It´s been buzzing around the net quite some time and finally i was curious and gave Photofly from Autodesk a shot.
It´s still in development, but version 2.1 can be tested for free. It basically uses a series of images taken by a still camera from various angles of an object and calculates a 3d Model with mapping. It seems like they still try to get a final product out of the technology, because at the moment the program only consists of an uploading/downloading mechanism and a viewer, where you can check the result with very little possibilities to change things. Everything important happens on remote cloud-servers at Autodesk, I guess to protect the algorithm from getting stolen or copied.
There is a shooting guide which tells you what to take care of when taking images, because at the moment that´s the major part which determines how good your final model can be calculated. After uploading it takes several minutes until you can view a precalculated low version of your scene, there you can delete some faces and check if some photos create troubles for the calculation. After this step you can send the lowres model back to the Server and get a highres version in various formats.
From what i have tested the single most important step is how you take your pictures. The more coverage of your object from different angles you have as well as overlapping parts in your image the better the model will be. There is not much editing possibilities inside the software, so you pretty much have to stick with what you get out of the “black box” from the server, you can only eliminate faces and pin down corresponding points within your photographs.
I have seen quite a lot of models produced by photofly on the web and quality varies between amazing and not impressive. Most of it comes down on how you shoot your images, i would love to find some additional options for tweaking and editing. The mesh you get is quite messy, like raw data from a 3d scanner, but that´s already pretty amazing, isn’t it ? One weird thing is that the model is sometimes split into 2 or more different parts with their separate textures, which is a little painful for further editing in a 3d package. Also some of the models have holes in it, although there should be enough coverage to fill that spot.
What would be a great improvement, would be to get it into another package for retopologizing and/or further editing. There is already a tutorial for Z-Brush which looks promising, also I hope Autodesk will come up with a good solution for their own product Mudbox.
So for what can you use it for?
Judging from what I saw on the web and experienced myself, i would say you can get quite good results with Photofly, but I guess you should not be over exited. I can imagine it´s perfect for product visualization, architectural things, archeology, biology and maybe even forensics. The models could be used for all kinds of purposes, but won´t hold up well with close-ups. The mesh you receive could be a good starting point for doing more detailed modeling using it as a reference, retopologize it and maybe even retexture it if you have to, but then the big advantage of the software would be quite diminished. I can imagine using it for background elements, in 3d matte paintings or in camera projection tough.
As a closing word let´s see where Autodesk is heading with the final product, if there would be more advanced ways of editing and cleaning up the model, as well as for importing the results into different packages then I could get quite interesting…
Here are some of the results I was getting: