3D Lenticular Imaging

July 18, 2007 10:54 pm

No one is more excited about the possibilities of Lenticular Imaging than Peter Sucy, founder of Zaxys Depth & Motion Imaging. After some 27 years of working for Eastman Kodak, he was at the forefront of the crossover to the digital realm. Spending his years finding new ways to create and communicate digitally, he turns his attention these days to 3D lenticular printing. Through his latest tutorials and new printing service, he is providing 3D artists with an affordable solution to get their artwork noticed in a unique way.

From his website, Zaxys Depth & Motion Imaging:

"Zaxys founder, Peter Sucy has developed several tutorials (available in our store) explaining how to prepare your 3D files from Poser, 3DS, Lightwave, Maya or just about any other 3D program for rendering the necessary frames for lenticular output. This procedure is heavily dependent on the particular lenticular lens used by the printer, so we've taken the guess work out of creating a successful 3D lenticular image by providing instructions optimized for this printer/lens combination."

Prior to this interview, I received a fine quality lenticular postcard sample, and I must say that it is easy to see how valuable this medium can be for 3D artists. Be sure to get a look at the website, and read on as I get the scoop on Peter and his outlook on lenticular imaging. Also, be on the lookout for a contest announcement coming soon!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Did you always have an interest in art and photography? What do you enjoy most, and what might we find you doing in your spare time?

I think I've always enjoyed creating things from very early on. I liked the satisfaction of building models as a kid and even considered becoming an architect for awhile in high school. However, drawing with a pencil was very frustrating for me, requiring way too much erasing to get the idea from my head to the paper.


Self Portrait 1987 - Computer Eyes Video Digitizer


It wasn't until near the end of high school when I discovered filmmaking (animation in particular) that I began to consider a career in the arts. At RIT though, I discovered that filmmaking was by it's nature a highly collaborative endeavor and I found that I didn't enjoy not having total creative control over a project. (Can you say OCD?) Filmmaking is also an incredibly expensive art form for an individual with limited funds so I began to look for more affordable means of expression, at least for the short term.

Still photography on the other hand became much more appealing to me. I could feed my need to create images and not go completely broke in the process. I found that I really enjoyed landscape and nature photography, probably because of the solitary aspect of it.

I still enjoy photography, but now it's mostly of the virtual type. After all, that's what 3D programs are in reality, virtual photography studios. Someday though, I hope to spend much more time traveling and doing some real photography. I've got to get all my kids through college and out of the house first, though.

I'm afraid most of the time you'll find me doing in my spare time what I do with almost all the rest of my time, sitting at my computer creating images, writing, or designing things. (Hello, my name is Peter, and I'm a workaholic.)

You worked for Kodak for quite a number of years, and created a fantastically detailed look at the evolution of digital imaging through your personal website. Can you give us a condensed version of what you think were the major highlights of the crossover to digital, and the role you played in this process?

Wow, that's quite a bit to try and condense, but I'll attempt to highlight of just a few of the seminal events that opened my eyes to the future of digital imaging.

The first has to be my decision to buy a computer in early 1984. What started out as simply a desire to create more professional looking documents and communications for my part-time freelance photography business ended up becoming a career changing event. The first time I laid eyes on the original Macintosh 128K computer, I realized this device had real potential to become a very useful (and flexible) creative tool. Over the next several years I rediscovered drawing utilizing MacPaint, then MacDraw and later even beta-testing the first version of Illustrator. The tedium of pencil sketching and the messiness of erasing was gone thanks to the Undo command.

In 1986 I purchased a Thunderscan scanner and now could scan photographs into the computer and edit them in MacPaint. Mind you, this was pretty crude digital photography, just 1 bit images, but I realized even then what the future might hold. Later that same year I got a glimpse of that future at a technology demonstration at Kodak Park. Being demonstrated was a brand new Sharp color flatbed scanner hooked up to a PC with an AT&T Targa video capture card. It could scan in color photographs and then you could edit them on the monitor. There were software controls to change the color balance and the exposure and you could paint over the image with the paint tools. This really cemented my belief in a digital future for photography.


Bondage 1986 - Thunderscan Scanned Photograph


In 1986 I also became a member of Kodak's brand new Electronic Photography Division, which was NOT on a path towards a digital future at the time. Computers were still a rarity in the workplace, only a few engineers had one. Even so, I became one of the first at Kodak to have a Macintosh on my desk. I was fortunate that my boss at the time realized the power of visualization to facilitate communications. Thus I was enlisted to illustrate and create the first desktop published product concepts and proposals at Kodak. These became my instruments of change.

