QUESTION: I have been trying to find ways to create better Lithophlanes from images to create 3D models that I can print out in plastic. As of now I have software that will take a single photo and using the shades and highlights it will determine the hills and valleys. But often times this doesn't really tell much about physical distances. I was wondering if there was a way to take maybe 2 photos of a scene that will tell software the depth of the scene accurately? I was thinking of setting up a strobe light outdoors at night with no other light sources, and face it out into the backyard (mostly yard tools out there) and set the camera on a tripod directly below it and take 2 photos of the exact same scene. Except making a slight adjustment of either the aperature or the ISO as to give some software, between the two images) information on how reflective various surfaces are so shiny things aren't treated as being closer. What do you think? And know of any software like this? I don't think the autodesk or stereoscopic route will work for me.

ANSWER: Hey James,

I know exactly what you are speaking of, and what your problems are.  This is a tough one, without getting into 3D paint programs like z-brush, etc.  I'm not really up to speed on the techniques that you use to create lithophlanes, so maybe you can help me a bit.  When you say that the program uses shades and highlights, is it in fact taking more of a grayscale approach, and making the dark areas valleys and the light areas elevations? If that is the case, you may want to look at a different type of bump-mapping called "normal mapping"

Normal mapping uses multiple colors in the bump map to not just determine elevation, but also to determine the normal direction of the surface (i.e. what direction the surface is facing).  With normal maps, you can get much more realistic elevation mappings.

There is a program out called CrazyBump that creates normal maps. There are other solutions out as well, but here is a youtube video that I want you to look at on using CrazyBump, and tell me if this solution is better than what you have been using.

This may not be an end-all solution for you, but I am trying to help you find a solution that is not only cost effective, but will also work with most photographic images without having to go through some elaborate shooting scheme to get the photos to work.  Here is the a bit of it (don't worry about the 3D software, just focus on the normal mapping)...even download the trial version and try it if necessary, and get back to me, and we'll go from there. (for the software)


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QUESTION: I purchased "photo2mesh" which does give the highlights higher elevations and the shadowy parts lower ones. Problem being if I were photographing a face it could easily be much more shaded on one side and become concave with that software. So the lights and darks by themselves (when I can't control the light) do not give good depth information. I am interested only in the 180 degree front information. For all I know photo2mesh incorporates color as well, but I don't know.

Yeah, well run a few images through that CrazyBump program, and see if you get better results.  For a program like you are talking about, it is always going to be better if you have "flatter" lighting.

One thing that you may try if you have a photo program like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom, is to actually pull the shadowing out of the image, and make it flatter lighting.  Both photoshop and lightroom have really gotten good at reducing shadows, and bringing in the true colors behind the darkness.  I have taken photos with pretty harsh shadows and manipulated them with these programs to where it looks as though the subject was light evenly from both sides.  That part of the program is really easy to use, as it is primarily a "slider" to reduce or add shadows/highlights.

That may even be a function of Photoshop Elements (which is a cheaper version of Photoshop), but I am not sure, as I use the full software.


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Andre Hickman


3d Studio Max beginner to expert levels...After Effects complex compositing techniques...Photoshop expert level...Illustrator intermediate level. I can also answer questions for general animation, motion graphics design, and video editing/composition.


Logo and simple character animation, motion graphics, video composition in After Effects, as well as Photoshop, and Illustrator techniques, and the use of all of the above in a workflow, to achieve a final design element or production.

Freelancer--Turner Studios, Atlanta, GA Owner--Andre Hickman Creative, LLC

Turner Studios Govenor's Protege/Mentor Program Georgia Institute of Technology--B.S. Mechanical Engineering Morehouse College--B.S. General Science

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