3d modeling

3D modeling is about to change the design industry forever

When we think of industries poised for disruption, we tend to think of the obvious examples: bloated, old-fashioned pockets of the economy filled with middlemen and inefficiencies. Anyone who’s ever waited in vain for a delivered car to show up at 2 a.m. can tell you that Uber was a no-brainer — and anyone who’s ever paid $600 for a pair of glasses can see (pun intended) the value of Warby Parker. Photography, on the other hand, does not appear to be an industry on the verge of a seismic technological overhaul.

Amra TareenCourtesy of ALL3D

However, to hear Amra Tareen—the founder of 3D modeling startup ALL3D—say it, traditional photo shoots sound like relics from a Paleolithic period. “Whether you’re a small brand with 60 SKUs or a large retailer with thousands, you need photography to sell online,” she tells the host Denis Scully on the last episode of Home business Podcast. “Let’s imagine that you sell a chair with several different materials, types and colors of legs. To photograph this, you will need to create all the different variations of this chair; you need a physical sample. I’ve heard of photoshoots that only take a few days [and] costs $10,000.

And that’s only for a small brand. For a large retailer, the cost of shipping product to a studio, hiring a team to handle logistics, a well-paid photographer and stylist, catering for filming and after-the-fact retouching can run into the hundreds of thousands. And the resulting images are useless after one season, especially if the product fails.

The disruptive magic formula, Tareen says, is 3D modeling. Using digital tools, brands can order photorealistic images from their catalog before they even build samples, then place the product in computer-generated lifestyle photos to use for marketing. If the rendering is good enough – poof! – there is the cost of building samples and staging elaborate photo shoots.

The technology itself has been around for years. However, it has always been expensive, which is why mega-retailers like Ikea and Wayfair are among the few house brands that have invested heavily in 3D modeling. However, Tareen believes that as the technology evolves rapidly, it will only get better and cheaper, and will soon become as ubiquitous as carpooling and direct-to-consumer glasses.

In the latest episode of the podcast, she talks about how her company is poised to take advantage of this change, how the new iPhones will change everything, and the long-term role of AI in design.

Listen to the episode and check out some takeaways below. If you like what you hear, subscribe to the podcast here. This episode was sponsored by Resource Furniture and Universal Furniture.

Part of the reason 3D models are so expensive is that brands must use expensive handheld scanners to capture an accurate record of a product and then pay artists to translate that data into a workable model. Tareen says Apple’s upcoming iPhone 12 will include a lidar (depth-perceiving) scanner as part of its lens array. Simply put, this means users will be able to take quick and easy photos that capture 3D data, which can then be used to help create a 3D model. “Once they put it on the world side of a more powerful camera, people are going to use it to scan the world,” Tareen explains.

Even with better scanning sensors, it will take some time before iPhones can perform perfect 3D scans of real-world objects. What Tareen’s company does is take data provided by their clients and hire human renderers to complete an incomplete image: fill in missing textures, fabrics, shadows and fine details. Its competitive edge, she says, is machine learning. ALL3D develops an algorithm by which a computer “watches” a human rendering fixing an image. Over time, the computer comes to “learn” how to generate a photorealistic image better and can do more work, making the costs more affordable.

It’s all well and good to apply machine learning to generate better 3D product models. But how soon will Tareen see AI replacing interior designers? It depends on the designer. “If a designer has a model that they use for most of their designs, I think they should be concerned about machines learning faster and becoming more efficient,” she says. “But if a designer is always on the cutting edge and always exploring new trends and giving that specific, personalized feel, then the designer can go from 100% working on a project to 20%. The most tedious work [that’s taken] off a designer’s plate, it gives a designer more creativity. Machine learning will give us back time.

Homepage photo: an apartment designed by Skyline Furniture using ALL3D’s modeling platform