Still video was the hot technology and Kodak was developing a line of products based on video. The still video floppy disk was an analog recording technology based on standard television resolution and while the resulting images looked just OK on a TV display, they were even less spectacular when printed out.

The one product under development that I felt held real promise was a small format thermal printer called the SV6500. This printer had a built-in video capture card for digitizing a video frame and could print a 4" x 6" true continuous tone image. The engineer that designed the electronics had put a parallel computer interface on it so that he could control it from a PC for testing purposes. This would turn out to be a very fortuitous decision.

As a member of EPD's systems group I was asked to do a series of SV6500 comparison prints from a variety of video sources such as still video floppy players, videodisc players, consumer camcorders, and high-end RGB video cameras. The final source I tested was a digitally stored image downloaded via the printer's computer interface, bypassing the video circuitry. The quality and clarity of that image was truly amazing, head and shoulders above all the other sources. With visual proof of what I had suspected, I began a lengthy campaign to try and change the course of future products.

It was a difficult process and there was no reason for anybody to listen to me. I wasn't an engineer, I knew nothing about video, i was just a photo technician who had been hired into the group because of my color printing background. In reality, I was just an artist that loved new creative tools and I knew that there were some great new tools to be had here. I just knew what tools I would want and happened to be in a position to try and influence the direction product development would take. It's also important to note that EPD and a digital future were long considered to be a threat to the status quo by most in Kodak. Many did not want us to succeed and kill the cash cow that was film. The visual metaphor that always comes to mind when I think back on it, is that of a mouse trying to steer an elephant by the tail.

The very first digital product Kodak introduced in 1989 was a program called SVPrinter that I had conceived and helped design. It allowed you to use the SV6500 printer hooked up to a PC as both a color printer and as a video digitizer. At about the same time another application I had conceptualized called ColorSqueeze was also released. Colorsqueeze utilized an image compression algorithm developed by the Kodak labs to compress digital images to a fraction of their original size. It was the precursor to today's jpeg image compression. Neither program was wildly successful but they did generate a lot of interest among photographers and digital artists.

In late 1989 the SV6500 printer's big brother, the $30,000 XL7700 Thermal Printer was introduced. Capable of printing a 12" x 12" continuous tone print, the initial sales of this printer were extremely disappointing, primarily because there was no driver software. Marketing was convinced that because it was such a ground breaking product VAR's would line up to write drivers for it. They even considered charging the developers $7700 for the privilege. That of course didn't happen and even so, they still didn't line up in droves to write drivers!

Finally they approached me to design a Macintosh program similar to the SVPrinter application for the XL7700, but with a much longer feature list. They wanted to be able to adjust color and density, add text, layout multiple images on a page and much more. I soon realized that it would take years to develop a program with all those capabilities.

As fate would have it though, I had recently begun playing with a new program that had come with the Barneyscan film scanner I had purchased for the small lab I was building, called BarneyscanXP. It already did everything the program I was asked to design was expected to do, except print to the XL7700!

I contacted the developer of BarneyScanXP and got the specifications for his import/export plugin interface. Then I persuaded my boss to give me and a programmer a month to see if we could come up with a way to print from this new program. By this time BarneyScanXP was now in beta under its new name, Adobe Photoshop. I told my boss that this new Photoshop program would be a best seller in less than a year and we wouldn't have to worry about people owning a copy.

We designed and built a working export module for the XL7700 in just three weeks and I took it to MacWorld SF in early 1990. At MacWorld I demonstrated it in a back room, off the show floor, to a veritable who's who of digital pioneers. Needless to say both it and Photoshop were huge hits and were largely responsible for the success of the XL7700 printer. One of the very first 3rd party Photoshop export modules and a printer that was key in convincing many to switch from film to digital.

Development of a digital camera had also begun by 1988 and I was asked to prototype some interfaces for displaying digital images from a storage card on the computer. Using my preferred prototyping tool SuperCard I designed a digital contact sheet for displaying thumbnails of the images stored on a card. This work led to my only patent for a multi-image file format for digital cameras. Basically, the thumbnail image that is generated when you view an image on your digital camera. Kodak has made millions from licensing this patent alone. I did get $100 and a plaque for my wall though.

When did you first start into 3D work?

