Everyone can 3D

On my quest to introduce 3D applications into the world of Egyptology, I stumbled upon the awesome Phil Nolan, who showed in a video how to 3D scan an object using only a camera and some free software (Visual SFM, CMVS and MeshLab). I tried this method, but unfortunately, my laptop’s CPU got stuck using MeshLab. In a more recent video (still almost a year old), Nolan explains an even simpler method, using Autodesk Memento. Autodesk is the producer of famous 3D modelling software such as 3DS Max and Maya. (Note that you can get a free Educational license for 3DS Max!)

Using Memento, it is really easy as pie to create a 3D model using just your camera and the currently still free beta version of the software. You simply make photos from different angles of the object and feed them into the program. The Memento server does the rest, and you’re all set to upload your model to the Memento gallery or for example to the online 3D platform Sketchfab. As Nolan explains in the video, it is best to photograph in diffused daylight (making for less shading), turn off your camera’s autofocus and manually focus just once, and take two pictures each from almost the same angle before moving on to another angle. In my enthusiasm I simply photographed inside, in a quite unsystematic way, and taking only about 35 pictures, but even then the result is nice. This is a souvenir head I bought at Deir el-Medina:


This technique can be used not only to 3D scan small objects for free, but also larger objects and even complete rooms or environments (temples, tombs), as long as a sufficient amount of photos can be taken with good lighting. Of course the quality is not nearly that of an expensive laser 3D scanner, but it’s getting ever cheaper and easier to do these things, and you only have to be creative in order to come up with new possibilities (interactive museum displays, reconstructions of destroyed sites, archaeological games using actual objects, VR in the classroom… you name it). My quest will be to test these methods and find applications for them within the field of Egyptology.

Try rotating the object, and zooming in and out with your mouse:

Next up I want to try 3D scanning a relief fragment, which will require a variable light source (say, a flashlight) and a technique called reflectance transformation imaging (RTI). Again, using free software. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Some time ago I photographed the Hekate triformis with help from Marein Meijer at the National Museum of Antiquities. The lighting was awful, but this was one of the few statues that could be viewed from 360 degrees. This photoscan was done using 102 photos. There are some weird bits, especially on top, because the statue was quite tall and difficult to photograph. Also, lots of shadows. But here is the test result:

2 thoughts on “Everyone can 3D

  1. Hi Nicky,

    First of, great post! I wonder, though, whether these techniques (and which of them) result in true mesh shapes, such as that you get actual, deformable 3D representations of the object, or more like a 3D simulation, along the lines of what already used to be possible with QuickTime VR so many years ago (i.e. you stitch together a panomaric photograph of the object, wrap it around a cylinder, and as you rotate the cylinder, you simulate 3D, without it actually being 3D). Although both techniques have their certain advantages and disadvantages, hence uses, the QuickTime VR technique is more reasonably implementable than the creation of a true 3D mesh, yet delivers a way less versatile result. Any ideas on that?


    1. Hi Alex, thank you for your reply! This technique creates a true mesh, see here: http://nickyvandebeek.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/mesh.jpg
      I guess a mesh can be more easily integrated in 3D environments and edited using 3DS Max or other software, although the ‘sharpness’ of the object is not brilliant as you can see in the example. But unless you want to 3D print or render in super high quality, I guess these ‘easy 3D’ models can be quite useful for some purposes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *