Last week Autodesk quite successfully staged the REAL2015 conference in San Francisco focused on how we are increasingly using 3D to Capture (scan), Compute (design), and Create (fabricate). The event was definitely different in many ways from the more traditional industry conferences many of us regularly attend, such as SPAR, Autodesk University, RAPID, or the Hexagon, FARO, ESRI, and Trimble user events. The line-up of speakers, for example, was not your usual industry faces. Most of the speakers presented on aspects of 3D, such as 3D scanning, 3D design, or 3D printing. Although many were not necessarily expert or even hard core 3D users per se – most really had compelling stories about how they leverage 3D to create incredible products, artwork, designs, structures, exhibitions, visualizations, or something else that was likely pretty interesting to hear and see.
Staged at Fort Mason, a former Army base now managed by the National Park Service near Fishermans Wharf, in long barrack-like building on a pier over the water, the event clearly had flavors of a TED conference. Design elements even included large, in this case blue, block letters on stage forming the work REAL, a very large presentation screen, a set of cushy lounge chairs, and even the trademark carpet circle with no podium. In all the venue seemed about perfect for this inaugural event. It never felt too small or too large, the exhibition space was perfectly sized also, and it also seemed by most that the event logistics ran nearly flawless. Hats off to Autodesk and especially to the REAL2015 co-organizers: Robert Shear, Autodesks Senior Director and GM of the Reality Solutions group, and Alonzo Addison, former Cyra VP, UNESCO advisor, professor, and entrepreneur brought on specifically for this project.
The conference started off with several fantastic international speakers including Eythor Bender of UNYQ about the design and fabrication of artistic custom prosthetic leg fairings, Stuart Brown talking about how they use 3D to reproduce exotic classic cars, and Tim Zaman of the Delft University reproducing famous master paintings with incredible 3D scanning including works by Rembrandt. The highlight of this first session was Sarah Kenderdine of the University of New South Wales in Australia showing example after example of absolutely amazing implementations of interactive visualizations for various museum exhibitions. This kickoff session, aptly entitled REAL Stories, lived up to its name with each providing thoughtful contemplation of how 3D can if not change lives, certainly improve lives.
The next session focused on making things largely art related all based on digital fabrication including 3D printing and CNC milling. The group of three highly experienced speakers included Autodesk CEO and likely chief maker Carl Bass, artist Bruce Beasley, and fabricator Bill Kreysler. It was evident in the conversation that all three seemed to be close friends. Mr. Bass wowed the audience with his obvious deep passion for making things and also making spaces to make things including Autodesks Pier 9 facility in San Francisco and the Gallery on Market Street. Then Mr. Beasley talked of his numerous sculpture fabrication projects, and Bill Kreysler enlightened us on how digital fabrication tools and technology have evolved in the past 20 years, especially early 3D scanning systems.
The afternoon sessions continued similarly with topics focused on new innovations for reality capture based on the Kinect sensor (Matterport, Dot Product, and Occipital) which elicited one of the more memorable interactions when an audience member asked how these companies expect to survive based on its assumed dead product status. Another excellent session focused on cultural heritage including the fabrication of a clock designed to last 10,000 years, the 3D capture and online display of ancient Kenyan fossils, and Autodesks contribution to the Smithsonian X 3D project. Perhaps most interesting to the lidar enthusiasts in the room was the presentation by a professor at the US Air Force Academy on the 3D documentation of the academys famous yet aging Cadet Chapel and that of the UKs ScanLAB featuring the visualization of the Shipping Galleries at the Science Museum.
Another amazing presentation that cannot go unmentioned was from Tim Webber, the Chief Creative Officer for Framestore, the VFX firm behind the 2014 film Gravity. Tim showed fantastic making of behind the scenes shots on how they compensated for earths gravity to film so many weightless scenes of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Turns out 3D scanning contributed significantly to these shots including 3D face replacement, costume fabrication, as well as for much of the modeling for the previs animation which Tim said was used extensively. Quite deservingly, Tim Webber and his team won the visual effects Oscar for Gravity.
The exhibition portion of the REAL event featured many of the usual commercial hardware and software OEMs such as Leica, Topcon, FARO, Kubit, Clearedge, and LFM. Other newer firms included Matterport, Floored, Occipital, and augmented reality tool Metaio. One of the more noticeable features on the floor was the large Shapify 3D scanning booth from Artec. At times lines formed for the opportunity to stand still for about 15 seconds to get full body scanned. Most of these firms must have also been given the opportunity to participate on stage with a presentation. FARO CEO Jay Freeland for example, walked us thru their range of products for coordinate metrology and 3D documentation.
Fortunately all of the presentations were video recorded with the intention of putting them online so all can watch, which would be highly recommended. There was also some talk about a next event, perhaps in a year or more. Particularly impressive throughout was the minimal commercialization of Autodesk, as was intended for this event. Also of note is that Autodesk recently launched its own 3D printer called the Ember, perhaps explaining the lack of any other 3D printing OEM participating in the event.
In the end this REAL2015 event, perhaps the first of its kind, not a TED exactly, not a SPAR, nor a Maker Faire, will sink in with those that attended as being exceptionally thoughtful and enlightening on how 3D is changing how we Capture, Compute, and Create. With our mind completely stirring with possibility, we now look forward to SPAR in Houston later this month for the usual deep dive very specifically into all things 3D scanning.