Even when using a dedicated hands-on modeler such as Eovia Hexagon, creating new objects from scratch can still be a major chore. And trying to accurately recreate the shape and surface of existing objects is even harder. When you’re holding such an object in your hand, you can’t help wishing there were some way you could just press a button to “computerize” it. That’s where 3DSOM (3D Software Object Modeler) Pro comes in.
Before the magic happens though, you have to prepare the trick. This involves fixing your object to a stand above a printed-out calibration mat, setting it against a contrasting coloured background, and then taking a series of side-on and bird’s-eye shots with your digital camera. You then load these into 3DSOM Pro -around 20 should do it. All being well, you can then simply hit the Make All command and a minute or so later your fully textured 3D object appears onscreen ready for export to 3DS format for use in larger 3D workflows, or directly to Shockwave, VRML or 3DSOM’s own dedicated Java-based format for web display.
So how is the trick achieved? Essentially it’s a four stage process. When the images are loaded, 3DSOM Pro uses the calibration map data to work out the camera angle with which each photo was taken. When you hit Make All, each image is then automatically masked to isolate the object against its contrasting background. The combination of the masked silhouettes and their camera angles are then used to generate a wireframe model. Finally, based on the co-ordinates of this mesh and their relation to the originating photos, an optimised texture map is created. It’s a beautiful system (based originally on research done for Canon) and for the provided sample projects it does indeed work like magic.
Of course there’s a huge difference between tutorial examples and actual projects, but 3DSOM has always prided itself on its real world flexibility. For example the default auto-masking is a great timesaver but, where necessary, you can always paint on a mask either internally or in a third-party external editor. And for those jobs that still don’t go completely to plan, 3DSOM also pioneered simple but effective editing capabilities. In particular, to remove obvious errors in the shape of your object, you simply rotate the model until the incorrect geometry is clearly displayed, generate a “pseudo silhouette” and then edit this mask before regenerating the wireframe model. And to remove errors in the surface appearance of your object, you again rotate the model into position and then simply copy the current view to the clipboard, edit it in a bitmap editor and paste the new version back – 3DSOM automatically updates the texture map accordingly.
3DSOM has always offered impressive power then, but this new Pro release takes things onto a new level. To begin with, it sports a more professional interface built on wizards which simultaneously provide more handholding and more control. This combination of greater usability and greater power is noticeable throughout the program. When it comes to masking your images, for example, there’s now an interactive auto-masking threshold selector and this can be applied to different selections in the image. Alternatively, for semi-automatic masking, you can use the new Shrink Wrap tool to quickly outline the object to be isolated while the new Fill and Polygon tools enhance manual masking.
3DSOM Pro now automatically optimizes the mesh it creates.
The most fundamental changes are apparent when it comes to modeling. In particular, after the first wireframe generation, 3DSOM Pro now offers two new options. The first, Surface Optimisation, intelligently removes unwanted facets in the geometry, maintaining clear corners but otherwise smoothing the mesh. The second, Subdivision Surface, intelligently optimizes the mesh in terms of the number of triangles needed to accurately represent it, so enabling massive compression and much faster web display.
Further new modeling power is provided by the ability to import 3DS meshes. This can be used both to texturize external CAD or laser-scanned models and to fine-tune 3DSOM Pro’s own exported models, for example using Boolean operations to create those concave surfaces that silhouettes can’t pick up. Exporting to 3DS and re-importing also now enables different parts of an object, say the body and lens of a camera, to be modeled separately which helps boost end quality.
The control over final texture map generation has also been improved. The new Alignment wizard helps merge multiple scans to accurately recreate the underside of your object. You can also now simply drag an image thumbnail to align the current view with an input image and Ctrl-drag to update the texture map. And, when outputting to 3DSOM Pro’s Java-based web format, new View-Dependent technology means that multiple optimized texture maps can be streamed in to more accurately recreate the original.
The automatically created texture map brings the object to life.
With this Professional release 3DSOM builds on its existing strengths and again breaks new ground in terms of usability, power and end quality; but there is one major downside. Previously 3DSOM cost just £299, now its replacement costs five times as much! That immediately pushes 3DSOM Pro beyond the means of most occasional users, but for regular users its superior workflow and results will soon repay the investment.