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What is 3D Scanning?

3D scanning is becoming a favored service by several industries such as entertainment, medical, crime scene investigation, and merchandising. It can be thought of as a type of photography in which you capture a person, object or scene in 3D, allowing for it to be rotated 360 degrees. You may also projection map photos on to whatever you have 3D scanned thus making a true to life in-color 3D replica that can be inserted and composited into any form of video or computer generated (CG) render.

Lidar Scanned Charger

To scan an environment, a type of 3D scanner is used that emits lasers for measurements and 3D reconstruction. This is called LIDAR, and will capture what is called a point cloud of 3D data. Accurate measurements of the real life scene will copy over to the 3D data, allowing for correct proportions, and to have an entire environment converted to 3D. This data can be used for many things, and will allow for use of 3D cameras, which are not under any type of real world constraints.

lidar scan of old building

It’s becoming more common for the main cast of a film or episodic to be 3D scanned for visual effects purposes, which include stunt work and digital manipulation through the use of 3d shaders and texture maps. Green screens are used to switch out the background on a set and allows a location to be anywhere, likewise a 3D scanned object can be inserted into any location.

For 3D scanning humans, white light technology has many advantages. It is safe, fast, and transportable while still capturing dense accurate data. An alternative is to use photogrammetry, in which DSLR cameras capture the data, and that data is fed through software with complex algorithms that can interpret the photos from 2D to 3D by having enough variety of angles for overage, determining X, Y, Z space.

3d scanning, lidar scanning

Regardless of the type of 3D scanning used, there will be post-processing to clean up the data and to fit the data into a quad shaped mesh over the 3D scan data. This will make the data more flexible, allowing for sculpting, UVs to be applied, and texture maps afterwards. At this point, the 3D object or person can be rigged (inserting digital joints/bones), and then animated either like a CG cartoon with plenty of squash and stretch, or like the real world characters like you and I.

Ultimately the result is of a 3D object that is a replica of their real life counterpart. It can be used in a CG scene or a real life scene by compositing it in. The viewer will be able to experience the performance, and may not even notice when the 3D effect is on screen. This art is becoming more seamless and allows for an array of creative choices that at one time wasn’t even possible.

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Facial Expressions Using Blend Shapes

A 3D character can be somewhat boring without facial expressions, however, choosing to animate a model with dynamic expressions will bring a character to life.

Facial Expression Capture, 3d scans3d scan head3d scan expressions

When working with blend shapes, you begin with a neutral pose that is then morphed into each expression. The blend shapes themselves need to have the same vertex point order and vertex count as your neutral model to make them work correctly. There are many expressions to take into consideration, in fact, the FACS System has approximately 72 expressions with ones as minute as raising an eyebrow. However, it only takes among 30 to 40 expressions to make a static performance come alive.

Nicks Facial Expressions

The many faces of Founder, Nick Tesi.

Check out these two clips of facial motion capture in action:

Facial Motion Capture – video 1

Facial Motion Capture – video 2

When starting down the road of expressions, make sure to figure out as much information as possible as to what your needs are and what the cost will be. Normally, cost is calculated per second as there are 24 to 30 frames per second. Typically a clip can run anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes, so you can see how the price can get away from you quickly. This is not a service to be taken lightly.


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Creating a CG Character

In the world of entertainment, great story lines need great supporting characters. This is a fact that is never lost on a 3D character artist.

full 3d head scan, vampire, pirate

A great deal of work and planning goes into each and every inch of a character to create a world that the audience wants to be a part of. In the past, that required countless hours of anatomical sculpting, touch ups, and revisions. With the help of 3D scanning, an artist no longer has to toil endlessly to achieve the likeness of an actor or the proportions of a costume. The more tedious steps of that process are eliminated which allows them to create at a higher rate, bringing down budgets and raising quality all at once.

full body 3d scan plus textures

3D scanning is changing the face of the industry and just at the right time. It’s really amazing to see just how much detail the scanners can pick up. As quality expectations from the audience rise, the industry must adapt making this technological breakthrough a big step in the right direction.


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Scanning for Facial Expressions

How important are facial expressions when 3D scanning a character? It may seem easy, but are we ever truly aware of what our face is doing when we are experiencing an emotion? What does a genuine sad face look like, or a happy face or an angry face? From time to time we are asked to capture facial expressions during a 3d scanning session, and thinking about the above questions, you can imagine how this task can become challenging. Furthermore, if the expressions are not previously selected, the talent is at odds as to which pose should be captured.

Viking_3d scanning_facial expressions

We’ve come up with a couple of solutions that we know can provide a smoother, more efficient session not only for us, but for the talent.

Solution #1

Review the scene that is calling for the emotion and create a list of possible expressions the character can portray to deliver a believable scene. You can also prerecord the talent acting out the scene to get a better picture as to which emotions you will need.

facial expressions, 3d scanning, viking

Solution #2

Create a list of common expressions/emotions your projects tend to use that you can provide to the talent and/or 3D scanning technician each time facial expression capture is needed.

These tips are simple and easy to implement. They may seem minor and commonsense, but in our experience working in this business, we have found that every little bit helps.


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The Future of Visual Effects

Visual Effects are used more than ever in the entertainment industry. Each year more sets, machinery, props, and characters are becoming digital.

full body and lidar scanning

With the use of green screens and stand-in props, an actor can be anywhere in the world, fighting off monsters or flying an alien spacecraft. The character or prop can be scanned or modeled and then sculpted, or if you have the proper permissions, taken from another show and used again.

Before you know it, there will be a world of digital images accessible to the entire industry through a virtual library. Shows and projects will be completely computer generated from the characters to the weapons to even the locations. The human element will exist only through motion capture and voiceovers. Story generators exist today, but maybe in a dozen years such programs will develop blockbuster scripts. Perhaps there will still be a need for a director to make sense of it all.

mocap stage

What are we getting at? We believe that in the near future movies, commercials, and television programs will be 90-100% digital. Today, 3D scanning is used as a starting point to create a digital asset, but if our predictions become reality, are you ready?

3d scanning before & after

The cameras on set may be able to capture 3D scan data as well as visual color, allowing for the viewer to pan around environments in movies – to be able to basically be your own 3D camera flying around in a free roam – or to be able to have a viewpoint from each character in a 360 degree bubble.


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tng vfx locations

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