Researcher finds way to convert photos into 3-D graphics
By Lisa Nishimoto
Three years ago, Paul Debevec dreamed about flying around
the UC Berkeley campus.
Last year, he realized his dream -- virtually, that
is. As a doctoral student in the UC Berkeley computer
science department, Debevec created a computer program
called Facade which converts ordinary photographs into
three-dimensional computer graphics.
Debevec, 26, used his program last spring to create
"The Campanile Movie," a three-minute short
film that features a virtual flight over the UC Berkeley
campus centered around Sather Tower. Since the film
blends real footage of the campus and computer graphics,
the image is not perfect, but it is at times difficult
to tell the difference between the real and artificial.
The movie debuted at a film showcase at SIGGRAPH '97,
an annual computer graphics trade show held last August
in Los Angeles. Since then, it has appeared on television
in Spain, at a digital art show in Italy and last week,
on national television in Japan.
Traditionally, to create a realistic three-dimensional
image of a building, computer graphic artists have
had to draw the building using exact geometric measurements,
then apply synthetic texture and lighting effects.
"The problem is, it's extraordinarily difficult
to get results that (look) as real as photos,"
His program takes measurements directly from photographs
to capture a building's geometry and create a model
of that building's shape. The software then projects
the textures and lighting from the photograph onto
the computer-generated building model to create a realistic
image, much like a slide projected onto a blank screen.
"We basically cheat," Debevec said. "All
of the lighting has been done by nature."
R. Zane Rutledge, a 29-year-old freelance special effects
artist in San Francisco, said that the program could
potentially save filmmakers a tremendous amount of
time and effort.
"Facade will allow us to build the 3-D geometry
using photographs as input, rather than having to build
those sets ourselves," Rutledge said. "His
program will do a lot of the dirty work for us."
Debevec's software also makes it possible for filmmakers
and special effects artists to create shots on computers
that otherwise would require expensive machinery and
a huge production crew.
"You can actually tweak what a camera does. You
can loop around faster, go closer to a building,"