It was around 1986 that I bought my first 3D program. It was solid modeler called Mac3D which barely ran on my upgraded (to 2MB) Mac 128K. I used it to create 3D object views for some animations I was creating in Videoworks (an early version of what later became Macromedia's Director). I was inspired to try 3D animation after seeing one of Pixar's first short films, Luxo Jr., but I was still stuck working in a 1-bit world so the animations didn't begin to measure up to the high quality of Pixar's efforts.

After color came to the Macintosh with the Mac II more 3D programs became available, the first was an application called Dimensions which was a ray tracer that unfortunately lacked an integrated modeler. As I recall you created a MacDraw file with some text describing how each 2D object would be extruded or lathed and then Dimensions would render it. I also experimented with many long gone programs such as Pro3D, EZ-3D, Infini-D and finally settled on Stratavision 3d which is still my favorite today in its current version, Strata 3D CX 5.


Mendon Drain 1990 - Foreground created in StrataVision3D and composited with photo in Photoshop


What was in your digital toolbox then, and now? What program(s) do you enjoy or employ most?

Then as now, Strata 3D and Photoshop are still mainstays in my creative arsenal. Synthetik's Studio Artist has also become an invaluable addition for much of my post work. Over the last couple of years I've also rediscovered Poser which has become a great tool for designing lenticular images, opening up many new possibilities for me to pursue.

In your work with Kodak's Dynamic Imaging Division, what of your work with clients, such as Disney, might we recognize?

I used Strata to create a number of elements for lenticular picture frames that were sold with photos taken of visitors on a number of rides at Disneyworld. These include a Fender guitar/roller coaster for the Rockin' Roller Coaster ride, some graphic elements and 3D photography for the Countdown to Extinction and the Splash Mountain lenticular photo frames as well. I also spent months developing a 3D model of the "Tower of Terror" for a large lenticular poster but Dynamic Imaging shut down before it was completed.

One of my most successful and my first fully 3D realized piece was a large circular logo for Martell Liquor Distributors. Kodak sold tens of thousands of these for use as table tops and illuminated cask ends for display in bars.

You can see a couple of examples of these here.

In all your years of experience in testing and proposals during your time with Kodak, do you have any regrets? Anything you might have done or approached differently?

There are a quite a few product ideas I proposed that regrettably Kodak didn't adopt.

If I had to pick just a few that might have had an impact on the development of digital photography, I'd say number one was my "FrameServer" concept for a Kodak produced, digital imaging specific, computer system that I proposed in 1987.
(PDF link)

Next would have to be my 1989 proposal to develop a dial-up accessible (the internet didn't exist yet) image archiving system for places like the George Eastman house, the Smithsonian and photo stock agencies to be able to digitize their photographic collections and allow people to search them and buy images, prints, slides or overheads. Using Kodak printers, storage devices and image compression technology of course!
(PDF link)

And lastly I guess I have to say my 1997 proposal to develop a small handheld device with an LCD display, simple controls and the ability to store photos from a digital camera. Can you say iPod photo?
(PDF link)

My biggest regret career-wise however, was that my idea for the creation of a digital imaging training facility in Maine was not a longer term success and that I never even had the opportunity to teach there. The facility I had suggested became Kodak's Center for Creative Imaging in Camden, Maine and the idea came about out of my long term desire for a way to move back to Maine, my birthplace and my favorite place to photograph.

Sadly, CCI went in a different direction from what I had originally envisioned. My original intent was that the training of Kodak's digital sales reps would take place at CCI alongside the students/customers. That way Kodak's reps would become more familiar with the specific application of digital technology in the customer's business. I think it would have made the training much more beneficial to all.

As it turned out, I managed a similar, but more compact (and much less lavish), facility at the Marketing Education Center in Rochester for several years training sales reps and occasionally some customers. However, the CCI facility soon ran into a variety of troubles and closed before I ever had the chance to work there. That definitely would have been my dream job.

Can you give us your thoughts on the impact of Lenticular Imaging on the industry?

I don't think there is a print medium more suited to 3D illustration than lenticular printing and yet virtually no 3D artists are utilizing it today. As a lenticular artist who has been trying to get his own work printed for the last decade I can tell you it has not been easy or affordable. The majority of printers in the industry are just not used to dealing with 3D originated material, as strange as that may sound.

