Capturing the majesty of nature in three dimensions

From scientific illustration to high-resolution nature photography, now a new digital encyclopedia is capturing animal and plants in 3D.

Associate professor Yuichi Kano from Kyushu University in Japan is building a digital database which contains 1,400 highly detailed 3D animal and plant models. The process is detailed in Research Ideas and Outcomes.

To produce each 3D model, Kano uses a technique called ‘bio-photogrammetry’ to create the 3D digital models. 

The method analyses hundreds of photos and images to obtain information and measurements about each object. Photogrammetry is commonly used to scan everything from landscapes to sculptures to make digital 3D models.

This video shows the process for creating a 3D model of a Long-spine Balloonfish / Credit: Kano Lab / Kyushu University

To make each model Kano suspends and slowly spins each organism from a fishing line, photographing the sample hundreds of times from multiple angles. 

The best 500 images are then inserted into a photogrammetry program which creates the digital model.

“It is similar to how the ‘bullet time’ sequences were filmed in the first Matrix movie, except instead of Keanu Reeves on a line surrounded by cameras, we use an octopus,” Kano says.

3D model of an octopus / Credit: Kano Lab / Kyushu University

While Kano has been capturing various organisms including insects, plants, and even fungi, and is currently focusing on aquatic animals such as fish and amphibians. 

There are some limitations with the technique — transparent creatures and very small and very large models are not possible. 

Kano says the 3D images are publicly accessible to use.

“It’s free to the public, so you can use it in education or even plug it into a VR machine and explore these organisms up-close. I’d like to see what some people can come up with.”

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