3D Digitizing for the Masses

In many facets of the 3D industry, one of the most tedious tasks is modelling. Often, artists are asked to model objects or characters based on physical counterparts such as maquettes or miniatures. While many modellers will take on the challenge of painstakingly reproducing physical objects in 3D, studios are taking on digitizing equipment to streamline their modelling pipelines. One such digitizer is the MicroScribe, manufactured by Immersion Corporation. 3D Festival speaks to Greg Belaus, Director of 3D Business Group at Immersion about the MicroScribe.

3D Festival: What are the advantages of using a MicroScribe digitizing system instead of traditional modelling methods?

Belaus: The main advantages for using the MicroScribe G2 are faster speed and greater accuracy in capturing the physical properties of 3D objects and translating them into complete digital 3D models. Designers or engineers who need to model an exact replica of an object, such as a shoe mold or antique car part, will save huge amounts of time without the need for tedious measuring when using the MicroScribe. The digital version will be a representation of the original, up to +/-0.009".

The MicroScribe G2 is also easier to use than modeling with a keyboard and mouse. The user simply moves the MicroScribe stylus over the surface of the object to capture data points. Users with minimal 3D software experience can create complex models very quickly and easily.

The MicroScribe G2 family is completely portable, powered directly from a USB connection. The MicroScribe G2 is also very affordable when compared to other 3D digitizing systems.

3D Festival: What are the applications for the MicroScribe digitizing pen? Which sector is it most widely used?

Belaus: There are three primary markets for the MicroScribe G2 Desktop Digitizing Systems: (1) Graphics and Animation, (2) CAD/CAM/Reverse Engineering, and (3) OEM.

For the graphics and animation market, the MicroScribe is used to digitize models for creating animated movies and video games. The MicroScribe allows artists the freedom to work in their preferred medium for character creation, such as clay, without forcing them to design with a mouse and keyboard. The technicians can easily digitize the character and move it into a digital animation workflow. The MicroScribe was used in creating full length animated features including "Shrek" and "ICE AGE." The production videos and web sites for both of these movies demonstrate how designers used the MicroScribe in the making of these Hollywood hits.


The second market is CAD/CAM/Reverse Engineering, which is fairly broad and diverse for MicroScribe. Engineers or designers who use our MicroScribe no longer have to endure tedious manual measurements using calipers and other two-dimensional measuring systems. Users can simply recreate real world objects such as mechanical parts, estate jewelry, bones, molds and shoe lasts, quickly and accurately.

The third market is OEMs. The MicroScribe is sold to a number of OEM customers that integrate the digitizing system into custom applications, including medical analysis, furniture design, and shoe manufacturing. One medical company uses the MicroScribe as a 3D positioning device for an ultrasonic transducer. Mounted on a cart, their product provides a portable ultrasound system that not only takes ultrasonic pictures, but also correlates them with positional data that can later be used for radiation therapy and surgery planning.

Case studies and images featuring the various uses of the MicroScribe can be found online.

3D Festival: What are the benefits of the Maya connection Plug-In for Maya users?

Belaus: MicroScribe Connections for Maya is the first in a new series of plug-ins for animators, game developers and industrial designers who use both Maya and the MicroScribe to digitize and render 3D models, animated characters and digital content. With the plug-in, the MicroScribe appears directly integrated as a 3D cursor in the Maya scene (the Maya equivalent of a workspace), allowing for real time visualization of basic object digitization. From that base, we build upon the use of the MicroScribe being directly part of the scene. All objects within the scene can be parented to the MicroScribe cursor, including lights and cameras. This allows the MicroScribe to be used as a 3D positioning device, shaving time off the normally tedious process of 3D position using a 2D mouse. Additionally, animation can be accelerated by creating keyframes on objects that are manipulated with the MicroScribe cursor.


3D Festival: Will there be a similar connection to other applications?

Belaus: MicroScribe Connections for Maya is Immersion's first, first-party plug-in companion software product for the MicroScribe. Traditionally, Immersion relies on third party software companies to provide a high level of integration between the hardware digitizer and the leading software applications in graphic, animation, and CAD industries. For graphics and animation, this includes 3ds max, LightWave, and Rhinoceros. For CAD/CAD, it includes SolidWorks, MasterCAM, and the various AutoDesk applications. Immersion will continue to evangelize third party software support and will add to the first party MicroScribe Connections product line only when significant third party gaps exist.

3D Festival: What kind of models can be digitized? Are there any requirements or preparations needed to be made on the model before digitizing?

Belaus: Any type of model with a relatively hard surface that can be fixed to a permanent surface can be digitized with a MicroScribe system. Preparations for digitizing include drawing lines or dots on the model to trace with the digitizer, but these are not necessary. We have many customers that digitize very rare antiques, bones and other types of models that would be unsuitable to mark, so they digitize without these preparations.

3D Festival: Can we digitize hard to reach areas on a model, for example the bottom-side of a car?

Belaus: Yes, the MicroScribe is a 5 degree-of-freedom articulated arm that can get into many hard-to-reach areas of a model. There is also an optional extra fine tip that allows the stylus to reach into cracks and crevices.

As for the bottom-side of objects, or the portion that rests on a table, a process called daisy chaining can be used. The MicroScribe is used to digitize all the reachable parts of a model from a particular position. Then, a set of references points is taken that will also be reachable from the new position. The MicroScribe or the model is then moved to the new position and the reference points are re-taken. The geometry from the two positions is then matched up in the software's workspace. [3DF]

Related Links
Immersion Corporation