3D Capturing Technology

Capturing allows an existing physical object or motion to be re-created in digital form.

This is a process often used in the preservation of artifacts and in iterative design. The ability to take an existing object and re-create it digitally allows artifacts to be forever preserved and also made more widely available through digital platforms. For inventors, designers and creators, capturing an existing object can allow for improvements to its design and functionality in digital form.

  • Capturing Methods

  • Capturing Technology

  • Tutorials


Capturing Methods

3D Capturing allows existing objects or motions to be converted to digital content. Static objects or actors can be replicated as precise 3D models, complete with high resolution surface color. Motions, either portrayed by human actors, robots, or moving objects, can be recorded in 3D space and then visualized for analytics , used to program robotics, or mapped to digital models.

The UM3D Lab offers three methods of 3D capturing:

Laser Scanning

Laser scanners provide very accurate 3D models, capturing fine detail up to 100 micron precision. Our NextEngine scanner is also able to capture low resolution, full color information on an object. In addition to the NextEngine scanner (which is most suitable for small objects), we also have a Handyscan hand-held laser scanner that is capable of scanning much larger objects. Laser scanners work by detecting light reflected off an object and using triangulation, the scanner is able to calculate the distance of the object from the scanner.


Photogrammetry is the process of using digital photographs to generate a 3D model. The great thing about this technology is it can be done by just about anyone with a digital camera, with a wide array of subjects-From generating 3D artifacts or people. The resolution and quality of the photos used in this process directly affects the quality of the resulting 3D model. Photogrammetry is a process that preserves an incredibly high accuracy of surface color on an object, as it maps the photos used to construct a 3D model to the model’s surface.

Motion Capture

Motion Capture is a common practice used in Hollywood to record realistic movement. The process traditionally uses a series of infrared cameras to record reflective markers placed at important joints on the subject. The cameras capture the reflections from the markers, using their locations to construct a digital “skeleton” of the subject. As the subject moves, the location of the markers are mapped in 3D space. These movements can then be applied to digital characters. The 3D Lab has an industry standard, 9-camera Vicon system for Motion Capture as well as some low cost/experimental options. 

However, if you want to capture something, here are some questions you need to keep in mind:

How large is the object?
What material is the object comprised of?
How accurate does the scan need to be?
Are you looking to capture movement?
Is surface color important?

We can help you work through these questions and help you decide what mode of capturing is best for you.

Capturing Technology


NextEngine Laser Scanner

Self-Service Laser Scanning

Out NextEngine scanner is available to students on a walk-in basis. A workstation with the NextEngine scanner and its associated software, Scan Studio, is available within the 3D Lab. The documentation available through Scan Studio will walk students through the the step-by-step process of creating a 3D scan. Laser scanners like the NextEngine may be ideal for smaller objects that require high precision. Resulting models can be exported from Scan Studio as STL, OBJ, VRML, XYZ and PLY format.

For video tutorials on how to use the NextEngine scanner, click “Get Started”. Additionally, in the link below is a calendar detailing hours when the NextEngine scanner is available for Walk-In use.

Get Started         Walk-In Hours


Self-Service and Guided, Photo-Based Capturing

Photogrammetry is a process that can be done within your own home if you have access to a digital camera. Objects with a lot of surface detail work great with this method, as the algorithm that generates a model analyzes your photos on a per-pixel basis, looking for features it can identify across 2 or 3 photographs. If it can locate the same feature across several photographs, that feature can be triangulated in 3D space, allowing a model to be constructed from a plotted point-cloud. We offer a guide to walk you through taking 360 degree photos, and within the 3D Lab we provide a variety of software that can be used to process your photos. For more accurate results, we also have a method of capturing objects or people on a turn-table within in the lab. This can be particularly helpful for large-scale objects or subjects like people (that move slightly and need to be photographed quickly). The process of Photogrammetry has the ability to preserve very high resolution color information as the photos used in generating a model are mapped to the model’s surface and depending on the subject, the precision of the resulting model can sometimes rival that of a laser scanner. Models and point cloud data generated through Photogrammetry can be exported as OBJ, PLY, EXY, ASPRS LAS, STL, FBX, Adobe PDF, 3DS, COLLADA, Autodesk DXF & U3D format.

For a detailed guide on how to take photos yourself see our Photography for Photogrammetry guide:

Photography Guide for Photogrammetry

Autodesk Remake Tutorial

Photography Demo

To schedule a time for a subject to be brought to the 3D Lab for scanning, send your request to somalley@umich.edu – Include a description of the size and material of the subject to be scanned.

Vicon / Perception Neuron / Leap Motion

Motion Capture Available by Reservation

The Vicon Motion Capture technology available at the 3D Lab is the same system used by major Hollywood productions like Avatar or Planet of the Apes to translate realistic motion onto digital characters. We offer a 9-camera Vicon system, suitable for capturing the movement of people, robotics, and other objects. This technology is available through reservation, and involves scheduling a capturing session with the 3D Lab’s Motion Capture expert. After a session is complete, the resulting motion data is available in FBX, BVH or TRC formats. If you are interested in a low-cost, introductory option, we also have workstations outfitted with Leap Motion as well as a Perception Neuron system (this is a Mocap suit that utilizes accelerometers and gyroscopes) available by request.

To schedule a Vicon motion capture session, we will need a description of what you are looking to capture & the number of subjects involved. After a capture session, you will be responsible for cleaning the resulting data within the Blade software (instruction will be provided). Contact heise@umich.edu to request a session or inquire about other motion capturing methods that are available.


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