Case Studies

How to ensure that “cheap special effects” are no longer prevalent? Digital point cloud helps you in creating dreams

How to ensure that “cheap special effects” are no longer prevalent? Digital point cloud helps you in creating dreams

The Nothton team is scanning a scene that will be blown up.

In recent years, from the “50 cents special effects” that people were competing to ridicule to the “domestic blockbusters” that movie fans were eagerly awaiting, the increasingly splendid, numerous and complicated visual effects of domestically produced films have been treated with increased respect by the audiences in China. This is inseparable from the exploration and improvement of production technologies and industrialization processes by the special effects companies in China. Among them, we have to mention the application of 3D scanning technology.

Video effects post-production is a tedious and long process. Using the latest 3D scanning technology, not only the time and cost of post-production of films and television can be greatly reduced but the quality of special effects scenes can also be significantly improved through full-scale digital scanning of outdoor scenes and scenes built in the studios.

Nothton Metrology Technology (Beijing) Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Nothton”) is a high-tech enterprise with 3D scanning digitization and 3D measurement as its core. It not only has rich project experience in traditional 3D scanning application fields such as digital factory, geo-information 3D acquisition, building information modeling (BIM) in construction and engineering, shipbuilding, etc., it also has participated in the production of many popular films in China in recent years, witnessing the development of 3D scanning technology in the field of special effects of Chinese films and television.

Using FARO Focus for scanning of the outdoor scene.

Using FARO Focus for scanning of the outdoor scene.

The value of 3D scanning technology in the construction of special effects scenes

In 2014, a well-known visual effects company in China contacted Nothton to ask them to provide 3D scanning service for the film scenes of “Mojin -The Lost Legend”. “Mojin -The Lost Legend” was adapted from the popular IP “Ghost Blows Out the Light” series at that time. It had a very good audience base and the producer had invested a lot of money and personnel into this large-scale production. As a fantasy film, special effects in post-production were a key part of the success of the film.

At that time, the Hollywood visual effects supervisor hired by the visual effects company recommended the introduction of 3D scanning technology into the production process of the film, so he found us. In overseas, the application of 3D scanning technology in the special effects of film and television has been quite mature. Nothton’s Deputy General Manager, Mr. Wu Xingliang provided an introduction.

Many scenes are built temporarily in the studio during filming. Because of the high rental cost of the studio, the producer will do their best to reduce the time that the scenes that will require the studio and the scenes will be quickly dismantled after the filming is completed. But the visual effects of films are produced within one year after live shooting, which requires very complex scene restoration. This means that during the filming, the scene needs to be recorded to the maximum extend within a very tense time period. The more detailed and accurate the scene recording, the better the special effects restoration effect in post-production.

The traditional method is to gather as much information of the scenes as possible by taking photographs and videos and then restoring the scenes through modeling and mapping in the later stage. A skilled modeling engineer uses these image data to sketch scenes. From the beginning of modeling to the revision of the draft, a single scene can take a month or more.

Using FARO Focus laser scanner for scanning of a large stone statue.

Using FARO Focus laser scanner for scanning of a large stone statue.

Using FARO laser scanner for scanning of the chain bridge.

Using FARO laser scanner for scanning of the chain bridge.

As a fantasy movie, “Mojin -The Lost Legend” involved very complex fantasy scenes, such as chain bridge, stone coffin, lotus pedestal, abyss, etc. This film was not only complex in spatial relationship, but also rich in details. It was a great challenge to build special effects scenes in the traditional way. Compared with the traditional way, 3D scanning technology can record these complex fantasy scenes quickly and completely in a short time, which is equivalent to “Dimensionality Reduction and Attack”. The Nothton service team used FARO Focus laser scanner to complete the earlier stages’ scene data acquisition task perfectly.

