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Reproducing reality – X-Rite’s Total Appearance Capture

Tue, 26 Feb 2013 00:00:00 -0800

Total Appearance Capture isn't some sinister new form of identity theft but a revolutionary method of digitizing physical models using a new scanning technology, with the ability to capture extraordinary detail and all input and output light.

The system, from coatings color measurement experts X-Rite, combines color, texture, gloss and other surface characteristics into a digital material ‘description' that can be imported directly to computer-aided design programs.

What sets it apart from previously available methods is its ability to collect information on complex materials such as textiles, leather, basketwork, stone, coatings and plated finishes, in a 3D scene lit by a virtual studio environment. This allows designers, 3D artists, material specifiers and marketing departments to model a much greater variety of surfaces, realized in diverse environments, and then send to suppliers, consumers and others, so they can make decisions earlier and without committing resources to producing raw materials.

X-Rite recently unveiled the technology at an Innovation Day in Frankfurt, attended by interior and exterior designers, engineers and chemists from Audi, Fiat, Ford, Opel, PSA, Renault and VW. Suppliers present included Alcantara, Axalta (the new name for DuPont's Performance Coating Division, recently sold to the Carlyle Group), BASF, Delphi, RTT and Seton Leather.

The company lists its process as employing a large number of controlled, switchable light sources coupled with an array of calibrated cameras. During the automated capture process, tens of thousands of images with varying viewpoints and illumination are taken, then compressed and encoded for more efficient storage and transfer. Digital decoders in CAD plug-ins then allow replication of the sample, which brings enhanced realism to the computer-generated imagery.

At present it is offering a low cost entry into the technology by providing a bespoke scanning service; starting from €400, it will scan material or product and return a digital representations. The files can then be loaded to rendering software and the data applied. Platforms supported by the TAC technology include: VRED and DeltaGen software; custom plug-ins are also available for many widely used software packages such as Autodesk Maya, and for Web-GL capable web browsers. Additional integration with other rendering software is being developed.

Existing powerful 3D CAD systems with photo-realistic rendering can be used in wide range of applications but fail to capture reality due to their inability to use measured data effectively. So visualizations of objects, from a seat fabric to a complete IP, cockpit or a whole vehicle, are often hand-crafted entirely or pieced together using bits of measured data in time-consuming. Incidentally these also violate the laws of physics as they try to pull together disparate measuring protocols used for differing materials.

The environment in which objects are modeled is another major limitation; simply to acquire the varied light sources required to visualize a material or product in real-life conditions is prohibitively expensive and space-consuming. Other drawbacks with current modeling include painstaking manual material editing in existing programs, the difficulty of incorporating subtle color and light effects; these tend to be missed during manual reproduction; and the sheer paucity of tools available to render lighting-dependent materials.

A cynical observer might comment that TAC is ideally suited for reverse engineering or even for producing ‘evocations' of existing products. Dr. Francis Lamy, X-Rite executive vice president and chief technology officer, assured Car Design News that X-Rite takes its clients' confidentiality very seriously: "When we are scanning projects for our customers, we operate using total security and confidentiality, and we provide them with heavily encrypted files that only they will have the ‘keys' to access. When the technology is rolled out for users to employ themselves, we will build-in safeguards against piracy and copying and assist them in keeping their products safe."

As to whether the company would be selective in its customer base, he did not comment...


By Simon Duval Smith