Steam engine Albatros 498.104 - 3D scan and real-time footage from UNREAL Engine by Artzenal

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Jason Warren
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Steam engine Albatros 498.104 - 3D scan and real-time footage from UNREAL Engine by Artzenal

Post by Jason Warren »

neat... ;)

1; About the Albatros:

The Albatros steam engine 498.104, with its overall length – engine & tender - of 25.6 m, is a truly imposing sight. In polished regal blue with vibrant red wheels, it immediately stands out among the predominant black of its contemporaries.

It is also the last representative of a technological era – the final large express steam engine before the emergence of diesel and electric power on the main lines in Central Europe.

Preserved by the Albatros club and taken care of by the chairman, Mr.Veres, and his team of experts and enthusiasts.The Albatros is a regular sight at major events and commemorative rides, often pulling the presidential coach of the former Republic of Czechoslovakia.
As such, it is an object which requires one to travel to see it live – it would hardly fit into any museum, let alone into anyone’s living room…

2; Challenge:

The Albatros engine could be one of the most challenging single objects imaginable for 3D scanning. It ticks all the “better to avoid” boxes – sheer size, the necessity to work in exteriors with natural lighting, shiny metallic surfaces, glass, complex structures and layers upon layers of industrial beauty hidden in impossible angles - that make its digitalization a true test for the team and equipment. We used the FARO FOCUS 150 laser scanner for dozens of positions, from which 18 were ultimately chosen, and several Nikon D850 cameras to take 45.858 photo-captures of the Albatros Steam Engine.

3; Raw data

The initial pass from Capturing Reality created the following data output:

Pointcloud – Point map of the scanned object, over 700GB input data
Model – 1.38BN triangles
Textures – 36 materials and 150 textures

We store these raw data as root files for all future use-cases. The quality would allow virtually any purpose – from scientific archiving through film/video-VFX to hi-res print, real-time, 3D print or any imaginable use where digital data can be applied.

4; Going to Unreal Engine:

Our main use-case – bringing the Albatros steam engine to life as a virtual experience – required the transfer of raw data to an optimized format for the use in the Unreal Engine. Epic’s Unreal Engine was a natural choice both due to the powerful visual package and the possibility to easily create builds for our intended target platforms.
To achieve a fast real-time performance in the future use-cases, but also keep maximum quality on respectively performant hardware, we set an initial target to reduce the 1.38 BN raw model to a size well under 5M triangles and roughly 150 textures and 36 materials to have a “master” real-time model.

Ultimately, our “master” Albatros steam engine + tender has a mesh of just under 3M triangles and utilizes 150 textures and 36 materials. This version runs in the Unreal Engine at a stable 60FPS+ on standard PCs and is a good base for subsequent optimizations for different target hardware setups.

5; Use cases

Following the key milestone of having the Albatros steam engine running smoothly in the Unreal Engine, verifying the post-optimization visual quality, we are now embarking on the task of adding “life” to this huge virtual machine.
Our next steps will be to add the intended functions, interactions and operability and create branches for use on final target platforms – in 2021, we want to bring the Albatros into Virtual Reality and high-quality projections as an interactive experience.
We see great potential in combining the visual quality of our scans with hands-on delivery of information & educational value – in this case, experiencing a steam engine in entertaining gamified scenarios.

For us, this is the essence of Virtual Cultural Heritage – making things accessible digitally, to new audiences, and above all, breaking barriers by presenting valuable content and knowledge in an appealing form.
In the case of the Albatros, the scenario will feature about 10-15 minutes, in which the user will approach the “cold” engine and first make it ready in the exterior – check-up, grease, coal, water, sand. With those tasks done, we move on to the cabin and light the fire, build up pressure and steam, set up valves and levers, and finally proudly pull the horn and cast off – with full visuals, sounds, and motion, in Virtual Reality, at home or at one of our partner installation sites.

Jason Warren

Dedicated to 3D Laser Scanning
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