characters would be used more and more. Building digital assets should be quite a good market (and good for us!), with the hope that hardware and software will improve, and artists and technicians gaining even more knowledge in their fields. So I think we shall have ever more amazing VFX!

Written by François Ruty, Seekscale

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TNG Visual Effects’ Recent Work

Here is a sample of our most recent work. This CG character can be digitally inserted into any film, commercial, video game, or whatever the need. 3D scanning is the most efficient way to create a digital character and can be done on location or in our studio.

full body 3d scan

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VFX Today

There are many articles circling the internet that talk about visual effects and how much they are actually used. Automatically one thinks of big budget films like Spider-Man, Captain America and Godzilla, and yes they are used in those types of films, however, they can also be found in projects like video games, commercials, and even lower budget independent films. Here is a list of some projects that have used VFX.

1. The Polar Express: Released in 2004, this was the first feature film to be shot entirely on a motion capture stage. In The Polar Express, starring Tom Hanks as the dad, train operator and mysterious roof passenger, it was incredible to see an animated actor that really looked like a cartoon version of himself. To capture the specific details of Hanks face and characteristics, facial recognition technology was used through a series of 3D scanning and motion capture sessions.

Tom Hanks, Polar Express, motion capture

2. Avatar: Released in 2009, James Cameron described this film as a hybrid with full live-action shot in combination with computer generated characters and live environments. With half the film being set on the planet Pandora, actors such as Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver spent months on a motion capture stage while acting out each scene that involved their Na’vi alien characters.

Zoe Saldana, Avatar, motion capture

3. Tron: Legacy: In 2010 Jeff Bridges reprised his role as Kevin Flynn in the Tron sequel, Tron: Legacy, and plays a new character CLU which is a program that resembles a younger version of Flynn. To create CLU, Bridges performed the scenes in motion capture gear and later his head was replaced by the younger digital version. To mimic his facial movements, micro cameras with infrared sensors were used.

Jeff Bridges, Tron, motion capture

4. David Guetta’s Music Video Featuring Nicki Minaj: The music video Turn Me On that came out in 2012 featured a mechanical version of Nicki Minaj, along with other doll-like creatures. To create Minaj’s character, she first went through a 3D scanning session to create a digital version that could be used in the video.

Nicki Minaj, Turn Me On, 3d scan

5. Beyond: Two Souls was released in September of 2013 and featured actors Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. David Cage, CEO of Quantic Dream, stated having an emotional narrative was an important point to the development of the game. To capture the actors specific facial expressions and body movements, they were first 3D scanned and then went through several sessions of motion capture to make the virtual versions of themselves as close to life-like as possible. The entire process took over one year to collect enough data to create the game.

Beyond 2 Souls, motion capture

6. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will be released on November 4, 2014 and features actor Kevin Spacey. To recreate someone as iconic as Spacey, he went through a series of 3D scanning and motion capture sessions. It takes highly skilled artists to make true replicas of people, objects, and locations that are well-know.

Kevin Spacey, Call of Duty, 3d facial scan

Click here to view more films that used VFX.

 

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5 Ways to Prep for a 3D Scanning Session

Preparing for a 3d scan is a breeze. Production life however is more chaotic because of the many scheduled activities. The right people must be available and things must be synchronized.

Here is a list we put together to help the process run smoothly:

1. Have a Visual Effects person on site with the talent with a detailed list of what needs to be scanned, as well as someone from Wardrobe to ensure they have the correct outfit that will match the scene. Determine if the talent needs their face, head, and/or full body scanned and how each part needs to be scanned: do jackets need to be open, do zippers need to be zipped up or down, does the clothing need to be layered, will their caps/masks need to be scanned separately, should jewelry be on or off, will there be any other props that need scanning? This will make sure the final product looks correct and will eliminate any back and forth during final quality control.

full body 3d scan

2. Determine if facial expressions will be needed. Will the final product need the use of blend shapes or should just a neutral pose be used for the scan?

Facial Expression Capture, 3d scans

3. Consider briefing the talent on what will be scanned. Most are OK whether they know or not, but on occasion a talent has just come out of hair and makeup and the last thing they want to do is put a wig cap over what took hours to create.

4. Coordinate the timing. What are the expectations? Always add additional time as a buffer for unexpected events and situations.

5. Prep for the scanning crew. Their needs are typically small, however it is helpful to have a table for computers and cameras, electricity, some chairs, and a certain amount of room to do the scanning.

full body 3d scan

As you can see there is not a lot of overhead, but when there are a lot of things going on at the same time, this can be more difficult than it needs to be. If done with minimal man power and some planning, it will be an easy operation. Good luck with all of your projects.

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tng vfx locations

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