3D scanning a Xenomorph – 3 different methods, 3 different results

Twentieth Century Fox announced April the 26th as ‘Alien Day’. Tipping their hat to the exmoon LV-426, where the xenomorphs first appeared in the 1979 original film.

Lots of sequels and prequels follow over the years, as we all know, some good and some not so good.

But one thing that stays consistent is those big, slimy, double mouthed human killing machines that are the Aliens. Has there been such an iconic horror sci-fi creation that still sends chills down our spines to this day, probably not.

“Bones are bent outward…. like he exploded from the inside”

To celebrate Alien Day – the team at SnapTank went out and purchased our very own replica Alien. Thoughtfully – we chose the most detailed/difficult figurine and had the vision of scanning the beast and creating some nice comparisons and content for the lovely community of 3D artists, you guys and girls! We love scans and everything to do with the different workflows and techniques in creating great 3D assets, they say do what you love so we decided to give it a go on x3 different levels.

Firstly – we attempted to scan the figure with an iPhone SE boasting a 12MP iSight camera, photogrammetry style. Conditions for this were far from ideal and there were many challenges ahead including lighting and the fact the figure has a transparent ‘hood’ over the head – not ideal for a noob, as we knew it would not scan well due to reflections. You can call this the ‘beginner’ scan.

Secondly – we gave the Alien to a mutual friend who would class himself as an amateur 3D artist. Armed with his weapon of choice the Olympus E-M10 and scanning outside in flat overcast lighting conditions. Let’s class this as the ‘amateur’ scan.

Thirdly – one of our 3D artists who is very familiar with photogrammetry methods and a competent scanner gave it a go in a home studio setup. We got rid of the transparent hood and boasting a Canon 5DS – this was all or nothing. Enter the ‘professional’ scan.

You can see where we are going with this – let’s compare all the results for better or for worse.

Of course – we couldn’t have all the fun ourselves. Sharing is caring and as was our original intention, please download all x3 Alien scans here and see up close and personal for yourself. Just be careful when opening the files, as Face Huggers have been known to hide between the OBJ’s.

All scans are RAW data, no cleaning up here people.

“It’s got a great defence mechanism…you don’t dare kill it…”

iPhone SE – Beginner Style

A little overview of how we processed our scan. I just bought an Iphone SE so I thought why not give it a bash. Time was a factor here as I had to get the Alien to the other artists for their attempts, this effected the scan somewhat.

Taking the photos of the model in an office environment on a glossy wood table with light streaming through big windows. Not ideal I know, but I did take over 400 photographs! Using the manual ‘touch to focus’ feature on the iSight camera worked well but struggled to focus on the thinner parts of plastic, like the arms and hands for eg. Pumped it through Photoscan on high and you can see the results below.

Camera Settings Environment Processing
iSight 12MP Alien figurine on glossy table 405 photos
Automatic settings Mixture of office & natural lighting Agisoft Photoscan
Manual Focus Not ideal by any means Alignment on ‘High’
No Flash Dense on ‘High’
2 million poly mesh
4k texture

Olympus E-M10 – Amateur Style

Camera Settings Environment Processing
16.1 MP Scanned outside on a wooden table 180 photos
Focal length: 17 Overcast day with flat lighting conditions Agisoft Photoscan
F number: 8 Alignment on ‘High’
Exposure Program: 8 Dense on ‘High’
Exposure time: 1/30 5 million poly mesh
Stock lens 8k texture

Connor Snedecor is an amateur enthusiast 3D capture artist. Scanning with his point and shoot Olympus cam and it’s built in lens. He has a fair amount of photography experience, complimenting this with photogrammetry, resulted in a pretty good quality scan.

He took 180 photos of the alien figure, shooting it outside while it was overcast (pretty common occurrence in London). There was no turntable on hand, so he moved around, amping up the shutter speed as a result. Take a look at his results below.

Canon 5DS – Professional Style

Camera Settings Environment Processing
F8 – shutter 2 seconds Custom studio 437 photos
50mm lens Tripod Reality Capture
Polarizing filter Turntable Processed on ‘high’
2x 500w lights 6 million poly mesh

Jonty Smith is an experienced 3D artist with years of 3D modelling experience. Having already worked with us on the rendered scan of the weevil, that he also scanned, that was featured on the SnapTank homepage, we got in touch about the Alien project.

Working from his studio, that used to be his living room, he used two 500 watt lights, a Canon 5DS with a 50mm lens, tripod, and a turntable. Taking 437 images in total.

Using Reality Capture to process the images into the impressive RAW scan you see below.

Beginner conclusion, I had fun scanning this with my new phone, although we know it could have been better. The camera just isn’t really up to the detailed photographs required to scan such an intricate object – would be nice to use a little Macro lens on there to get into the nooks and crannies. Apps like Camera+ and going higher ProCamera+ could have helped as you get more control over the settings of the camera. This might be a good shout for next time.

The amateur method worked very well and we almost have a useable scan here. With a few more quality photographs and a bit of cleaning, you could definitely make this scan work. Connor said, “Looks alright. Glad it didn’t come out a total disaster”. We think he will be a top quality 3D capture artist in no time.

The professional, clearly the outright winner here in terms of quality. Well, what did you expect? Jonty used a bespoke studio with custom lighting and a powerful camera with the correct lens for the job. Couple this with the knowledge of getting the best out of the subject matter (polarizing lens, lots of photographs) and it all contributes to great looking scans. Knowledge is power. Download all 3x Alien Scans here. You’re welcome.

So what have we learned? Don’t scan an Alien.
“It was a bad call, Ripley. A bad call…”

Written by Ross Martin.

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