photo of an iphone screen displaying a 3d wireframe model of a sports car.

The technology to build and render 3D objects and worlds has gotten increasing accessible in recent years with free applications like Blender and Unreal Engine opening up a wide range of creative possibilities for all kinds of creators. As 3D technology progresses, companies are beginning to take note of 3D asset creation potential for a variety of purposes including films, games, architecture, E-commerce and more.

Key to working in 3D is the creation of models whether it's a rock, a car, a person, or an entire city. This can be an extremely time consuming process, particularly as you're just getting started. Instead of spending sometimes weeks manually creating 3D models from scratch, scanning real life 3D objects is a quicker way to catalog necessary assets for building digital worlds and experiences. What can be particularly exciting about this process, called photogrammetry, is that you don't need special equipment to do it! In fact, with the LIDAR (which stands for Light Detection and Ranging) technology built into the newest iPhones, you may have all you need in your pocket right now. Even older iPhones without LIDAR can work in some cases depending on the apps you're using. 

Creating 3D assets from real world objects with your iPhone involves taking a series of high resolution 2D photos from various angles with your camera and turning them into photorealistic 3D images. To achieve a 3D asset, the 2D images can be composited into 3D models on various iPhone apps that are available for download (more on that below!). After creating 3D assets on an iPhone, creators are able to bring these objects into 3D modeling applications and video game engines on their computers, to aid in building virtual worlds, games and complex digital renderings. These 3D assets can be further manipulated, rotated, and viewed from all sides inside the appropriate application.

Here is a list of a few apps for your iPhone that you can use to get started and create 3D assets!*

  1. KIRI Engine - 3D Scanner: KIRI Engine is a great option for beginners looking to test out photogrammetry for the first time before committing to a paid subscription. KIRI is free to download cloud-based app made for both iOS and Android. Photos taken on the app are processed on KIRI’s servers and transformed into 3D objects. While the app is free, there is a charge for upgrades. The free version of the app only allows a limited amount of 3D scans per week. To access unlimited scans, more advanced and powerful features and increase the quality of photo scans, users need to pay a monthly fee. 
  2. Trnio 3D Scanner: Similar to other 3D creation apps, Trnio 3D enables users to take photos of objects and upload them for processing on its cloud service. Trnio then sends the user back a composited 3D model from the photos that were taken. An added plus is that Trnio’s in-app editor enables creators to quickly edit and trim their 3D scans without importing them into separate editing software. The app requires a one time $5 payment to download. There is also a Plus version that enables you to pay as you go, and charges a fee when exporting your scan, or pay a subscription fee for additional features.
  3. Reality Scan (in Beta): While still in limited Beta, the free 3D scanning app, Reality Scan from Epic Games, is another app that enables creators to take photos on their phone and turn them into 3D models. After creating 3D assets, users are able to import them into Epic Games’ 3D creation tool, Unreal Engine to further build and develop virtual worlds. It is expected that as this app evolves, the Reality Scan and Unreal Engine integration process will become more streamlined. A wider release of Reality Scan is expected in the not so distant future so keep your eyes peeled. 
  4. Apple Object Capture (macOS): While Object Capture is not an iPhone app, it does enable creators who have access to newer Mac computers, to take photos on an iPhone and then composite them into 3D objects on a Mac. Here’s how it works. First, creators snap photos of an object from various angles on their iPhone. The next step is to transfer the photos from the iPhone onto a Mac computer that supports Object Capture. Object Capture is available on macOS Monterey and above. Once the photos are transferred onto a computer, they can be imported into the macOS app HelloPhotogrammetry. The app will combine the photographs into a 3D model.

These are just a few examples of 3D object scanning apps that are out on the market. There are a variety of apps that offer different features for you to choose from. Take some time to find the one that works best for you and take advantage of the many YouTube tutorials that further explain how to create 3D assets using your iPhone.

For more information, tips and tricks visit www.mnn.org/learn for free workshops, professional courses, filmmaking bootcamps, and more resources to make sure your productions are successful. 

*Links provided for convenience and informational purposes only.