We have a way of converting 3D content, like light fields, 3D scans, and 3D models, into 2D patterns that can be printed on commodity printing equipment like the inkjet and laser printers you may have at home. Our process creates two patterns which can be layered on top of one another to visually recreate a 3D scene.
"Light field" in light field print refers to the bundle of light rays being emitted from the surface of the print, whose intensities vary both in angle and location. This allows the print to steer distinct images in many directions, and when your two eyes catch two of these images your brain interprets it as a 3D image.
A light field print is different from a traditional hologram in that it uses a ray-based description of the display surface as opposed to a wave-based description. Wave-based math would require the use of very small surface features to create a 3D effect. We can use light fields to reproduce virtual depth using features that are many orders of magnitude larger than those in holograms, letting us make hologram-like prints using off-the-shelf printers.
Lumii's three founders were all working on their PhDs at MIT just a few years ago. Matt and Daniel both worked at the MIT Media Lab, (Camera Culture Group and Tangible Media Group) while Tom was in the RLE. Lumii came out of a natural combination of their interests. To make large-format hologram-like prints using unmodified inkjet printers, you need to take advantage of the foundational work on multilayer displays in Matt's thesis. And you also need to be able to crunch the numbers, by designing new classes of large-scale algorithms capable of processing up to a teraray (trillion light rays) per print, using deep insights into optimization theory found in Tom's work. As light field prints are a fundamentally new design medium, it necessitates the development of a new design language codifying how people interact with the medium, both in terms of content creation and consumption. As someone who worked on pioneering tangible 3D interfaces, Daniel is uniquely qualified to solve these problems.
At Lumii we're working hard on creating a public facing service to enable everyone to print mind bending 3D effects on boring old printers. However, we're not ready for that yet. Right now, we're running a small alpha program to select a few early projects where we will work closely with content creators to make something that puts this new medium to the test. If you've got a killer idea for a project pitch it to us on our alpha signup. If you are excited just to see it for yourself –sit tight, it's coming soon!
What we're developing is a fundamentally new print medium, and we've gotten lots of interest across a variety of industries as well as from makers and artists who want to print these at home. Medical device companies are interested in visualizing 3D medical images, for example MRI data. There are also a lot of applications in the architecture and construction space, related to on-site visualization of building plans. And there are big opportunities in advertising, using our prints to produce highly-engaging 3D messaging for the backlit ad boxes already in place in airports, malls and transit systems.
In principle, anything that can be rendered on a computer can work with our process. The basic input to the Lumii Light Field Engine is a light field. For simplicity, you can think of the light field as lots of images of a scene taken from different perspectives.
In practice, not many people have light field images available. So for now the easiest way to get content into our system is to make a three.js scene. Any static scene you can render in three.js you can print in a Lumii print! At the moment, you can import OBJ, Collada, blender, and other formats into threejs to get started. Three.js also provides a native exporter for blender and maya (find them on github), and solutions exist for 3ds max.
While the best looking Lumii prints are created starting with native 3D content, there are a couple of options for working with 2D content. But be warned, they both take some work.
Option 1 is 3D upconversion. Trained artists and specialized software can create 3D information by painting a depth map onto 2D content. This takes time, talent, and money, and at Lumii we aren't able to help with 3D upconversion at this time.
Option 2 is to work with layered 2D information. In many 2D design packages such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, content is already broken up into layers to more easily work with each part of the design, such as the background, subject, text, and various visual effects. It is possible to assign the layers of a 2D image to different depths, thus creating a 3D effect when printed as a Lumii print.
It's clear that the above example, showing 2D content split into layers and separated in depth, will require additional work to achieve a visually pleasing result. For one, missing content in the background and mid-ground layers will need to be filled in artistically. Additionally, the horse, though it will float off the page, will appear flat rather than dimensional, like the photo below.
The small prints we've been showing are for promotional purposes. Initially we're focusing on large prints.
Right now, everything we're printing is transmission mode. It needs a source of illumination behind it.
Like all glasses-free 3D displays, Lumii prints have a working field-of-view (FOV). If you view your print inside the FOV, it should look good. However, when viewing outside the FOV, depending on the print, you'll see a noisy looking image. The GIF below gives an example of this.