Field Test in Photogrammetry

This is a summary of my field test in photogrammetry. For the full project details click here: mno613-field-test-white-paper

THE TECHNOLOGY
Photo=light, Gram=drawing, metry=measurement.

In a Neiman Lab article published December 2016, photogrammetry is one of several cited emerging technologies that are expected to really transition in the new year from a passive video experimentation to a full immersive experience. Newsrooms across the country will be able to fully implement the new areas of photogrammetry, ambisonics and stereoscopic rendering. Given how easy it is—using old technology to make new—it makes sense that such emerging technology will become established technology as soon as the turn of the New Year. Photogrammetry has been around for sometime, most recently for constructing maps and topographic landscapes, it’s only with the use of three-dimensional technology that photogrammetry has earned a bigger place within the media landscape. The recent evacuations from the Syrian town of Aleppo could be told in a more immersive way and perhaps move a larger population of readers to a call for action.

We learned about many new and emerging types of technology in class, and while I wasn’t necessarily ignorant about them I had never delved into the technology until this class. Learning about virtual reality, augmented reality, 360 and 3D video, photogrammetry, sensors and drones were quite eye opening for me and my background in television sports and journalism. What most impressed me was the speed by which these technologies were becoming more common and easy to use.

HYPOTHESIS

My hypothesis for this project is to use two of the emerging technologies we covered and demonstrate a more immersive storytelling experience. I chose to use photogrammetry to capture a museum exhibit and model it in 3D with annotations to tell a more immersive story of the subject. For this project I decided to cast a wide net and use a popular exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia called Signer’s Hall. This exhibit consists of 42 life-sized statues of the founding fathers that signed the Constitution. I will use photogrammetry to capture this exhibit and make it accessible to more people regardless of where they live or their socio-economic level, and I will do so using equipment common to most people: a smartphone (iPhone 6) and desktop computer and free educational access to Autodesk Remake and Sketchfab software programs.

THE TEST

The statues that comprise this particular exhibit are life-size bronze statues so I knew there would be some shading adjustments I would have to make. Another realization was that most of these statues were the same height as me, 5-foot, 6-inches tall and I did not bring or request a stepladder to get shots from above the statues. I began taking test shots of a group of three statues to see how the overlapping between the

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Charles Pinkney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Rutledge. Photo taken at The National Constitution Center, Philadelphia.

three would translate when I brought them into the AutoDesk Remake software and then how difficult it would be to clean up the models in Sketchfab. This became a little challenging as not only was I taking a lot of pictures, it also required me to crawl around on the floor and contort myself around the limbs of these three statues that were posed as if engaged in a debate. The key I learned from several tutorials on the Autodesk YouTube channel is that for a successful detailed model, pictures must not only be in focus and evenly lit, but there must be 40% of overlap between all the pictures to allow the point cloud to be accurate. Additionally, depending on how much detail you want to capture, photos should be taking five degrees apart as you shoot around the object, above and below. This resulted in over 200 photographs taken of the first test run of pictures. Then based on the arrangement of the statues within the exhibit, I decided to focus on two statues that stood alone, William Blount and our current celebrity, Alexander Hamilton. Since I had access as long as I needed to the exhibit, I decided to tackle the Benjamin Franklin group. This consisted of a group of five statues surrounding a table at which Franklin was seated. This was the most challenging group of statues to photograph properly so I focused on Franklin (seated) and Gov. Morris (leaning over Franklin) but the primary focus was on Franklin.

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Example of the raw photos taken at varying lengths and at 5-degree intervals. Photos taken at The national Constitution Center in Philadelphia

Once the photos were transferred and uploaded to Autodesk ReMake, it was pretty easy to construct the 3D model and process the information. I credit using the ReMake program as opposed to using the 123D Catch app for the ease in transfer and construction. Next, I saved the 3D model and then imported it into SketchFab, which was a challenge only because I needed to somehow get more space than my free educational account provided. After getting the necessary space to upload all my models, it took a couple of tutorials to figure out how to orient, light and shade my models. I still have a lot to learn but for the time period given for this project, the result came out pretty good.

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Screen shot of initial upload of the Alexander Hamilton (center screen) photos. The exhibit room is partially reconstructed even thought photos were primarily of Hamilton.

INTERVIEW AND METRICS

To determine the feasibility of using 3D technology to tell stories, I constructed my virtual Alexander Hamilton complete with annotations and shared it on my Facebook page asking for anyone to share their impressions. I wanted my target audience to be a mix of people in the journalism industry and everyday people so I decided to identify a cross section of my Facebook friends that were professional television journalists, cameramen, photographers, regular everyday people and a couple of librarians. The last demographic was chosen because of the historical nature of my project and the fact that librarians have been tuned in to the digital age since the debut of electronic readers. The overall reaction in general was how cool the technology was and that it was something that could be done with still pictures. Nearly all respondents felt immersed in learning about Alexander Hamilton and also felt the annotations brought another level of immersive-ness because not only were they able to see what the annotation was explaining, but it could viewed from different angles.

CONCLUSIONS

This technology is really effective when it comes to documenting and telling historical accounts. It’s a much more immersive way to teach which is why we see more and more virtual and 3D storytelling coming from the likes of National Geographic and Smithsonian as evidenced in their digital magazines. For my intentions, this use of photogrammetry and 3D technology was effective. I think with more time to develop my skills in cleaning my models and building a virtual scene for the subjects to live in, using these two technologies would exceed my expectations. Being a video person, I would love to go into videogrammetry.

IMPROVEMENTS

Improvements to communications infrastructure and Internet speeds would bring the use of photogrammetry to news organizations on a more mainstream level. With the capabilities of so many mobile devices and applications that allow the use of technology such as photogrammetry, the question becomes how fast can the processing power of these devices become standard to where anyone with a smartphone can construct a 3D scene such as I did with my iPhone 6 with minimal transferring or data issues.

FUTURE OF PHOTOGRAMMETRY

Technology like photogrammetry and 3D modeling will definitely become the norm when it comes to storytelling for journalists. We have already crossed the threshold with the New York Times and BBC News implementing story coverage in that format. As mentioned before, National Geographic and Smithsonian and National Geographic Travel have already become go-to sources for immersive storytelling via their digital magazines. The challenge becomes whether more news organizations become aware of the capabilities or of the availability of this kind of technology or if they are, whether they can find storytellers that are able to use the software effectively. Besides news, photogrammetry and 3D technologies will become a tool in preserving the historical artifacts of things like the Seven Wonders of the World or save monuments or historical buildings from the hands of extremism.

WORKS CITED

Walford, A. 2007. Photogrammetry. “What is Photogrammetry?” Retrieved from http://www.photogrammetry.com/index.htm

Soto, R. December 13, 2016. Neiman Lab Predictions for Journalism 2017. “VR Moves from Experiments to Immersion.” Retrieved from http://www.niemanlab.org/2016/12/vr-moves-from-experiments-to-immersion/

Caughill, P. December 22, 2016. Futurism. “This New Drone is Powerful Enough to Carry You and a Friend.” Retrieved from https://futurism.com/this-new-drone-is-powerful-enough-to-carry-you-and-a-friend/

Krewson Wertz, Pamela. September 19, 2016. Phys.org. “Digital Photography: The future of small-scale manufacturing?” Retrieved from http://phys.org/news/2016-09-digital-photography-future-small-scale.html

2015, June 18. Sketchfab Tutorial. How to Set Up A Successful Photogrammetry Project. Retrieved from https://blog.sketchfab.com/how-to-set-up-a-successful-photogrammetry-project/

 

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