ScanLab used an advanced terrestrial laser scanner to digitise both the models and the location to create high-resolution "point clouds" of data.
"It was a very traditional idea," said ScanLAB co-founder Matthew Shaw. "We did a one-day photoshoot but without a camera. We used a laser scanner instead."
The project was a collaboration with Brigitte Stepputtis, head of couture at Vivienne Westwood, and the images were created for an exhibition held in London last month.
3D laser scanning can create detailed digital models of extremely large spaces in full colour. "There are two processes we use," said Shaw. "The first is a spatial capture, which works on a quality of reflection. We then usually scan in full colour as well, although we didn't do that for the Vivienne Westwood project."
The project highlights the creative uses for 3D scanning, which Shaw says is an emerging visual medium comparable to the early days of photography.
"The laser scanning we're use today is very much like the photography back in the early 1800s," he said. "The process is not instant; each scan might take between 15 minutes and two hours. So it's not like the instantaneousness we're used to on our phones; this is a technology in its infancy. But we expect the technology will get there eventually."
3D scanning is being put to a wide variety of uses, including surveying and forensics, with police forces increasingly using scanners to quickly digitise crime scenes or traffic accidents in extremely high resolution.
Scanning a space is a relatively simple process that involves placing a terrestrial laser scanner on a tripod. As it rotates an infra-red laser is bounced off a fast-spinning mirror. The device then records the precise position and distance of each point the laser hits.
The latest scanners can take up to a million measurements per second and have a huge range, according to Shaw and ScanLAB co-founder William Trossell.
"The range of the scanner can be anything up to five kilometres depending on the model of scanner," said Trossell. "The scanners we typically use have a range up to 300 metres."
Shaw added: "You can be looking at an area the size of a football stadium but you can zoom in to see the detail on somebody's face. And you can capture the same level of information across the whole site."
Here's the interview with ScanLAB founders Matthew Shaw and William Trossell:
Marcus Fairs: What does ScanLAB do?
Matthew Shaw: We specialise in large-scale 3D scanning, so we digitise real-world events or places.
Marcus Fairs: How do you do that and how is it different to traditional ways of capturing data about spaces?
William Trossell: So the difference here is that we're looking at the world in very, very high resolution, almost so high that it looks uncanny. It's high enough detail to be used forensically by the police for example, or surveyors, to understand complex environments.
Marcus Fairs: How big a space can you scan?
William Trossell: The range of the scanner can be anything up to five kilometres depending on the model of scanner. The scanners we typically use have a range up to 300 metres.
Marcus Fairs: So you can scan a pretty big space.
Matthew Shaw: I think one of the important things about the technology is that you can be looking at an area the size of a football stadium but you can zoom in to see the detail on somebody's face. And you can capture the same level of information across the whole site.
Marcus Fairs: Tell us about the technology.
Matthew Shaw: We use terrestrial laser scanners. They generally use infra-red lasers; they fire out a red pulse, which reflects off a surface so you can measure the distance to that point. The amazing thing about the technology is that it's able to record points up to a million times a second.
All of these millions and millions of points that we measure are collected together to create something called a point cloud, which is really just a list of highly detailed measurements. But as a practice we believe these point clouds are one of the datasets of the future, not merely as a very efficient way of storing information but as a very beautiful way of visualising information.
Marcus Fairs: Tell us about the Vivienne Westwood project.
Matthew Shaw: We've done a collaboration with Brigitte Stepputtis, who's the head of couture at Vivienne Westwood. It was a very traditional idea: we did a one-day photoshoot but without a camera. We used a laser scanner instead.
William Trossell: We had an amazing time working out poses and how the scanner looked not just at the models but also the architecture in which the models were placed.
Matthew Shaw: We used a series of models, a series of poses, a series of dresses. But the interesting thing is that, apart from us, nobody knew how the machine worked. So everybody came up with these preconceived notions of how to pose for a 3D scanner, how to do make-up for a 3D scanner. So it was quite an interesting exploratory process.
Marcus Fairs: Can the scanner see make-up?
Matthew Shaw: It picks up make-up in exactly the same way that you or I can see make-up. The laser behaves in a very similar to visible light. There's this illusion that it's going to do something different, but really it's capturing what you and I can see; it's just capturing it accurately in 3D.
Marcus Fairs: But can it capture colour data in the same way that our eyes can?
Matthew Shaw: There are two processes we use. The first is a spatial capture, which works on a quality of reflection. We then usually scan in full colour as well, although we didn't do that for the Vivienne Westwood project.
Marcus Fairs: How did you create the movie?
William Trossell: Much like a traditional animator we can render out animations that move through a scene. So we set up a series of virtual camera positions within the data, render out stills from each and compile that into a movie.
Marcus Fairs: Is this a new visual medium?
Matthew Shaw: Absolutely. The laser scanning we're use today is very much like the photography back in the early 1800s. We've got ten boxes of equipment that weigh 15kg each. The process is not instant; each scan might take between 15 minutes and two hours. So it's not like the instantaneousness we're used to on our phones; this is a technology in its infancy. But we expect the technology will get there eventually.
Marcus Fairs: What else can the technology be used for?
Matthew Shaw: We use it to scan anything from a person to a vast landscape. We've been up in the Arctic scanning bits of floating ice floe with scientists from Cambridge University; we've been mapping vast areas of land in India; we've used it document museum spaces, temporary exhibitions and sculptures. It's increasingly used in forensics, at crime scenes and traffic accidents, to document evidence quickly and immediately.