New app brings 3D filmmaking to the world

In case you haven’t noticed, 3D is the hottest thing to hit filmmaking since color. Everyone, from Shrek to the Wizard of Oz, seems to be coming out with a 3D version leaving many independent and amateur filmmakers who can’t afford the technology behind. Until now.

Now, iPhone 4, iPad 2 or iPod Touch 4 users can download Trimensional, a 99-cent app created by Grant Schindler, a research scientist in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, that allows them to take 3D scans of faces or other objects and share them by email. The latest version of Trimensional also allows users to email animated videos of their 3D models. For a few dollars more, artists and designers can even export their creations to CAD programs or 3D applications like Maya.

“There are professional, $40,000 3-D scanners out there; this won’t perform like those do, but for anything under $100, this is your best bet,” Schindler explains.

The program uses a technique that was originally designed in the 1980s, but requires an expensive set up of lights, a still model and a lot of time. Trimensional has automated the process by asking the same question of every pixel using four different lighting conditions. Trimensional began as a program for a desktop computer in 2008, using the screen to light the subject.

“If I take a scan of my face, the app asks ‘what does the image look like if I shine the light from the left side, what does it look like from the right side’, and so on. There’s one three-dimensional answer per pixel, and combining all those answers results in the full 3-D model,” according to Schindler.

Later, Schindler entered it into the Georgia Tech Research and Innovation Conference. He didn’t win, but being in the conference put him in touch with Tech’s business incubator, the Advanced Technology Development Center.

“I thought surely someone had done this before, so I looked and no one had done it that way,” said Schindler. “It was amazing to really see it working.”

When the iPhone 4 came out with the front-facing camera,  he thought, it’s finally time to build a Trimensional app. In the first version of the app, released in January 2011, users could send still images of their scans via email. The most recent upgrade allows the app to stitch different views of a model together into a movie or animated gif and e-mail.

Trimensional’s new pro upgrade, available as an in-app purchase, will also send a file that can be used by any 3D program. This allows professionals and hobbyists to use a $5 app to perform a task that used to require hundreds of dollars of equipment.

“You can just have fun with it, or if you work with 3-D models, you can use it professionally,” said Schindler.

Schindler is now working on a version for the Android operating system. In the future, Schindler imagines people being able to do more with 3D models.

“Once we get scanners in everyone’s hands, you should be able to use these images for any use you can think of, replicating physical objects by sending your scans to a 3-D printer, or creating a perfect digital substitute to take your video calls when you’re not looking your best,” Schindler said. “Or you could put it on your World of Warcraft character or use it in other games.”

Speaking of games, Schindler is also developing a chess game he created into an app. Before you roll your eyes and groan about another chess game, think again. This app, with a working title of Evolutionary War features evolving pieces.

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