In the News: The Press On-Line – 3-D scanner for films

by Nov 1, 1999Lord of the Rings (Movies)

In my usual perusals of the online New Zealand papers, I came across the following article at The Press On-Line which takes a gander at a scanner being used in the LOTR movies. I’m sure this will be an oft used piece of equipment for all the computer-generated graphics they’ll be churning out at WETA.

3-D scanner for films

The Press On-Line

November 1, 1999

A laser scanner developed in Christchurch is
being used to reconstruct 3-D images for Peter
Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. DAVID
ARMSTRONG explains.

A hand-held scanner invented by a group of Christchurch
scientists is being used by the film industry in New Zealand and
the United States for computer-based animation.

The laser scanner and associated software can reconstruct in a
few seconds a digital 3-D image of any irregularly shaped
object, arranging the data in formats ready for use in popular
computer-aided design and animation software packages.

After three years of development backed by
government-agency grants, Applied Research Associates has
begun reaping some rewards as its US-based distributor,
Polhemus, this year has sold the high-tech product to some of
the leading players in the film industry.

One FastScan unit is being used by Peter Jackson’s Weta
Productions in Wellington to help animate the Lord of the Rings
movie.

ARA was formed in 1995 by Rick Fright, Mark Nixon, Brent
Price, and Bruce McCallum to develop the hand-held scanner
from Dr Fright’s earlier ideas and work at Christchurch
Hospital.

Various fixed-geometry laser and X-ray scanners are available
for medical and industrial applications, including radiotherapy
treatment planning and skull-damage repair. All are limited by
their inflexible mechanisms, and are expensive.

ARA’s portable FastScan unit uses a planar laser beam shining
on the object, with reflections recorded by two cameras on the
scanner arm. This allows data to be recorded for irregular and
hard-to-get-at shapes, such as the nose.

Several scans may be recorded around the object, each taking
no more than a few seconds. The software quickly merges the
overlapping data into a three-dimensional mesh, ready for
design work.

What makes ARA’s device unique is its ability to work from
flexible angles, rather than a fixed-geometry framework. This is
achieved by a magnetic tracker nearby, which emits a set of
magnetic pulses to provide reference data for the position and
orientation of the scanner wand.

The scanner, which sells for $US30,000, is a vital tool for film
and advertisement animators. It can track 3-D shapes as they
move around, providing graphic designers with a frame of
reference on which to hang their creations.

Another application is rapid prototyping of objects to be
manufactured. A clay model of an object such as an
ergonomically-shaped mouse, can be scanned, and the
resulting data used to drive a computer-controlled milling
machine.

The scanner can also be used to design cosmetically attractive
prosthetics and orthotics, such as to repair a jaw or skull.


ARA will remain primarily a research rather than production
firm, funded from research grants and product licensing and
royalties, says a director Mark Nixon. It has six full-time and
several part-time staff, with half its revenue coming from a
share of sales by Polhemus, currently running at about three
units a month.

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