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Visualizing Massive Point Clouds in 3DS Max and Maya

by on September 25, 2009
 

Our good friend Eugene Liscio has spent some time trying out some fantastic point-cloud manipulation software from Alice Labs called “Studio Clouds”, and has written a great description and review of the system that we feature here. Also be sure to check out Eugene’s previous contributions.

studio-clouds-23D scanning using LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) also known as High Density Surveying (HDS) is a rapidly growing domain with applications spanning across many industries such as aerospace, architecture, film and television, archaeology and forensics. The ability to capture millions and even billions of 3D points means that a vast amount of information can be known about a particular object or landscape. However, all this data comes at a price. There are relatively few software solutions that can easily handle and process billions points on a PC.

Today, PC hardware has made great advances to close the processing power gap, however when it comes to point clouds, it is the software and visualization tools that are still playing “catch up”. There have been several software programs supplied by 3D scanning equipment manufacturers in order to assist in filling the void, but this has mainly been targeted at the surveying market and only recently have developments been made to provide better visualization tools for other sectors of industry such as Forensics and Gaming.

One company that has had an interesting approach to solving these issues is the Dutch based company, Alice Labs. Their product, Studio Clouds offers a different paradigm in preparing, analyzing and visualizing point clouds. Their efforts have been focused in areas where other technologies have been lacking. Studio Clouds can process billions of points of data on a standard 32 or 64 bit PC with ease and it can also allow the import of these massive point clouds in 3DS Max and Maya.

Read the rest after the break.

The Studio Clouds paradigm takes a two step approach at being able to get a point cloud into another 3D application. There is a stand-alone application of Studio Clouds, which is the “preparation” stage of the process. Upon import, the point cloud is immediately converted into the Alice Labs native format. Subsequently, all one needs to do is go to their application of choice (3DS Max or Maya at the moment) and launch the plug-in menu that allows you to load the point cloud.

Screen shot of Studio Clouds (stand alone application) with a portion of an imported point cloud of over 125 million points.  studio-clouds-2

Screen shot of Studio Clouds (stand alone application) with a portion of an imported point cloud of over 125 million points. studio-clouds-2

Screen shot of 3DS Max shows a portion of an imported point cloud of over 125 million points.

Screen shot of 3DS Max shows a portion of an imported point cloud of over 125 million points.

Studio Clouds offers most of the standard equipment manufacturers’ point cloud formats (e.g. pts, ixf, las, fls…etc) along with simple XYZ and RGB formats. Once these point clouds are imported, they are immediately converted to the Alice Labs’ native format “.rep” file and can be easily manipulated on-screen in an extremely fluid way. Available in the basic viewer is a number of point cloud tools that allow manipulation (translate, scale, rotate), measurements, notations and different viewing formats such as custom height ramps, greyscale and even stereo RGB.

Other available modules are the Editor, Modeler and Registration packages (still being developed with new features). Perhaps one of the most interesting tools is a layer based point cloud editor that looks much like the familiar Photoshop layer manager. Editing can be turned on and off in layers and parts of the point cloud can be removed to clean up any “noise”. Additionally, there is a tool for projecting images/photographs on the point cloud and brush tools for painting and coloring the point cloud for better visualization.

At the heart of Studio Clouds is the proprietary MirageTM engine that makes it possible to visualize, render and manipulate massive point clouds on screen and in 3DS Max. The MirageTM engine uses technologies similar to that in the gaming industry. As stated on the company’s product sheet:

“…This next generation engine is capable of handling huge point clouds while maintaining speed and flexibility. there are currently 4 products based on the Mirage technology; a powerful viewer, a point cloud edit solution and both a 3D Studio Max and Maya plug-in.”

Once the point cloud has been edited and “cleaned”, it is saved in the Alice Labs Project (.alp) file format. This allows the point cloud to be imported into 3DS Max and Maya. There are some differences in the 3DS Max and Maya plug-ins since Maya does not allow it’s native render engine to work on the point cloud. However, in 3DS Max, both the Scanline renderer and Mental Ray render engines can be used (including effects) to visualize the point cloud.

The basic Studio Clouds product is available in both 32 and 64 bit versions. Currently, only the base module is available for Maya 2009, 3ds Max 2009/2010 and 3ds Max Design 2009/2010. The Editor, Modeler and Registration modules are still under development but will begin to be available in October 2009. Also worthy of mention is that there will be a Mac version of Studio Clouds available in the near future as well!

For further information on Studio Clouds have a look at this YouTube video.

For purchasing information in North America, please send an e-mail to [email protected]