On the heels of its successful launch of 123D Catch, a mobile app for consumers that turns photographs into 3D models, Autodesk this year introduced ReCap — a pair of reality-capture applications for professional designers, architects, and engineers who want to create intelligent 3D models from photos and point cloud data. Using these tools, which are said to be the first to bring together laser scanning and photogrammetry technologies, you can visualize massive point clouds as realistic surfaces and interact with them, doing CAD-like operations such as selection, tagging, moving, measuring, clash detection, and object extraction, all with native points.
ReCap is designed for use in Autodesk design and creation suites. ReCap Pro, which is included in Autodesk 2014 suites, is a data-preparation environment designed to enable faster, better visualization of point clouds inside those applications. It runs on the desktop and provides functionality similar to other point cloud–viewing applications — that is, you can index, combine, view, and edit point cloud data, including light detection and ranging (LIDAR) data, prior to importing it into other Autodesk applications.ReCap Photo turns photos into high-resolution 3D data that you can visualize and share. It is available via the Autodesk 360 cloud service and is freely accessible to any 2014 design suite user.
Autodesk ReCap Photo
Autodesk ReCap Photo creates high-resolution, textured 3D data from a series of photos taken from different angles around an object. The software leverages the Autodesk 360 cloud to process and store the photos and data. Unlike 123D Catch, ReCap Photo does not limit the number of photos you can submit and processes photos in full resolution for a more accurate 3D model. The geometry generated from the photos is a mesh rather than an ACIS-like solid.Prior to creating a model, ReCap Photo offers a few options you can use to control the model-conversion process. The first is mesh quality: draft, standard, or maximum. The better the mesh you desire, the more time is required to process the data. ReCap Photo provides an estimate of processing time based on your photos and the level of quality you select. In my very unscientific tests, producing a standard mesh took twice as long as draft, and maximum quality took approximately five times as long as draft.
Another option specifies the registration of matching points. Use this option to select survey points or reference distances to add scale to your project.The final option lets you select the images that will be used to generate the texture map for the project. The selected photographs are uploaded to Autodesk cloud servers.Using ReCap Photo is very easy, provided that you follow some simple but essential rules about photographing the object, which can be found in the "Autodesk ReCap Photo Getting Started Guide." In your Autodesk 360 account, start by uploading a series of photos to My Cloud Documents. Next, select files to use in creating the 3D model.
You can view the finished model directly in your web browser or download it as a ZIP file with any accompanying textures and materials. ReCap Photo lets you save the resulting model to RCS (Autodesk ReCap), FBX (Autodesk), OBJ (Wavefront), or IPM (mobile viewer) format.For my testing, I used images that Autodesk provided and I created several of my own scenes. I used draft, standard, and maximum-quality settings. I found it was critical to follow Autodesk's recommendations of how to photograph an object for conversion. Consistent camera angle and overlap between each image makes a better model.
If you are reading this article, then you probably have had some experience working with point clouds, and you may know that laser scanners can produce flawless data that can be edited and repurposed in a variety of ways. But to utilize this point cloud data, you typically need computer hardware that can accommodate very substantial memory and processing requirements. There may be hundreds or thousands of files to manage, and the storage requirements are significant. Although functionality is always improving, CAD software traditionally has not done a very good job of managing and processing that enormous amount of data.
When I get a new scan data set, the first thing I do is look at the point clouds, and visualization is the most basic operation that I perform. To execute this task, I have to be able to open and manage all the relevant point cloud files. Autodesk ReCap Pro provides the tools to do that.The ReCap Pro user interface resembles that of Microsoft Windows 8 Metro. At the time of my review, this interface was not easy to use; however, Autodesk reports that it has made improvements to the UI to improve the user experience. Otherwise, the software is fairly easy to use. From the home screen, you can open an existing project, start a new project, access Help, change settings, and exit the application.
Prior to importing the raw point cloud files into ReCap Pro, you have to adjust the import settings for all or a selected group of files. There are five settings that can be adjusted:Noise Filter determines how aggressively stray points are excluded from the imported scan file.Distance Range sets which points are included in the imported scan based a minimum and maximum distance from the scanner.Intensity Range sets the range of points that are imported based on the reflection (intensity) values. Decimation Grid controls the number of points to import by setting the smallest cubic volume that a single point can occupy.
Coordinate System aligns the point cloud to a specific ESPG coordinate reference system.once you start the import process, ReCap Pro begins indexing the files. This indexing process, which converts the point cloud files to Autodesk’s proprietary Reality Capture Scan (RCS)file format, can take anywhere from a few seconds to hours, depending on the number and size of the files imported. The Import Settings dialog box displays the status of the import process. When the indexing process is done, you can save an aggregated scene of the project to a single Reality Capture Project (RCP) file that links back to the processed data.During our testing, a 1.5-GB dataset with eight original files took about an hour to complete. A single 5-GB PCG file took approximately four hours.After the importation process is complete, you can organize, clean up, and analyze the data. ReCap Pro provides several methods to organize the data and remove or hide portions of the point cloud. You can create scan regions that you can toggle on and off, specify temporary clip regions, turn off or remove scan files, or delete unwanted points permanently. By viewing the scene using various color modes and lighting schemes, you can gain insight into elevations, normals (which help identify surfaces), and reflectivity.
Once you finalize and save your scene, you can open that RCP file in many other Autodesk 2014 applications, including Revit,AutoCAD, and Navisworks. In my tests, I found that manipulating the model in another Autodesk application was better when using the RCP file format than when using the native scan file format.Today’s design workflows — from architecture to product development to factory design — rely on reality capture technologies to save time and money and improve accuracy when working with as-built data. Autodesk’s new ReCap products make it easy and affordable to turn scanned data and photographs into high-resolution 3D models that you can bring into your Autodesk design software to begin your design process in context. If you’re a user of any Autodesk Design Suite for 2014, you’ve got to give these tools a try. Highly Recommended.