Design Visualization

Autodesk ReCap

3 Oct, 2013 By: Patrick Davis

First Look Review: Powerful pair of tools easily turns laser scans and photographs into quality visualizations and high-resolution 3D models.

On the heels of its successful launch of 123D Catch, a mobile app for consumers that turns photographs into 3D models, Autodesk introduced ReCap — a pair of reality-capture applications for professional designers, architects, and engineers who want to create intelligent 3D models from photos and point cloud data. ReCap Photo and ReCap Pro are available at no extra charge to users of Autodesk 2014 design and creation software suites. Using these tools, you can visualize massive point clouds as realistic surfaces and interact with them, performing CAD-like operations such as select, tag, move, measure, clash detection, and object extraction — all with native points.

Autodesk ReCap Photo

Autodesk ReCap Photo, available via the Autodesk 360 cloud service, creates high-resolution, textured 3D data from a series of photos taken at different angles around an object. The software leverages the cloud to process and store the photos and data. Unlike 123D Catch, ReCap Photo does not limit the number of photos you can submit, and it processes photos in full resolution for a more accurate 3D model. The geometry generated from the photos is a mesh rather than an ACIS-like solid.

Prior to creating a model, you can adjust settings to control the model-conversion process. The first option is mesh quality: draft, standard, or maximum. The better the mesh you desire, the more time is required to process the data. ReCap Photo provides an estimate of processing time based on your photos and the level of quality you select. In my very unscientific tests, producing a standard mesh took twice as long as draft quality, and maximum quality took approximately five times as long as draft.

A second option specifies the registration of matching points. Use this option to select survey points or reference distances to add scale to your project.

The final option lets you select the images that will be used to generate the texture map for the project. The selected photographs are uploaded to Autodesk cloud servers.

Using ReCap Photo is very easy, provided that you follow some simple but essential guidelines about photographing the object, which can be found in the “Autodesk ReCap Photo Getting Started Guide.”  Maintaining consistent camera angle and overlap between each image yields a better model.

A 3D model of a statue created using Autodesk ReCap Photo.

Get started by uploading a series of photos to My Cloud Documents in your Autodesk 360 account. Next, select files to use in creating the 3D model. (For my testing, I used images that Autodesk provided and I created several of my own scenes.)

Click on the Submit Project button to begin converting your photos to a 3D model. Once the scene is created and the model generated, you will receive an e-mail notification with a link to your file.

You can view the finished model directly in your web browser or download it as a ZIP file with any accompanying textures and materials. ReCap Photo lets you save the resulting model to RCS (Autodesk ReCap), FBX (Autodesk), OBJ (Wavefront), or IPM (mobile viewer) format.


Autodesk ReCap Pro

Autodesk ReCap Pro, the second tool in the ReCap duo, is a data-preparation environment designed to enable faster, better visualization of point clouds inside other Autodesk 2014 applications. It runs on the desktop and provides functionality similar to other point cloud–viewing applications — that is, you can index, combine, view, and edit point cloud data, including light detection and ranging (LIDAR) data, prior to importing it into other Autodesk 2014 applications.

If you are reading this article, then you probably have had some experience working with point clouds, and you may know that laser scanners can produce flawless data that can be edited and repurposed in a variety of ways. But to utilize this point cloud data, you typically need computer hardware that can accommodate very substantial memory and processing requirements. There may be hundreds or thousands of files to manage, and the storage requirements are significant. Although functionality is always improving, CAD software traditionally has not done a very good job of managing and processing that enormous amount of data.

Laser scan data in Autodesk ReCap Pro (top) shows height variance in a factory. That same data was converted into a usable 3D model (bottom) using ReCap Pro.

When I get a new scan data set, the first thing I do is look at the point clouds, and visualization is the most basic operation that I perform. To execute this task, I have to be able to open and manage all the relevant point cloud files. Autodesk ReCap Pro provides the tools to do that.

The ReCap Pro user interface (UI) resembles that of Microsoft Windows 8 Metro. At the time of my review, this interface was not easy to use; however, Autodesk reports that it has made changes to the UI to improve the user experience. Otherwise, the software is fairly easy to use. From the Home screen, you can open an existing project, start a new project, access Help, change settings, and exit the application.

Prior to importing the raw point cloud files into ReCap Pro, you have to adjust the import settings for all or a selected group of files. There are five settings that you can control:

  • Noise Filter determines how aggressively stray points are excluded from the imported scan file.
  • Distance Range sets which points are included in the imported scan based a minimum and maximum distance from the scanner.
  • Intensity Range sets the range of points that are imported based on the reflection (intensity) values.
  • Decimation Grid controls the number of points to import by setting the smallest cubic volume that a single point can occupy.
  • Coordinate System aligns the point cloud to a specific ESPG coordinate reference system.
Recap Pro File Compatibility
The following file formats can be indexed by Recap Pro:
  • ASC
  • CL3
  • CLR
  • E57
  • FLS
  • FWS
  • LAS
  • PCG
  • PTG
  • PTS
  • PTX
  • RDS
  • TXT
  • XYB
  • XYZ
  • ZFS

Once you start the import process, ReCap Pro begins indexing the files. This indexing process, which converts the point cloud files to Autodesk’s proprietary Reality Capture Scan (RCS) file format, can take anywhere from a few seconds to hours, depending on the number and size of the files imported. The Import Settings dialog box displays the status of the import process. When the indexing process is done, you can save an aggregated scene of the project to a single Reality Capture Project (RCP) file that links to the processed data.

During my testing, a 1.5-GB dataset with eight original files took about an hour to complete. A single 5-GB PCG file took approximately four hours.

After the importation process is complete, you can organize, clean up, and analyze the data. ReCap Pro provides several methods to organize the data and remove or hide portions of the point cloud. You can create scan regions that you can toggle on and off, specify temporary clip regions, turn off or remove scan files, or delete unwanted points permanently. By viewing the scene using various color modes and lighting schemes, you can gain insight into elevations, normals (which help identify surfaces), and reflectivity.

Once you finalize and save your scene, you can open that RCP file in many other Autodesk 2014 applications, including Revit, AutoCAD, and Navisworks. In my tests, I found that manipulating the model in another Autodesk application was better when using the RCP format than when using the native scan file format.

Today’s design workflows — from architecture to product development to factory design — rely on reality capture technologies to save time and money and improve accuracy when working with as-built data. Autodesk’s new ReCap products make it easy and affordable to turn scanned data and photographs into high-resolution 3D models that you can bring into your Autodesk design software to begin your design process in context. If you’re a user of any Autodesk 2014 product suite, you’ve got to give these tools a try. Highly Recommended.


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