I’m Azad Balabanian, Head of Photogrammetry at realities.io where we’re focused on capturing and creating Photogrammetry experiences for Virtual Reality.
We are a team of VR developers, engineers, drone pilots, and photographers. Established in 2016 at the dawn of consumer VR headsets, realities.io has become known for our photogrammetry capturing, processing, and optimization work, especially for VR/AR films such as: Home After War, The Key, Blautopf, and other experiences.
Our expertise has allowed us to introduce Photogrammetry and VR into the efforts of larger institutions, such as Audi. In CES 2020, our work creating the in-car VR entertainment experience of the Audi AI:ME, an autonomous vehicle, was unveiled to show the potential of self-driving vehicles combined with next-gen immersive entertainment.
Throughout 2020, we developed Puzzling Places, a 3D VR jigsaw puzzle game made with beautiful photogrammetry scans from around the world, where, piece-by-piece, you bring iconic locations to life.
Introducing Puzzling Places
The puzzle consists of both the interior and exterior of the Monastery, adding fun and challenging elements beyond a normal 2D puzzle. It also features immersive ambisonic audio recordings from the actual location that are revealed as you put together different pieces of the puzzle.
The response from players was overwhelming—they loved the game and wanted more puzzles! We realized an immediate need for more content, however, producing the Tatev Monastery scan took a considerable amount of effort and couldn’t easily be replicated at a weekly or even a monthly scale.
So, we dug into our scan archives, contacted our photogrammetry friends and partners, and started searching deep into Sketchfab. Faster than we could have imagined, we started producing puzzle after puzzle to test, play, and iterate on the answer to the question we all had: “What makes a good puzzle?”.
Today, Puzzling Places is in a playable “Early Access” state, where we release a new puzzle every week to subscribers through Patreon. So far, we have released over 25 puzzles (with 3 free puzzles to get started with) as the community continues to grow!
Finding Photogrammetry on Sketchfab
Sketchfab has been a fantastic source of high-quality photogrammetry content, allowing Puzzling Places to be able to release new playable content weekly. It has also become a great resource to find and connect with content creators who capture interesting places in their little parts of the world.
With the variety of file formats, mesh structures, and quality variations between different Sketchfab photogrammetry assets, we’ve developed a workflow for standardizing the mesh structure, decimating and retopologizing the geometry, and baking textures from the source material. We also iterate on various “mesh croppings” to find a structure that works the best for puzzle pieces and to filter undesirable photogrammetry mesh artifacts.
Our Sketchfab Store Experience
Shahriar Sharabi, the Technical Art Director at realities.io, curates multiple Sketchfab collections of eye-catching Photogrammetry models that have been instrumental in producing and releasing weekly puzzles.
There are thousands of fantastic photogrammetry scans on Sketchfab, but discovering them is typically the bottleneck. We’ve found that there are a ton of hyper-talented creators with very few followers, so typically their posts don’t get the reach that they deserve. By discovering them and curating them into these collections, however, their content can get more well-deserved views.
Shahriar’s method for finding interesting photogrammetry scans for puzzles is:
- Find an interesting photogrammetry scan on Sketchfab (whether it’s through a link that’s shared via our team or a post highlighted by Sketchfab’s Staff Picks).
- Dig through the creator’s account to find more interesting photogrammetry content.
- Take a look at the creator’s “following” list to find other interesting photogrammetry artists.
- See if those creators have also posted interesting photogrammetry scans that could become an interesting puzzle.
- And repeat.
Budget-wise, we’ve found the prices of most photogrammetry content to be quite reasonable, ranging between $5–$50, and on rare occasions, in the triple digits. Using the Sketchfab “Model Inspector”, we can take a closer look at the model’s geometry to see if the quality is high enough for our specific purpose. The inspector also allows us to change or disable the material lighting to get a better view of the underlying textures before we purchase the models.
There is also a treasure trove of photogrammetry models posted under the Creative Commons license, free to download and use with the requirement that the creator and their content are credited and attributed. For every puzzle we release, we focus on highlighting the creator of the photogrammetry scan, the scan itself (if it’s on Sketchfab), and the location where the scan was captured.
Some of our Favorite Sketchfab Models
Captured By: Erik Lernestål – The Hallwyl Museum (Hallwylska museet)
This photogrammetry model of the Smoking Room in the Hallwyl Museum is a fantastic example of an interior room scan. It’s one of the fan favorites from our Puzzling Places Patreon releases.
Captured By: FAE_Drones
This Photogrammetry scan of the Bran Castle in Bran, Romania is notable because not only did we create a puzzle with the original model itself, we created a Halloween version of the puzzle. We added thematic lights to the castle, dimmed the environment colors, and changed the ambient audio to create a spookier feeling. Our Patrons really enjoyed it and the experiment opened our eyes to another way to leverage content and add our own spin.
Along with these two models, we’ve also purchased a number of models from Peter93 and Miguel Bandera, including Chungs Blocks, Hong Kong, Dem, Stair house entrance photogrammetry scan, and a few other scans that we haven’t yet released as puzzles—so stay tuned.
Future Plans for Puzzling Places
Puzzling Places is still in “early access” through Patreon and we will continue to publicly develop it, share new content to our player base, and work our way towards launching a full-feature Puzzling Places title on the Oculus Quest Store in 2021!
If you have an Oculus Quest, download our Puzzling Places Prototype app (it’s free!), our Puzzling Places – Patreon app to have access to the latest developments of the game, and let us know what you think.
We love Sketchfab, plain and simple. We absolutely love the fact that Sketchfab has become the social network to post, share, and buy photogrammetry scans. It has become a critical component in how we find content, share our work, and find other photogrammetry experts to work with.
Sketchfab isn’t new to the internet, but the Sketchfab Store is still quite new. Leveraging the effects of the social network to drive store sales is a highly-successful model, so we hope Puzzling Places can be a great example of the Sketchfab Store working at its maximum potential!