In 1792, Robert Barker invented and patented the word Panorama to describe his 360° paintings of Edinburgh. One can only imagine what he would have done with today’s digital visualization tools. With a modern 3D laser scanner, panoramic displays are captured in several minutes and then transformed into an infinite selection of visual representations. Barker would have certainly approved of the evolution in technique, if only for its inherent speed and flexibility.
The output from a 3D scanner is commonly known as a point cloud. It looks quite similar to the grainy, ghost-like image of the first successful permanent photograph, by Nicéphore Niépce (1826 or 1827). Buildings were the first items to be captured with modified camera obscura devices because they were stationary - a necessary requirement to obtain blur-free images from long exposure times. The ten minute exposure of Daguerre’s 1838 Boulevard du Temple was just a bit longer than a single scan cycle of my 3D scanner. The first cameras transformed the 3D world into flat 2D images. A laser scanner captures only what it sees, recreating reality in a digital form that is viewable and measurable from all positions. There is a magical quality to point cloud imagery, similar to the earliest photos that froze time onto small metallic plates. It’s perhaps this elemental, mysterious quality of reflective light that continues to attract me to 3D imagery, even after the practical novelty of the technology has lost some of its luster. We have become so inured to digital wizardry, that we forget the wondrous nature of light.
- Scott Page