Module #4: An Adventure in 3D Scanned Models

Objects: Captain Kirk & Mr. Spock Action Figures by Jo

Date of Creation: Early 2017

Origin Location: Guangzhou, China

Size: 4 inches tall

 

Significance:

At first glance, these figures of Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock may appear unassuming, simplistic— even childish, yet their tiny frames hold a fascinating record of Star Trek fandom.

These figures were handmade by Jo, an artist and Trekkie living in Guangzhou, China. These figures were created in a small-scale, limited edition sale in their online store between late 2016 and early 2017. Both Kirk and Spock come with a total of 3 interchangable faceplates, canvas pouches for carrying, and cardboard storage tubes for protection.

Jo is primarily active on their tumblr blog, LostConner ( http://lostconner.tumblr.com/ ) where they post fanart, photos of their many Kirk and Spock figures (both official and made by themselves), and engage with the modern Star Trek fandom. However, an exploration of their blog reveals that in distant Guangzhou, they are far from the only Trekkie. In fact, Guangzhou seems to be home to a dedicated Star Trek fanbase. These fans appear to be mostly college-age women who are highly active and dedicated in their fandom. They host all sorts of events, including viewing parties for new Star Trek films, birthday parties for their favorite characters, and even larger special events, such as “Star Trek Only in Guangzhou” in January 2017.

Star Trek is unquestionably a global phenomenon, however, it can be difficult to visualize and understand the international fandom. Over its fifty years of existence, the bulk of attention given to Star Trek fandom has been within the United States. The documentary film Trekkies 2 (2004), and the monograph Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth explores the international fandom (largely in Europe), but both only provide small snapshots of the international fandom.

Aside from these two sources, perhaps the best way to gauge the international fandom was through fanzines. However, fanzines no longer exist in their original form. Modern fanzines have lost their open-forum aspect, and now solely focus on fanart and fanfiction. Instead, social media platforms are now the forefront of fandom communication and activity. Blogs like Jo’s are evidence of a highly-active, highly participatory international fandom.

Star Trek fandom has changed in many ways over the last fifty years– fanzines are largely of the past, as are Star Trek-only conventions within the United States (with the exception of the annual Official Star Trek Las Vegas Convention by Creation Entertainment), but there is clear evidence that Star Trek fandom is still highly active across the globe.

These two figures of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock may be unassuming, but they are proof of the love and dedication a fan and their cohorts have for Star Trek, going so far as to create their own fanclub within Guangzhou. Arguably, these figures are tangible evidence of a new means of interaction between fans on an international scale. The creation, reproduction, and eventual sale in an online marketplace show the same sort of acknowledgement between international fans as was once present in fanzines. Going further, this is the refinement and evolution of purchasing handmade goods from artists in convention vendor rooms.

Both these figures and the social media blog of their creator indicate the sophistication of Star Trek fandom. Trekkies no longer need to communicate via long-distance letters published intermittently within fanzines; they can communicate instantly through blogs and other social media platforms, share their fanmade goods with other fans, and even more importantly, participate in a truly global fandom, regardless of language or nationality.

Below is a Gallery of Photos taken by Jo at various Star Trek Events in Guangzhou, China. All photos belong to them and are displayed here for educational purposes only.

 

Process:

Though photos could suffice for these 4-inch action figures, I hoped to make 3D models of them to emphasize the care and detail that went into their creation. Kirk and Spock were cast on a small scale, and entirely hand-painted. They have their imperfections, but it only adds to their charm. Spock is particularly interesting in that his skin is a slightly greener tone than Kirk’s, and his blush spots and lips are green-tinted, to emphasize the green in Vulcan blood.

Despite my goals regarding these figures, the reality of the matter is they are frankly awful subjects for 3D modeling, at least through scanning and photogrammetry. The following is a record of my misadventures in attempting to 3D scan these two action figures.

 

Structure Sensor & ItSeez3d App:

This iPad 3D scanner and app combo is the default suggested for this module. During the tutorial we were warned to not scan objects that were too small, however, I had hoped the size limit was something smaller than 4 inches. Turns out two 4-inch figures falls into the “too small to scan” category” At best I was able to capture two blurry chunks of these figures.

This prompted me to explore alternative options for 3D scanning, especially ones I could utilize at home, so as to avoid potential time restrictions with Innovation Services in Carrier.

Trnio App (iOS):

Pronounced “Turn-Knee-O,” Trnio is a photogrammetry 3D scanning app that has been around since about 2014. It is currently 99 cents in the Apple store and features free uploads and exports to SketchFab. Trnio’s operation is similar to ItSeez3D, in that you are required to walk around your object to scan it. It is easy-to-use and a new user can familiarize themselves with most features within a few minutes.