The lenticular industry's approach to creating 3D images has been to take 2D artwork (which is usually what the client provides anyway) and create multiple layers of the various elements in the image using programs like Photoshop, ImageReady, After Effects or a number of specialized applications designed specifically for this purpose. These layers are then animated over a series of frames (usually from 12 to 24) so that they move relative to one another. Objects in the foreground are moved to the left and objects in the background move to the right over the span of frames. The more the movement the closer or further the object is perceived to be. This is a labor intensive process because the objects usually need to be separated out of the 2D image and the resulting hole often has to be cloned in. Printers typically add a mastering fee of several thousand dollars to a print job to cover this expense.

Many of the printers I approached told me that my method of creating 3D (using 3D programs) wouldn't work! Most still wanted to charge me their standard mastering fee which always put the cost of lenticular printing out of my price range. So I was forced to learn how to make my own lenticular prints at home. In this way I was finally able to demonstrate that indeed you could take a series of rendered frames from a 3D program and make a 3D lenticular image.

Last year, I was able to convince the president of National Graphics that there was a large number of 3D artists that might consider 3D lenticular printing if it were more affordable. My 3D method would eliminate the 2D to 3D conversion step and as a result make it much more affordable. This has resulted in a partnership that has allowed us to begin to offer affordable lenticular business card and postcard printing from 3D originated images.

What do you see in the future for Lenticular printing?

My goal is to expand from our initial offering of business cards and postcards to larger format, fine art lenticular printing via the same approach. My hope is that by exposing lenticular imaging to greater numbers of 3D artists that we can eventually make lenticular printing a mainstream output medium. IMHO there is no medium more spectacular than a backlit 3D lenticular image. I'm in the process developing some unique new ways to display backlit lenticular images.

My belief is that as more 3D artists adopt lenticular it will also create a greater demand for true volumetric 3D lenticular images in advertising, POP, and direct mail eventually eclipsing the use of the old pseudo 3D technique. I see the potential for a revitalization of the lenticular printing industry as a whole new group of artists begin to utilize it. I think the result could be much more work for the 3D artists that choose to adopt it.

There are many subjects that don't lend themselves to the old methods. Glassware (reflection/refraction), 3D volumetric human/animal subjects, volumetric effects like fog, mist and shadows are just a few things that are nearly impossible to do realistically with the Photoshop method.

One new technology that is already being developed is large format, direct to lens printing. Currently most large format printing is done to paper or film and then laminated to the lens, adding a costly step to the process. New flatbed printers, special ink coatings, archival inks and potentially even direct to glass lens printing are some of the new lenticular technologies I've already seen on the horizon.

This medium has only just begun to be explored!

We invite you to visit the following links:

Peter's Renderosity Homepage
Peter's Renderosity Gallery
Zaxys Depth & Motion Imaging
Peter J. Sucy's Digital Workshop

All supporting images are copyright, and cannot be
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the artist.

Nick's Notes is a Renderosity Front Page column with Managing Editor, Nick C. Sorbin, providing reviews, interviews, and general commentary.

July 16, 2007

Article Comments

liltawen ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 20 July 2007

A subject I've been interested for for a long time. It is nice to see this interview and hopefully more on the various types of '3-D' viewing.

CodemanStudios ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 21 July 2007

I am a Magic Motion Nut and was very excited to read this. I will be getting these in the near future!

nemirc ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 23 July 2007

After looking at the website, the idea itself looks very interesting. It's a shame it's not so widely used, though. Maybe it's due to the lack of commercial hardware needed for it? After all, anybody can buy a cheap color printer but I don't know if buying one of these would be feasible.

ZaxysDMI ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 24 July 2007

The lack of hardware isn't the problem. Most lenticulars are printed on traditional web presses or ink jet printers. There are only a few good commerical printers that do quality lenticular. It has been too expensive to be widely adopted. Why, because of the labor the usual 2D to 3D conversion step requires. 3d originated files skip that costly step.

SAMS3D ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 26 July 2007

I had the opportunity to see Peter's work in the flesh. By actually holding it in my own hands it made such a huge impact, you really have to see it to believe it, it is awesome, one of the most awesome things I have ever seen. Definatley a plus, good luck to you Peter, this is so, so worth it! Try the tutorials and see.

Rodma_Hu ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 26 July 2007

That kind of PR is priceless. Kudos on your tenasity and good luck with the venture!

jaismine ( posted at 6:23AM Wed, 08 April 2009

This is good but sometimes it creates a problem like as we begin to work with lenticular imaging it is noticed that sometimes the lenticular prints do not always match the lens we are working with. The prints will not align correctly and the 3D effects seem out of phase.Can you give any ideas because i want to apply this idea in my own website meilleurs jeux as i am very much fond of playing casino.Thanks

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