One of the great things we get to do here at fxguide and at our sister site, fxphd, is to explore a range of technologies and their application to visual effects. We were recently able to visit CSIRO, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, to explore a 3D mapping system called Zebedee that we thought could have some very real applications to the visual effects industry.

A photograph of the warehouse area scanned at CSIRO by the Zebedee system.
A photograph of a warehouse area scanned at CSIRO by the Zebedee system.

Most readers will be aware of on-set LIDAR systems for scanning locations and environments - the laser scans from these systems can be crucial in re-creating CG sets, props and for helping to track in creatures and camera moves. One limitation of many LIDAR scanners, however, is that they are fixed - you often need multiple scans from different locations to build up a full scan.

The resulting scan data from the warehouse area - click to see a larger version.
The resulting scan data from the warehouse area - click to see a larger version.

This is where CSIRO's Zebedee is different - it's a handheld LIDAR scanner that an operator holds while walking through an area - indoor or outdoor - to carry out a scan. The scanner itself is mounted on a spring, on which it oscillates to produce the rotational motion of a LIDAR scanning plane into a 3D field of view. Zebedee grew out of research originally for 3D localization and mapping for autonomous robots, but its ability to quickly scan filming locations also seems entirely possible.

Another view of the scan data. Image by Jonathan Roberts, data acquired by Robert Zlot (CSIRO).
Another view of the scan data. Image by Jonathan Roberts, data acquired by Robert Zlot (CSIRO).

While we were at CSIRO, one of Zebedee's inventors, Dr Robert Zlot, scanned a warehouse area and then provided us with the resulting 3D point cloud data. You can see the results in the video below, in which Mike Seymour talks to Dr Zlot about the system.

Watch the interview with Zebedee co-inventor Dr Robert Zlot.

Currently, the same technology is commercially available as ZEB1 through CSIRO's partner, 3D Laser Mapping. Charlie Whyman from 3D Laser Mapping told us that the ZEB1 is being used by customers "to map underground mining environments, some using it to map historical buildings – such as the leaning tower of Pisa, others who are using it for real estate, forestry mapping and general building surveys."

For more on Zebedee, check out the Background Fundamentals course at fxphd.com, where you'll also find other in-depth visual effects training.


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