Students Learn 3D Modeling for Virtual Reality

Students Learn 3D Modeling for Virtual Reality

making tiny worlds

Stephanie O’Malley

ArtDes240 is course offered by the Stamps School of Art & Design and taught by Stephanie O’Malley that teaches students 3D modeling & animation.  As one of only a few 3D digital classes offered at the University of Michigan, AD240 sees student interest from several schools across campus with students looking to gain a better understanding of 3D art as it pertains to the video game industry.

The students in AD240 are given a crash-course in 3D modeling in 3D Studio Max and level creation within the Unreal Editor. It is then within Unreal that all of their objects are positioned, terrain is sculpted, and atmospheric effects such as time of day, weather, or fog can be added.

“Candyland” – Elise Haadsma & Heidi Liu, developed using 3D Studio Max and Unreal Engine
“Candyland” – Elise Haadsma & Heidi Liu, developed using 3D Studio Max and Unreal Engine

With just 5 weeks to model their entire environment, bring it into Unreal,  package it as an executable, and test it in the MIDEN (or on the Oculus Rift), the resulting student projects were truly impressive. Art & Design Students Elise Haadsma & Heidi Liu took inspiration from the classic board game, “Candyland” to create a life-size game board environment in Unreal consisting of a lollipop forest, mountains of Hershey’s kisses, even a gingerbread house and chocolate river.

Lindsay Balaka  from the School of Music, Theater & Dance, chose to create her scene using the Duderstadt Center’s in-house rendering software “Jugular” instead of Unreal Engine-Her creation, “Galaxy Cakes”, is a highly stylized (reminiscent of an episode of the 1960’s cartoon, The Jetson’s) cupcake shop, complete with spatial audio emanating from the corner Jukebox.

Lindsay Balaka’s “Galaxy Cakes” environment
An abandoned school, created by Vicki Liu in 3D Studio Max and Unreal Engine

Vicki Liu, also of Art & Design, created a realistic horror scene using Unreal. After navigating down a poorly lit hallway of an abandoned nursery school, you will find yourself in a run down classroom inhabited by some kind of mad man. A tally of days passed has been scratched into the walls, an eerie message scrawled onto the chalkboard, and furniture haphazardly barricades the windows.

While the goal of the final project was to create a traversible environment for virtual reality, some students took it a step further.

Art & Design student Gus Schissler created an environment composed of neurons in Unreal intended for viewing within the Oculus Rift. He then integrated data from an Epoch neurotransmitter (a device capable of reading brain waves) to allow the viewer to telepathically interact with the environment. The viewers mood when picked up by the Epoch not only changed the way the environment looked by adjusting the intensities of the light being emitted by the neurons, but also allowed the viewer to think specific commands (push, pull, etc) in order to navigate their way past various obstacles in the environment.

Students spend the last two weeks of the semester scheduling time with Ted Hall and Sean Petty to test their scenes and ensure everything runs and looks correctly on the day of their presentations. This was a class that not just introduced students to the design process, but to also allowed them to get hands on experience with upcoming technologies as virtual reality continues to expand in the game and film industries.

Student Gus Schissler demonstrates his Neuron environment for Oculus Rift that uses inputs from an Epoch neurotransmitter to interact.

Duderstadt Center Joins Local Artist to Re-Create the Gateway Bridge for Michigan Engineering

Duderstadt Center Joins Local Artist to Re-Create the Gateway Bridge for Michigan Engineering

In June the Duderstadt Center was contacted by Michigan Engineering to assist with a special gift for an alumni donor. Their donor had been the designer of several bridges in the area, including the famous Michigan Gateway Bridge. The Gateway Bridge carries I-94 over eight lanes of US 24, Telegraph Road and is well recognized by commuters for it’s vibrant blue arches.

The Duderstadt Center was provided reference images and the original plans and specifications of the Gateway bridge. From this a 3D model was built and segmented to be printed on two different 3D printers: Our Dimension Elites were used to print the base, allowing for a sturdy, cost effective platform to hold the delicate arches in place. The arches, which required a much higher fidelity, were then printed in pieces using our new Projet 3D printer. The Projet is able to print at a much finer resolution and utilizes a wax support structure that can be melted away, making it the perfect printer for generating the tiny features that would be required for threading the suspension cables of the bridge.

