In “Here They Lie,” one of the debut itles on the PlayStation virtual real- ity platform, players traverse an im- mersive 3D hellscape. When the ter- rifying beast-humans turn their gaze
on you, the terror is real, and for that, you can
thank Alexx Henry.
The characters in “Here They Lie” owe their
likeness to real human models scanned by
Henry’s xxArray, a massive 3D photogrammetry scanning system that uses more than 100
DSLRs and computers to capture and digitize
human subjects. It’s one of the more exciting innovations in photo technology, but for
Henry, it’s just the latest step in a career spent
pushing boundaries in imaging technology.
Early in his career, in 2008, Henry created
“living covers” for magazines like VIV and
Outside. The process entailed building a 3D environment that a “virtual camera” flew through,
bringing cover lines and models to life on tablet and computer screens.
But while the environments were 3D, the
models were not. “That was the first time I can
really remember articulating the desire to be
able to have the characters—the people—in
3D as well,” Henry says. “What that allowed us
to do is completely free the camera…even give
the viewer the camera.”
To that end, Henry and his team developed
a prototype scanning rig with 21 5K cinema
cameras capturing footage at 24 fps; however,
the amount of data produced proved to be
unmanageable by 2012 standards. They even-
tually shifted to a photo-based rig, with more
than 100 Nikon D5300 cameras. Subjects walk
into the room and strike a pose; when the rig
is triggered, strobes and cameras fire simulta-
neously, creating a 3D scan that can later be
brought to life with animation. Each camera
has a dedicated computer and network inter-
face, so the processing happens in parallel.
Henry’s partner and CTO Tudor Pascu—who
holds a Ph. D. in computer science—wrote custom code that helps all the components of the
rig talk to each other.
Right now the applications are limited by location and budget (Henry plans to develop an
affordable, mobile version down the road), but
even now, the implementations are interesting, and sometimes downright stunning. In addition to video game clients, Henry has worked
with artist Alexa Meade, who uses human can-vasses for her trompe l’oeil installation art, to
allow viewers to experience her work in 3D. He
also built an iOS app called Art and Skin, which
scans people with large tattoos, allowing viewers to explore the work in 3D.
But Henry’s gaze is fixed well beyond ads,
video games or even visual art. He sees the
potential for the xxArray to be used in medical applications, such as a full-body scan that
might be used to detect skin cancer. His most
ambitious goal is to make the array affordable
and mobile enough for everyone in the world
to be scanned, with the belief that people can
use these avatars to make their lives better.
He cites a Stanford study that used digital
avatars to conduct a clinical psychology trial,
introducing young people to a digital version
of themselves, aged by 40 years, and judging
how the introduction affected their plans for
the future. “One of the things that happens
when you’re interacting with a potential version of yourself…you look at the older version
of you, and that abstraction [of your future]
goes away,” Henry says. “It’s real. And suddenly you’re looking at a version of yourself that
you’re hopefully going to be, and it connects
you a little bit more to that.” EDU
The Human Digitizer
HOW ALEXX HENRY IS ON HIS WAY TO
DIGITALLY SCAN THE HUMAN RACE.
THIS PAGE: A still from PlayStation’s “Here
They Lie” VR game (top); Alexx Henry’s
100-camera xxArray rig (below).
By MATTHEW ISMAEL RUIZ