Despite the ease-of-access this app is honestly difficult to use for the level of specificity it requires. Trnio advises users to not scan shiny objects, transparent objects, overly-flat plastic objects, and to ideally scan objects outside on sunny or uniformly cloudy days. Furthermore, the user must keep the object centered in the camera at all times, and maintain uniform distance while walking in a circle around the object, something that, despite making many attempts over many hours, I was never able to master.

Once an object is scanned its added to the queue for processing. Processing can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes to never, depending on your internet connection. Since I live out in the woods and our internet caps at around 300kb/s, I regularly experienced failures in processing, meaning I’d have to start over.

Trnio does feature an alternative to the walk-and-scan method: image merging. Using this option the user can select photos from their phone’s camera roll and Trnio compiles them into a single 3D object. Hopefully. I attempted this once, snapping around 60 images of Kirk and Spock, and let Trnio process them. Then ending result is a completely useless abstract amalgam. I am unsure if this “feature” could ever really be effective.

(see import photo attempt below)

 

Qlone App (iOS):

As a backup for Trnio I also installed a new app in the photogrammetry 3D scanning arena, Qlone. Qlone is free in the app store, but exports cost 99 cents each. Turns out I needed it. Qlone is more technical than Trnio, but is similarly easy-to-se in that a user can install the app and familiarize themselves with it in a matter of minutes. However Qlone does require an extra apparatus for to function, a printable AR checkerbox mat. This is available in the app via air printing, or on their website.

To scan an object the user must print the AR mat and place the object in its center. The bigger the object, the bigger the AR mat required. I assumed an 8.5x11in. standard sheet of printer paper would be large enough, but as it turns out to scan Kirk and Spock I needed to scale up the mat to a larger size to fit them comfortably. The need for the scale up in size is due to Qlone’s 3D scanning method. When scanning an object, Qlone creates a virtual dome over the object. This dome is gridded into sections, which prompts the user to either turn the matt in a circle, or walk around the object to scan all sections of the dome/object. Once completely scanned the user can either make a supplementary scan to get better definition, or move into some basic model editing. The completed object is added to the app’s Collection and can be viewed in AR (mat required), edited, or exported.

 

Conclusions:

After utilizing these three apps and methods of 3D scanning, I can conclude that the iPad Structure Sensor and ItSeez3D app combo is by far the most robust for 3D scanning, so long as your object is of an acceptable size. If its small, its effectively useless.

Trnio and Qlone both have serious limitations. As mentioned before it is next to impossible to hold a phone steady while maintaining uniform distance while walking around an object, which creates problems for both apps. Qlone gives users the option of simply turning the AR mat, but if the object is poorly balanced (Kirk and Spock are both very top-heavy), the object can wiggle, creating a less accurate scan. Though both are easy-to-use, both have large limitations. Trnio has a long list of requirements for getting the “best” scans, but even then, they’re more-or-less required to even get a mediocre scan. A very glaring frustration is the app seems unable to process scans that have more than 30 photos in them, which leads to processing failure. Qlone’s AR dome, while providing a handy guide for getting a scan, also has the potential to sabotage scans. Any object that was more than a couple inches tall can’t be seen properly by the AR camera, and in many cases gets a cone on top (Kirk and Spock both became Coneheads in this app).

It is also worth mentioning that my phone is an original iPhone 6, which I am certain greatly impacted the fidelity of my scans and the apps’ processing power.

Overall, what I learned is the best objects to scan using these phone apps need to be compact. Trnio can handle larger objects, such as busts or plushes, but Qlone seems to favor smaller objects if for no other reason than printing an aligning a large mat is tedious and time-consuming. In either situation, the more compact the object is, the better. A plush with tiny nub arms, or a bust, or a candy bar make ideal subjects for both apps (see example of a wood-carved figure below for an ideal compact form). Kirk and Spock are both tiny figures, and feature very non-compact forms–their legs are apart, their arms stick out to the side, and their massive head’s are supported by tiny necks— all of which make it very difficult for Trnio and Qlone to register the intricacies of both objects, as evidenced by my many failed attempts to scan these figures.

Despite my many gripes and frustrations, there are specific situations in which these apps can and will work, they just didn’t work for my objects in particular. This does prove, however, that 3D scanning via phone app is possible and will hopefully improve to a point where fidelity is less of an issue.

 

Further Reading:

https://tictail.com/lostconner

http://lostconner.tumblr.com/

http://trekkies2.com

https://www.amazon.com/Future-Perfect-Conquered-Planet-Earth/dp/0670873993

https://www.creationent.com/cal/st_lasvegas.html

https://structure.io

https://itseez3d.com

http://www.trnio.com

https://www.qlone.pro

 

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