These parts were then passed off to a very talented local diorama artist, Eric Hasiak, for further detailing, where the model was assembled, mounted, painted, had foliage placed and the delicate suspension cables strung.


Art Students Model With Photogrammetry

Art Students Model With Photogrammetry

The Stamps School of Art and Design features a fabrication class called Bits and Atoms. This course is taught by Sophia Brueckner and it focuses on detailed and accurate modeling for 3D digital fabrication and manufacturing.

Sophia brought her students into the Duderstadt Center to use our new Photogrammetry rig. This rig features 3 cameras that take multiple photos of a subject placed on a rotating platform. Each photograph captures a different angle of the subject. When these photos are imported into a computer program, the result is a 3D model of the subject. The program tracks the movement of reference points in each photo in order to construct this model. This process is called photogrammetry.

The art students created digital models of themselves by sitting on the rotating platform. Their 3D models were then manipulated using Rhino and Meshmixer.

Surgical Planning for Dentistry: Digital Manipulation of the Jaw

Surgical Planning for Dentistry: Digital Manipulation of the Jaw

CT data was brought into Zbrush & Topogun to be segmented and re-topologized. Influence was then added to the skin mesh allowing it to deform as the bones were manipulated.

Hera Kim-Berman is a Clinical Assistant Professor with the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. She recently approached the Duderstadt Center with an idea that would allow surgeons to prototype jaw surgery specific to patient data extracted from CT scans. Hera’s concept involved the ability to digitally manipulate portions of the skull in virtual reality, just as surgeons would when physically working with a patient, allowing them to preview different scenarios and evaluate how effective a procedure might be prior to engaging in surgery.

Before re-positioning the jaw segments, the jaw has a shallow profile.

After providing the Duderstadt Center with CT scan data, Shawn O’Grady was able to extract 3D meshes of the patient’s skull and skin using Magics. From there, Stephanie O’Malley worked with the models to make them interactive and suitable for real-time platforms. This involved bringing the skull into a software like Zbrush and creating slices in the mesh to correspond to areas identified by Hera as places where the skull would potentially be segmented during surgery. The mesh was then also optimized to perform at a higher frame rate when incorporated into real-time platforms. The skin mesh was also altered, undergoing a process called “re-topologizing” which allowed it to be more smoothly deformed.  From there, the segmented pieces of the skull were re-assembled, and then assigned influence over areas of the skin in a process called “rigging”. This allowed for areas of the skin to move with selected bones as they were separated and shifted by a surgeon in 3D space.

After re-positioning of the jaw segments, the jaw is more pronounced.

Once a working model was achieved, it was passed off to Ted Hall and student programmer Zachary Kiekover, to be implemented into the Duderstadt Center’s Jugular Engine, allowing the demo to run at large scale and in stereoscopic 3D from within the virtual reality MIDEN but also on smaller head mounted displays like the Oculus Rift. Additionally, more intuitive user controls were added which allowed for easier selection of the various bones using a game controller or motion tracked hand gestures via the Leap Motion. This meant surgeons could not only view the procedure from all angles in stereoscopic 3D, but they could also physically grab the bones they wanted to manipulate and transpose them in 3D space.

Zachary demonstrates the ability to manipulate the model using the Leap Motion.

Tour the Michigan Ion Beam Laboratory in 3D

Tour the Michigan Ion Beam Laboratory in 3D

3D Model of the Michigan Ion Beam Laboratory

The Michigan Ion Beam Laboratory (MIBL) was established in 1986 as part of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences in the College of Engineering. Located on the University of Michigan’s North Campus, the MIBL serves to provide unique and extensive facilities to support research and development. Recently, Professor Gary Was, Director of the MIBL reached out to the Duderstadt Center for assistance with developing content for the MIBL website to better introduce users to the capabilities of their lab as construction on a new particle accelerator reached completion.

