Manufacturing

First Looks: PhotoModeler Pro v5

1 Nov, 2003 By: David Byrnes


PhotoModeler Pro v5
3D models from digital pictures

pros: Easy-to-use, affordable way to capture real objects as digital models.
cons: None significant.
price: $895

Eos Systems
604.732.6658
sales@photomodeler.com

PhotoModeler Pro v5 is a Windows-based digital photogrammetry program that lets you create accurate 3D models of existing objects by digitizing common points in sets of photographs of the objects taken from different vantage points. PhotoModeler Pro occupies a unique niche in desktop engineering software and at $895 is among the lowest cost photogrammetry tools available.

You can use digital photographs (the most convenient), scanned conventional photographs, and captured video images as source material. For digital images, you should use a calibrated camera. The calibration process is completely automatic. You can also use an unknown camera to generate reasonably accurate models from individual photographs of unknown origin. You could, for example, generate a 3D model from photos of a demolished building.

PhotoModeler's uses are many and varied. In North America, police and insurance agencies use it for accident reconstruction, and process engineers use it in the industrial measurement field. In Europe, the software is commonly used to document historic buildings.

The Windows-standard PhotoModeler display is easy to use. Above the graphics area is a menu bar and two customizable toolbars (three more toolbars are turned off by default). Below the graphics area is a message line that prompts you for input.

PhotoModeler Pro v5
Seven photographs (shown on the left of the screen) were sufficient to generate this NURBS-surfaced model of a toy Ferrari. The materials on the model in the 3D Viewer window were captured from the same photographs.

You begin a PhotoModeler project by running the Project Setup wizard. Specify the units you want to work with and the approximate size of the object being modeled. Next you describe the camera that took the photographs, usually by loading a precalibrated camera description file. The Wizard ends by having you load the initial images of your building or object. On a large and complex building, you'd probably start with overall shots to model the general form and size, then load closer shots to create the detail. You can add and remove photos at any stage.

With photos loaded in the work area, you digitize common points or edges either by eyeballing or, if precision is required, by placing paper targets on the object. The program scans photos for these targets and creates 3D points to the subpixel level. It then processes the data and creates the model. At this point, you can go back and load further photographs to start building the detail. You can export PhotoModeler models to a number of popular file formats, including 3D Studio (3DS), VRML, IGES, DXF, and-new to v5-STL and Rhino 3DM.

Also new to PhotoModeler v5 are NURBS surfaces. Among the seven surfacing tools are lofts, sweeps, and revolved surfaces. You create surfaces in the 3D Viewer window by selecting defining curves. You can then view them in the 3D Viewer and Table windows. This offers advantages over viewing a wire frame-but it gets better. In using points and lines to capture the boundaries of any given surface from a photograph, PhotoModeler also stores the image area within those boundaries and can map it precisely to the 3D model.

PhotoModeler Pro runs on Windows NT/2000/XP. It also runs in Windows 98, although Eos recommends you download the demo and test it before purchasing. Recommended system specifications are a Pentium III/800, 128MB RAM, and 100MB of disk space. If you take your own photos, you need a recording device. Eos sells a calibrated Olympus 5050 digital camera and software bundle for $1,899.

Eos Systems offers excellent support and has made PhotoModeler as easy to use as possible. The program comes with 400MB of video tutorials, and I encourage new users to work through them. You can get a taste of the program by downloading a demo from www.photomodeler.com.

 


About the Author: David Byrnes


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