During filming, Nothton collected 3D point cloud data of 11 indoor and outdoor scenes. According to the area and complexity of the scenes, the time for data acquisition was as short as 2-3 hours and as long as one to two days. As such, the time period was very tight. FARO Focus laser scanner can collect 976,000 points per second. It takes only a few minutes to obtain the complete point cloud data from the surrounding complex environment with its maximum scanning range of 350 meters. Data acquisition can be completed in 4-5 hours for a studio the size of two to three thousand square meters.

Modeling effect of coffins.

Modeling effect of coffins.

On the basis of point cloud data of the scenes, a special effects engineer can directly obtain accurate spatial size relationship from point cloud and can start reconstruction of scenes without deliberating on the proportional relationship. Using the traditional methods, through making reference to the photographs or image data, a modeling engineer needs to consider the positional relationship and the proportional deviation between the scenes, which is equivalent to restoring the 3D scenes based on the reference of plane drawings and photographs. Through cloud data of the scenes, a modeling engineer can directly reconstruct the 3D world in the 3D point cloud reference frame, which can save more than half of the time. Even a junior modeling engineer can build scenes on the this basis, thereby reducing the level of requirements on the personnel, shortening the production cycle and providing accurate quality acceptance basis for model results.

At the same time, FARO Focus laser scanner also has a HDR photograph overlay function, which can perform natural color overlaying on the scanned data to generate color point clouds corresponding to the photo pixels and the scanned pixels. When a modeling engineer is pasting the pictures and textures for a scene, he can help the modeler in positioning the color information on the basis of 3D, thus completing the overlaying of pictures or textures more accurately to make the scene more realistic.

In addition to “Mojin -The Lost Legend”, Nothton also participated in the production of many films, such as “Monster Hunt”, “Surprise”, “The Monkey King 2”, “How Long Will I Love U”, etc. Hence, it has accumulated rich experience in the film and television industry. Regarding the application trend of 3D scanning technology in the film and television industry, Deputy General Manager, Wu Xingliang said, “Originally, only large productions will use 3D scanning technology to improve the quality of special effects. Now, Nothton has received more and more demands for scanning for online dramas, TV dramas, promotional films and VR videos. It can be said that the application of 3D scanning technology in visual effects is becoming more and more popular. Everyone has seen the value of this technology.”

The irreplaceability of FARO

In addition to the film and television industry, the main service industries of Nothton include traditional industries such as digital factory, geo-information 3D acquisition, building information modeling (BIM) in construction and engineering, shipbuilding, etc. It has participated in well-known projects such as Phase I and II of the National Grid Substation Geographic Information System Construction Project, tunnel scanning of Tencent’s Gui’an Seven Star Data Center, curtain wall scanning of the Grand Theatre in Changsha Meixihu International Culture and Art Center, factory area renovation of FAW Jiefang Automotive, scanning of semi-finished products of Starbucks’ new shops, automobile sludge mould testing of Tsinghua University, 3D digitization of the Forbidden City, etc. FARO Focus laser scanners are used for each of these projects.

We know about FARO through the introduction of a friend. Different from the traditional point-to-point measurement, FARO Focus can quickly conduct measurement of complex curves or surfaces and it is suitable for complex measurements with high efficiency. Deputy General Manager, Wu Xingliang provided an introduction.

Nothton has purchased more than six sets of FARO Focus 3D laser scanner since 2014. In Nothton, the frequency of use of FARO Focus laser scanner is very high. Nothton’s business covers the whole country. Its engineers will have to make many business trips for their work. FARO Focus weighs only 4.2kg, allowing the whole set of equipment to be carried in a bag for traveling, which greatly improves the service efficiency of Nothton.

The greatest advantage of FARO is its portability. Compared with other similar products, FARO’s portability is unmatched. The work that originally required two people to complete can now be completed by one person. Deputy General Manager, Wu Xingliang commented regarding the advantages of FARO. “Furthermore, we are quite satisfied with the products and system software of FARO. With consideration from the aspects of cost performance, portability and comprehensive evaluation, FARO is an irreplaceable choice.”


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