3D model creation using my cell phone’s camera

Recently, I was in a discussion with some folks in our Technology Enthusiasts group about 3D model creation. I dabbled with this several years back, purchasing a Microsoft PC interface for the Xbox One camera. It worked, but only on fairly large objects (human size).

I wanted to be able to create models of smaller things, so I investigated Photogrammetry. This is the technique of taking multiple overlapping photographs and deriving measurements from them to create 3D models. The basic principle is like the way many digital cameras allow you to create a panoramic photograph by stitching multiple shots together.

I have been creating 3D printed buildings in HO gage for the model train group here, so I thought I would work on a model that size. My wife has a miniature Christmas village that has a cinema building, so I thought I would try and scan that in. It took 3 tries but I think I ended up with something viable. To get started you need to understand the process:

  1. Place the model on a flat surface you can move around. I tried placing it in an isolated environment with a bland background (e.g., surrounded by cardboard) but that did not work as well as just taking many photographs as I moved around the box. In my case, I used a table on my porch, since it had good lighting and I could move around smoothly.
  2. Take a series of pictures around the object and from various angles. In this case I took a straight on shot and one slightly elevated shot and moved around the object about 10 degrees each time. I did not care about the bottom of the model; I knew it was flat. My goal was to get 100 good shots (well-lit and not blurry) for the software to work with.
  3. Once all the shots were done, I loaded them into Autodesk Recap Photo. There are many tools out there but since I use Fusion 360 and there is a hobbyist license, I settled on this one:
    • Start by loading the software and creating a new project.
Creating a project
  • Load the images into the software, using the button on the left.
Loading pictures into the project
  • Once all the pictures are loaded, and you have made sure you have only the good ones you want selected, click on the Create button at the bottom of the screen to start the process of creating a 3D model.
Creating a model
  • This is a cloud-based process that runs on Autodesk managed servers. All the images need to be uploaded and take can take a while (3-5 minutes). Progress is shown in the icon at the bottom of the screen.
Uploading to the server
  • Once the upload is complete, the job will be placed in a queue with everyone else wanting to create a 3D model and the waiting really begins. The 3 models I loaded took at least 4 hours to complete. I was not there watching to see the exact time they completed.
Waiting for the model to be created
  • Once the job is complete, a small arrow will appear, allowing you to download the model to your PC. After you click download, a dialog will appear asking you where to store the model. A new folder will be created in that location with the model.
Downloading the model
  • Once you have downloaded the model, a new model icon will appear in ReCap Photo in the My Computer section of the screen.
Opening a new model
  • When you open the model, you should see a 3D rendering of the object. Note, there will likely be some anomalies. You can use the tools on the left of the screen to address many of these. This model can be rotated and manipulated at this point.
The 3D model
  1.  You can export the model in numerous formats:
Exporting to a model other software can use
  • In my case, I saved the model as a .STL file and loaded it into 3D builder to scale and clean up further. You will likely need to use a mesh editor to simplify the file before Fusion 360 can turn it into a solid.
The model loaded into Microsoft 3D builder

Hopefully, you will find this tutorial useful. There is also a great video on how to manually create 3D models from photographs out on YouTube using Fusion 360.

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