How you can bring photoreal objects into your projects with 3D scanning app KIRI

How KIRI works, the difference between free and paid versions, and how your 3D scans might soon earn you money.

If you’re a 3D or VFX artist, 3D printing hobbyist or game dev looking to bring photoreal real-world objects into your projects, the KIRI Engine 3D scanning app may be just what you need.

The photogrammetry app reconstructs objects in 3D from the photos you take, with the processing happening fast on KIRI’s servers. The app is available on iOS, Android and web browsers.

Here, KIRI CEO and co-founder Jack Wang describes how KIRI works, and provides insight into the free and paid versions of the app, plus future plans to implement a scan-to-earn program with KIRI.

b&a: If you had to explain what KIRI was to someone who didn’t know much about 3D scanning or photogrammetry, what would you say?

Jack Wang (CEO/co-founder, KIRI): 3D scanning is a technology that can ‘copy’ objects from the physical world to digital 3D worlds. For example, when you play a video game with ‘really good graphics’, chances are that the game devs used 3D scanned assets in the game so they’d look just as good as in real life.

And that’s what you can do with KIRI Engine. You can scan a road, a figurine, furniture, a plate of food, decorations…just about anything you need (with some exceptions, but that’s a whole different subject) as a digital 3D object.

The KIRI user interface.

b&a: How does KIRI work — what do you have to do to get the app, do a scan on their device, and get the result into a usable form?

Jack Wang: To keep it simple, we can say that KIRI Engine works by ‘stitching’ photos together. The app’s algorithms can calculate the object’s shape based on the different angles and shadows cast by the object.

Using the KIRI Engine app is easy. You just need to (a) take photos all around and over the object or (b) rotate the object while taking photos, depending on what you’re scanning. You must take at least 20 photos (the more, the better) from different angles and heights.

KIRI CEO/co-founder Zheng Nan (Jack) Wang.

Once that’s all good, our powerful cloud algorithm processes all the data. Processing time generally takes around 5 minutes, but can take longer when numerous other users are uploading scans at the same time.

KIRI Engine offers several export formats to suit different use cases and software. We have GLTF, USDZ, OBJ, FBX, and a few more that are each available to all users. They’re standard 3D model formats that can be imported directly to 3D editors and engines such as Blender and Unreal Engine.

Of course, your models likely won’t be usable straight out of the app, and this is true whether you’re using a $50k 3D scanner or KIRI. Pretty much all 3D scans require post-editing; you need to crop out planes, smooth certain surfaces, and fill holes, for example. You can clean up and perfect your scans in Blender, Mesh Mixer, ZBrush, and other similar software. We’re also currently developing some user-friendly, in-app tools for basic editing.

What’s also worth mentioning is that you can choose different poly counts for your 3D models. If you’re developing a game, you might need each model to have a small, lightweight poly count, so scenes can be rendered smoothly. If you’re 3D printing your model, you’ll probably want a high poly count to replicate as much detail as possible.

So you can choose to export raw 3D models, which have hundreds of thousands, or sometimes millions, of poly counts; or you can choose to export 3D models with just five thousand poly counts. No matter which poly count you choose, the model will always get 4K PBR textures.

A KIRI 3D scan of an art sculpture.

b&a: How was KIRI developed — what kind of R&D and testing and development went into the app?

Jack Wang: This is a huge topic, I’ll try not to dive too deep into this one! The entire R&D process can be segmented into three parts: the photogrammetry algorithm, the front-end app development, and optimization. Each segment posed huge challenges we had never thought about.

For one, developing photogrammetry software on Android is harder than we thought. When you access low-level APIs, different phone brands tend to have their own rules to play by. Our earliest versions on Android crashed a lot because of them! Solving these kinds of issues required a ton of re-writing the low-level codes.

Another R&D example would be optimization. Those that have previous experience with photogrammetry know that this tech is extremely dependent on factors such as photo quality, lighting, and the object itself (its color, its geometries). Trying to maintain these factors consistently is almost impossible on Android phones because there are so many different versions.

So our only option was to improve the technology itself. That’s why we put a tremendous amount of time into studying computer vision and machine learning to solve image quality and lighting problems.

Browsing through your library of scans.

b&a: How do you think VFX, CG and animation artists can use KIRI right now in their work?

Jack Wang: Many 3D artists already use photogrammetry in their workflow to save time. 3D scanning is a fast way to replicate physical objects and textures so the artist can further manipulate and create on top of their assets.

One of our users, Santiago Ogazon, is an amazing 3D artist from Spain who 3D scanned his family and added 3D elements from Cyberpunk 2077, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Alice in Wonderland to create beautiful portraits. I’ve also seen another KIRI Engine user 3D scan a whole bunch of street objects to remake the VFX from Green Lantern. Another user rebuilt an entire war game battlefield map on Tabletop Simulator.

b&a: Can you explain the differences between the free and premium versions?

Jack Wang: With a free account, you can do as many 3D scans as you like, but can only export three different 3D scans per week. You can invite other people to download and use the KIRI app to get more export coupons.

If you need unlimited exports, you can upgrade to premium, which costs US$6.99 a month (or US$4.16/month for yearly subscriptions).

Both free and premium accounts run on the same algorithm, but free users can take up to 70 photos per project while premium users can go up to 200 photos. Taking more photos will generate more details, and the bigger the objects you want to scan, the more photos you’ll need to decently cover the entire object.

Premium users also get access to KIRI Engine Web, our hard bet on the future of professional photogrammetry. It’s designed to compete with the most powerful photogrammetry software on the market, the difference being that you don’t need to download any software, nor to have a powerful PC to run it, nor to pay hundreds of dollars of licensing fees. KIRI Engine Web runs on any computer web browser, where you can upload high-quality photos from your DSLR camera or even drone footage.

b&a: What are some of the future plans with KIRI, especially for artists?

Jack Wang: We have an exciting roadmap up ahead. While I can’t disclose everything in too much detail, I think one of the most exciting projects that we are currently working on is the Creator Program. It’s basically a scan-to-earn program, where users can earn some extra money by selling us their 3D scans.

This system is different from other 3D model sharing platforms which are often royalty-based, i.e., users get a percentage of the sales when someone finds and pays for the 3D model. With the Creator Program, creators can submit their scan and if it meets the minimum standards, they’ll receive payment for it right away.

And this leads to our next major project ahead: we’re aiming to build the world’s largest, themed 3D scan library. There’s a limited number of photorealistic 3D assets on the internet, so it can be hard to find just the right object or just the right texture. By leveraging the Creator Program, we hope to offer a more complete and diversified library of photorealistic 3D assets to all users.

Brought to you by KIRI:
This article is part of the befores & afters VFX Insight series. If you’d like to promote your VFX/animation/CG tech or service, you can find out more about the VFX Insight series here.

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