Photogrammetry - Photofly
Modeling and texturing realistic 3d models can be very time consuming and painful task, but is needed for VFX, digital preservation, etc. Photogrammetry can cut down on the time needed to create these models/scenes drastically and put that power in the hands of anyone with a digital camera. (overview on slide 2)
Basically, an individual takes a series of photos of the object/scene they want to recreate in 3D. The photos should overlap each other and have balanced lighting (no flash). Then the computer magic happens as photos are compared to each other. If a common pixel is found in multiple photos it is triangulated and stored. (similar to "Structure from Motion" algorithms) With enough of these stored points you get a fairly dense point cloud of data that represents your scene. A poor-man's LIDAR scanner. With Autodesk Photofly they took this one step further and converted the points into a triangle mesh with textures. The crazy thing is that they do a good job at this very difficult task.
This entire process is called Photogrammetry and is something I've been interested in for a looong time. It's often used in special effects to capture a scene or object for digital artists to build off of. Fight Club used this technique heavily to get some amazing camera shots. It is also used heavily in forensics to capture a crime scene. What interests me the most with this technology is how it is finally maturing and becoming accessible to the masses. Soon people will be putting 3d models of their dogs, cats, kids on coffee mugs or other novelty items (not necessarily a good thing). Sadly, people will eventually use this to make bootleg copies of real objects too.
At the UM3D Lab we are focusing on its use for digitally preserving the thousands of crumbling artifacts as well as a starting point for content creation in virtual environments. Personally, I am also interested in this for the "personalization" of products and visual effects work.
Photofly master: Andrew Smith