Gary’s group was able to provide the Duderstadt Center with a scale model of the Ion Beam Laboratory generated in Inventor and a detailed synopsis of the various components and executable experiments. From there, the Stephanie O’Malley of the Duderstadt Center optimized and beautified the provided model, adding corresponding materials, labels and lighting. A series of fly-throughs, zoom-ins, and experiment animations were generated from this model that would serve to introduce visitors to the various capabilities of the lab.

These interactive animations were then integrated into the MIBL’s wordpress platform by student programmer, Yun-Tzu Chang. Visitors to the MIBL website are now able to compare the simplified digital replica of the space with actual photos of the equipment as well as run various experiments to better understand how each component functions.  To learn more about the Michigan Ion Beam Laboratory and to explore the space yourself, visit their website at

Xplore Engineering

Xplore Engineering

Xplore Engineering is a summer camp program designed for Engineering alumni and their children in 4th – 7th grade. Through a series of experiential workshops, participants get hands-on experience in a variety of engineering disciplines. This marked the second year the Duderstadt Center was invited to participate in the Xplore Engineering workshops, this time offering students the chance to design and then 3D print custom fashion rings. Kids were introduced to activities provided by that allow for the creation of simple 3D printed objects like dog tags, bracelets, or rings. Each child had an opportunity to work with their guardian to design a custom ring in the style of their choice in a workshop led by Stephanie O’Malley. Some created designs incorporating their initials, others went with unique designs or simple shapes. Once each child had completed their design, they were given an introduction to how 3D Printers work by Shawn O’Grady. Their files were assembled for printing in the Cubify software, and then each child had a chance to send their print to the Cube 3 3D Printers for printing, a unique opportunity for them to get involved in operating the technology. As they watched their creations be printed, the group was introduced to unique applications for 3D printing, from the creation of assets in stop motion movies like Coraline to the 3D printing of prosthetics! For more information on the Xplore Engineering summer camp, and other interesting opportunities with the school of Engineering, visit

Printing in 3D
Use 3-dimensional printers in the U of M 3D printing lab to to program a 3D model and even take home one of your own. You’ll also get a behind-the-scenes tour of the 3D lab.
Thursday session 3
Photo: Jessica Knedgen

Sonar Visualized in EECS

Sonar Visualized in EECS

Original point cloud data brought into Autodesk Recap

Professor Kamal Sarabandi, of Electrical Engingeering and Computer Science, and student Samuel Cook were looking into the accuracy of sonar equipment and came to the 3D Lab for assistance with visualizing their data. Their goal was to generate an accurate to scale 3D model of the EECS atrium that would be used to align their data to a physical space.

Gaps in point cloud data indicate an obstruction encountered by the sonar.

The Duderstadt Center’s Stephanie O’Malley and student consultant, Maggie Miller, used precise measurements and photo reference provided by Sam to re-create the atrium in 3D Studio Max. The point cloud data produced by their sonar was then exported as a *.PTS file, and brought into Autodesk Recap to quickly determine if everything appeared correct. When viewing point cloud data from the sonar, any significant gaps in the cloud indicate an obstruction, such as furniture, plants, or people.

Using the origin of the sonar device positioned on the second floor balcony, the data was aligned to the scene, and colored appropriately.  When the images produced by the sonar were aligned with the re-created EECS atrium, they were able to see the sonar picking up large objects such as benches or posts because those areas did not produce data points.  Professor Sarabandi’s research focus encompasses a wide range of topics in the area of applied electromagnetics.  The visualization efforts of the Duderstadt Center assisted in furthering his research by helping to improve the accuracy of their radar.

