Turning sketches into 3D models with the click of a button

For the first time it is now possible for a computer to instantly generate a complex 3D model from a drawn sketch.

The new 3D modelling system creates 3D shapes from basic professional sketches using a complex mathematical algorithm that mimics the way humans naturally visualise sketches as physical objects.

The system, which was unveiled yesterday at Canadian graphics conference SIGGRAPH 2014, has the potential to dramatically reduce the time it takes for designers to develop product concepts, giving the technology potential uses in everything from art to video games.

Dubbed True2Form, the technology uses professional design sketches that are drawn to indicate a 3D structure and turns these into a 3D model, using key lines within the sketch to infer the shape.


“In line-drawings, designers and artists use descriptive curves and informative viewpoints to convey the full shape of an object,” explained University of British Columbia computer science professor Alla Sheffer.

“Our system mimics the results of human three-dimensional shape inference to lift a sketch curve network into 3D, while preserving fidelity to the original sketch.”

The development team, which is made up of academics from both the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto, developed an algorithm that detects the lines used to depict a 3D shape and coverts these into a real digital model.

The system can identify different types of lines within a sketch to instantly build a 3D version.

The result is what the University of British Columbia describes as “convincing, complex 3-D shapes computed from individual sketches, automatically corrected to account for inherent drawing inaccuracy.”

Although other software has been developed with similar aims, True2Form provides a level of complexity that had not previously been achieved.

As a result the technology may represent a significant time saving tool for designers and developers. It may even be able to be used to generate models for 3D printing, removing the need for 3D modelling skills.

The field of 3D modelling is growing considerably, particularly thanks to the world of 3D printing, but many people lack the skills to fully embrace the possibilities. Perhaps this technology could be the start of a 3D modelling solution that does not require hours of time spent tweaking a model, but which follows a more design-focussed approach.

Images courtesy of the University of British Columbia.

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