Amazing 3D Photo Editor Reveals Hidden Parts Of Images

This 3D technology lets users manipulate stock photographs to bring inanimate objects to life.
Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

(Inside Science TV) – In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, photographs are not the staid still-life images we’re accustomed to: framed portraits talk to one another, and celebrities smile and preen from the front pages of newspapers. One PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University is injecting a bit of the magical into our everyday – by designing new software that turns 2D photos into interactive 3D scenes.

Natasha Kholgade Banerjee, a graduate student of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, was inspired to catapult photos from two to three dimensions by one of her artistic passions: origami, the art of folding flat sheets of paper into intricate, 3D sculptures. ”I really love doing origami,” she said. "One of the things I wanted to do is to see my origami models come to life and, you know, fly.”

Kholgade Banerjee could not make her crane flutter around in real life, but she had an idea: What if she could easily create a digital, 3D version of her origami crane? She helped develop a photo editor that can take an object from a typical photograph and convert it into a virtual 3D model. The tool allows users to flip, turn, or move the object around however she or he chooses – while the object is in its original scene.

Unlike conventional photo editors, the software turns photographs into remarkably interactive 3D spaces. You could toss a taxicab into the air in a photo of a Manhattan street or even move the fruits around in a classic still life painting.

To pull off this magical stunt, the software uses stock photographs and freely available, online 3D models to fill in the missing parts of a photographed object. The software also infers the probable colors and textures of objects’ out-of-view surfaces – and even reconstructs lighting and shadows on the fly, lighting newly 3D objects as they “move around in the space of the image,” she said.

Virtually any photograph can come to life, opening up new artistic possibilities.

 “To me it's just the capability to be able to tell a new story, something that you would not have been able to do just by using a camera alone,” said Kholgade Banerjee – who has used its creative powers herself.

Remember that origami crane? With the tool she created, “I narrated a story of it taking off from my hand and flying away into the distance,” said Kholgade Banerjee.

The software isn’t ready yet for consumers, but she is having fun with it until it is. 


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Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.