Sonar data aligned to a model of the EECS atrium

Museum of Natural History – Planetarium Shows

Museum of Natural History – Planetarium Shows

Shredding Stars: Stars are consumed by a black hole
The Museum of Natural History will soon be the host of several animations produced by the Duderstadt Center covering an array of space-related subjects. From understanding the behavior of black holes, to demonstrations of the life cycle of stars, Stephanie O’Malley, digital artist of the Duderstatdt Center, has created the animations in collaboration with Matthew Linke, the planetarium director, Lydia Bieri, professor in mathematics, and Kayhan Gultekin, an assistant researcher in astronomy.
Kicked out black holes: The gravitational pull of a black hole can cause multiple black holes to merge together. This spinning motion then causes the merged black holes to be kicked out of orbit.
The Museum of Natural History houses a vast collection of natural history objects ranging from local birds species, to larger mammals, to the skeletons of mammoths.  The museum is located on campus and provides educational opportunities and exhibits open to both the campus and the wider community.  The planetarium is located on the top floor of the museum.  Since 1958 the planetarium has put on informative shows about astronomy for visitors.  A full-dome screen is used to immerse guests in the night sky, and throughout the year staff put on seasonal star talks using the dome to visualize what the sky looks like at that time of the year.
The collaboration between visualization artists and scientists produced well-researched visualizations on an array of astronomy topics.  These animations are unique in that much of what has been visualized stems from raw data in many cases.  Nobody has ever photographed these events actually occurring in space and they are largely hypothetical in some cases.  These animations are scheduled to be projected on the museum’s full-dome screen and used as a tool in classes to better acquaint students with concepts discussed in class.  They are also being featured for a short time in a separate exhibit outside of the planetarium space.
Those familiar with Saturday Morning Physics lessons may recognize some of the animations, as they were shown recently during Lydia Bieri’s spot discussing gravitational lensing and gravity waves (Click here for the link to the video).
Gravitational Lensing: A gravitational lens refers to a distribution of matter (such as a cluster of galaxies) between a distant source and an observer, that is capable of bending the light from the source, as it travels towards the observer.

The animations created were each part of National Science Foundation funded grants. They were created in After Effects and 3D Studio Max, using a special plugin (Domemaster 3D camera shader) for Full Dome Planetarium warping (this is what gives single frames of an animation the correct distortion to be projected onto the planetarium’s curved ceiling). Frames were then rendered at 1200-4k pixel resolution to accommodate even very large planetariums looking to feature these animations.

The Kelsey Museum – Visualizing Lost Cylinder Seals

The Kelsey Museum – Visualizing Lost Cylinder Seals

2D illustration of one of the seal imprints used to generate a 3D model

The Kelsey Museum houses a collection of more than 100,000 ancient and medieval objects from the civilizations of the Mediterranean and the Near East.  Margaret Root, curator of the Greek and Near Eastern Collections at the Kelsey Museum, came to the Duderstadt Center with the impressions of several ancient cylinder seals.  A cylinder seal is a small cylindrical tool, about one inch long, used in ancient times to engrave symbols or marks.  When rolled in wet clay, the seal would leave an impression equivalent to a person’s “signature.”  These signatures were commonly used to sign for goods when trading.  Some of the earliest cylinder seals were found in the Mesopotamian region.The Kelsey Museum wanted to re-create these seals from the impressions to generate 3D prototypes or for use in a digital exhibit.  These exhibits would allow visitors to the Kelsey to experience the cylinder seal tradition first-hand by providing seals and clay to roll their own impressions.  The problem was these seals tend to get lost over time so the museum did not have the original seals, only the imprints.To recover the seal’s three-dimensional form, Margaret Root provided the Duderstadt Center with an outline of the imprints in Adobe Illustrator.  From the outline, Stephanie O’Malley of the Duderstadt Center added varying amounts of grey to generate a depth map, where the darkest areas were the most inset and the lightest areas were the most protruding.  With a depth map in place she was then able to inset areas on a cylindrical mesh in Zbrush (a 3d sculpting software) to re-create what the cylinder seal (the example seal is the “queen’s seal” ) would have looked like. Shawn O’Grady has printed one of these seals already.

A 3D render of the re-created cylinder seal.

The Duderstadt Center has since obtained the new Projet 3D printer, and plans are now underway to eventually print one of these on the Projet since it has a much higher print resolution and these seals are typically quite small.

To check out more at the Kelsey Museum, click here.