As its name suggests, our Reality Capture team works with point cloud technology and photogrammetry — technologies that make it possible to bring real world objects into the computer. 3D printing can be considered its complementary technology that makes it possible to bring models out of the computer into the real world. If one connects these technologies, it is possible to capture an object, modify it, and print the modified version. How cool is that?
Eric Richie is a Senior Software Engineer on the Reality Capture team. Eric shared this story with me. With his permission, I thought I would share it with you.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of being in town during the annual Bay Area Maker Faire and spent a couple hours working our Reality Capture booth. For those who aren't familiar with our trade show capture booths (you can see one in the Autodesk Gallery at One Market in San Francisco), they are comprised of rings of DSLRs, rigged together to simultaneously capture images of your head from all angles. The attendees loved it. Sit in the chair, end up with a 3d model of your head. The line stretched around the corner and never seemed to get any shorter.
Everyone was full of questions, but one in particular seemed keep popping up more than any other. "Can I 3d print this?" The answer of course was "yes," but it's never quite that simple. As it was something I had never done myself, I set out to see how cheaply/easily one could go from a photograph to a 3d printed object.
Since we don't have a Capture Booth in the Pittsburgh office, and because we just released ReCap Photo (free trial available if you have an Autodesk 360 account [also free]), I decided to use that as my photo to 3d solution.
As a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, I thought that our panther statue ("Roc") would make a rather handsome subject for this project. With a standard digital camera that we had at the office, I shot 53 photos of the statue from all angles. It took all of 6 minutes to capture the scene.
From there I uploaded the images to my Autodesk 360 account, selected them all, and told ReCap Photo to create a 3d model. I selected "Standard" quality (~35 minutes for my scene) and told it to export a .obj file.
After a short wait, I received an email telling me my model was ready. It looked great. 3d model in hand, it was time to clean it up for printing. In my case, this involved removing things like trees and buildings from the model to focus on just the statue. For this task, I chose Autodesk Meshmixer.
I downloaded the .obj file from Autodesk 360 and loaded it into Meshmixer. If you aren't familiar with an application like Meshmixer, there may be a slight learning curve. There are some good tutorials available on the Meshmixer site. (The "Inspector" feature is your friend.) This step took well under an hour from start to finish.
Once I had a watertight mesh (no holes), I was ready to print. I saved my file as an .stl, tossed it onto a USB drive, and headed over to TechShop. TechShop is a place where makers go to make things. Whereas some people join a gym for a monthly fee to use their exercise equipment, TechShop members pay a monthly fee to use their tools. They have an abundance of them.
At TechShop I imported my .stl into MakerWare. From there it was as simple as picking a good size for my object and hitting "Print." I chose a medium quality setting, and about an hour later, I had my own little Roc statue.
- Total time: < 3 hours
- Total cost: ~$2.00 for materials (the plastic media for the printer)
While I chose 3d printing, there are unlimited other uses once you have your 3d model. You could model a piece of furniture and import it into Revit. You could model a part for use in Inventor. You could model a character which you then animate in Maya... The sky is the limit.
* Note: For the sake of time, I kept quality settings down from start to finish. Much higher resolutions are supported in all phases of this process.
Capture, cleanup, and reproduction are alive in the lab.