The Press Online
November 2, 1999
Scanner For Films
A hand-held scanner invented by a group of Christchurch
scientists is being used by the film industry in New Zealand and the United States for
The laser scanner and associated software can reconstruct in
a few seconds a digital 3-D image of any irregularly shaped object, arranging the data in
formats ready for use in popular computer-aided design and animation software packages.
After three years of development backed by government-agency
grants, Applied Research Associates has begun reaping some rewards as its US-based
distributor, Polhemus, this year has sold the high-tech product to some of the leading
players in the film industry.
One FastScan unit is being used by Peter Jackson's Weta
Productions in Wellington to help animate the Lord of the Rings movie.
ARA was formed in 1995 by Rick Fright, Mark Nixon, Brent
Price, and Bruce McCallum to develop the hand-held scanner from Dr Fright's earlier ideas
and work at Christchurch Hospital.
Various fixed-geometry laser and X-ray scanners are available
for medical and industrial applications, including radiotherapy treatment planning and
skull-damage repair. All are limited by their inflexible mechanisms, and are expensive.
ARA's portable FastScan unit uses a planar laser beam shining
on the object, with reflections recorded by two cameras on the scanner arm. This allows
data to be recorded for irregular and hard-to-get-at shapes, such as the nose.
Several scans may be recorded around the object, each taking
no more than a few seconds. The software quickly merges the overlapping data into a
three-dimensional mesh, ready for design work.
What makes ARA's device unique is its ability to work from
flexible angles, rather than a fixed-geometry framework. This is achieved by a magnetic
tracker nearby, which emits a set of magnetic pulses to provide reference data for the
position and orientation of the scanner wand.
The scanner, which sells for $US30,000, is a vital tool for
film and advertisement animators. It can track 3-D shapes as they move around, providing
graphic designers with a frame of reference on which to hang their creations.
Another application is rapid prototyping of objects to be
manufactured. A clay model of an object such as an ergonomically-shaped mouse, can be
scanned, and the resulting data used to drive a computer-controlled milling machine.
The scanner can also be used to design cosmetically
attractive prosthetics and orthotics, such as to repair a jaw or skull.
ARA will remain primarily a research rather than production
firm, funded from research grants and product licensing and royalties, says a director
Mark Nixon. It has six full-time and several part-time staff, with half its revenue coming
from a share of sales by Polhemus, currently running at about three units a month.