So a little while back I was shown a handy little free app called 123D Catch. It's a photogrammetry app offered by Autodesk that uses cloud computing to build 3D models from photos taken from your phone. It allows you to upload up to 40 images of a subject, then combine and compare the images to find the contours of your subject, calculate them in 3D space, then texture the model (with your images) and kick it back out to you. Yes, I know - we live in the future.
The app is also available as a web client and as a full application (with some important features) for Windows. It's basically designed to be used by non-professionals and enable people to 3D print the entire planet, one tiny figurine at a time. It blew me away once I started using it and realized that this could be used for VFX purposes. I am a compositor for a reason. I can model just about as well as my 3 year old cousin, so if it doesn't look like a pile of cubes, it's above my skill level. This tool could give me a reasonable mesh, with exact projections that I can use to relight or place in a matchmoved scene. Better than that, it can give me room dimensions for a set or location that you may be shooting on, so that when you get back from set, you have a layout of the entire location in (very rough) 3D space. This could be a great tool for almost any VFX Sup to use to grab rough Geo of the set for modelers, lighters, and compositors alike.
It's not nearly as exacting as LIDAR data, but it's much easier to get and interpret. It's not meant to replace those incredible point cloud scans, but it's ON MY DAMN PHONE! I can use that thing anywhere.
By the way, I think I should also note that this is not LIDAR. Scott Metzger does a beautiful walkthrough that proves he is a one man VFX team. You can watch it here because of the generosity of FXGuide: http://www.fxguide.com/fxguidetv/fxguidetv-165-scott-metzger-on-mari-and-hdr/
....I get very excited about it. So, I show it to everyone.
One of the people I showed it to was the ultra-capable Jesse Spielman. I've known Jesse for a bit and know that he does not like to be boxed in by any program limitations. He saw the Matrix for what it was and realized that this technology was everywhere. I mean, if you can put in on a phone, it had to be available in other places as well. He took a little vacation and we kept talking about my scans and tests. He did more work on his vacation than I can sometimes do on a job and he made this post on his site about open source and free solutions to desktop photogrammetry.
Jesse's method can control the density of the mesh, the number of images you need, and doesn't require any sort of login or cloud service for the calculations. He has several options for creating and solving the mesh that he explains in his incredibly detailed post. I read the whole thing - twice, and came to the same conclusion both times. Jesse Spielman is smarter than me. This is not a problem. I'm glad that Jesse is out there, and that there are even more Jesse's making amazing tools that make my life easier and my dreams closer to reality. I'll read the post one more time and see if he can walk me through running his method on the Mac (he'll roll his eyes and tell me again about the beauty of LINUX). Until then, I'll keep designing my website through a template and typing while looking at the keyboard.