Price: 500 . 1100
Company: The Pixel Farm
Pros: Uses tracking data from PFMatch, and exports to different 3D formats.
Cons: Feels unfinished. Auto-reconstruction is not great, and the software rejects simple interface conventions.
The Pixel Farm is a relatively new company aiming their products at high-end effects facilities as well as those on a more restricted budget. Their products are not cheap, but compared to similar programs in the market they offer decent value.
Their current product roster consists of three programs - PFMatch, PFTrack, and PFBarn. PFMatch and PFTrack are high- and mid-range versions of the company’s 3D match-moving software packages, which are designed to extract 3D camera data from film or video footage.
PFBarn is an offshoot of the same technology. It can be used to reconstruct 3D objects from images or footage, in a similar fashion to RealViz’s ImageModeler or D-Sculptor. However, PFBarn is not designed to model 360-degree versions of objects, though you can do this if you want. The workflow is primarily designed to allow users of the match-moving applications to extract 3D objects from their footage for the camera angles used.
The first hurdle you come across when using PFBarn is that it has to be used in combination with either PFTrack or PFMatch. This immediately limits its versatility and worth, because you have to buy one of the other applications in order to use it, so it’s not really a stand-alone image-modelling program at all. The workflow involves you setting up and tracking footage (or still images) in the usual way in PFMatch or PFTrack, then setting up a special export filter that saves the scene file necessary for use with PFBarn. A simple ‘Send scene to PFBarn’ button would be a lot more straightforward.
You can open this special .pfb file in PFBarn whereby all the tracking points and footage appear just as they were in Track or Match. The file format contains the path to the footage used in PFTrack or PFMatch and does not actually embed the footage, so the file size is small, but you need to make sure the footage is not moved to a different location. One of the problems is that if you didn’t set up the tracking points with 3D object reconstruction in mind, the chances are they’re not the ideal points to use in PFBarn. The reconstruction process is heavily reliant on the accuracy of the ground plane orientation in PFTrack.
Off the beaten track
PFBarn allows you to add extra tracking points using the same technique as in PFTrack. You can click to place a point and hold down the Shift key to pop open a small, magnified view of the area to aid accurate positioning. However, there’s no tracking ability in Barn so you have to place the points manually on each frame (enough of them to ensure accurate positioning of the point in 3D). The other option is to hop back to Track to place additional points there and have them tracked automatically. This ties up the licence of PFTrack, so it’s not a great solution.
You can then lasso-select the features you need for the mesh construction (there may be many that are not part of the object but were used in PFTrack) and have Barn automatically create a mesh from them. However, mesh-creation is poor using this method. A scene browser on the left of the interface lists objects in the scene, including meshes. You’d expect to be able to select it and hit delete to remove the mesh, but that doesn’t work. There’s no way to delete the mesh in order to try again using a different method.
Alternatively, PFBarn allows you to place primitives. The program offers a set of 16 primitives (including a cow) for reconstructing the scene. This is a better option. Once a primitive is put in place, its corners can be dragged to match the position of points on the object. The scale and orientation of the primitive is controlled automatically by the program, which takes the 3D scene data into account. Again, the accuracy of this is dependent on the tracking carried out in PFTrack and the ground plane orientation. For simple objects you may feel better building the object in your 3D application and using camera projection to apply the texture from the footage.
To apply a texture from the footage to the primitive, you simply click the extract Texture menu command. The textures primitive can be exported in various formats including Max script and MEL.
PFBarn feels distinctly like an unfinished application. Compared to the other 3D models-from-footage applications it leaves a lot to be desired.