article headline

Making Your LEGO Models Pop with 3D Photography

Mar 05, 2010 1:30 am
by Joe Meno
more photos

By Tommy Williamson

Tommy at the El Capitan Theater, before attending the cast and crew showing of Alice in Wonderland

LEGOLAND master model builder Gary McIntire once told me he doesn't really follow the LEGO community online very much. When I asked why, he explained he quite simply thinks LEGO creations are best experienced in real life. I had to agree, which got me thinking about what the differences are between perusing Flickr for the latest uploaded masterpieces and gawking at them on display. Certainly a large part of it is the fact that you're right there, looking at it with both eyes from different views. I began to wonder if stereo photography could help bridge that gap. While at BrickCon 2009, I set about taking a number of stereo photographs with my iPhone. You can view them on my Flickr account here. I also spent some time with Joe Meno discussing stereo photography and we both agreed we needed to do a feature for BrickJournal.

Having just wrapped an intense three-month schedule as stereoscopic supervisor on Alice In Wonderland my thoughts immediately turned to LEGO building (naturally). I sincerely missed my LEGO bins during that time and was eager to get back to building. I decided I'd like to try and build some figures of Hatter and Alice. And with the movie coming out, my LEGO models needing to be photographed and Alice being a 3D movie, it seems like a natural time to kick off this adventure into the rabbit hole of stereo photography of MOCs. Consider this just a teaser for a much bigger feature in an upcoming issue of BrickJournal.

Stereo or 3D photography isn't as mysterious as it seems. We've all been exposed to it either at the movies, online, in print or with special devices such as the View-MasterĀ®. We naturally see in 3D because we have binocular vision. The secret of stereo photography is parallax, seeing the world from two slightly different views. We see in 3D because each eye has a slightly different perspective, separated by about 2.5 inches on average. To take 3D pictures properly you need special equipment, with dual lenses or synced cameras. But this doesn't mean you can't take your own with a little ingenuity. To take your own pictures, you just need to snap a shot, shift the camera laterally just a bit and snap another shot. There's just a few rules you need to observe for this trick to work:

1. The scene must be static, no moving features, no one walking through the background, etc.
2. You must only move side to side, not up and down or in and out. And you only need to move a little for it to work, even less the closer you are to your subject.
3. You need to be able to align and combine your photos. There are plenty of programs out there for this. A good place to start looking is

For this mini-tutorial I'm going to use my iPhone 3GS and an app named 3D Camera, available on the iTunes App Store. To take a 3D picture of Hatter and Alice here I set up my MOC on a piece of white poster board. I won't get into lighting for this tutorial, I'm just going to utilize the existing light in my kitchen.

Now that I'm satisfied with the layout, I can use my iPhone to decide on the composition I like. We're going to create a side by side picture so it is best to compose your shot in portrait mode.

Once I'm happy with how it looks I take my first picture, then shift the camera left about 1/2" and recompose Hatter so he's the same place in the frame. Once I'm sure he's in about the right place I take my second picture. Now I'm ready for 3D Camera.

After launching the app I simply choose the photos I just took, one for each eye (don't worry, if it's backwards it just a matter of swapping the images). The only really tricky part is having to align the images vertically. What this means is any similar feature in the image, Hatter's eyes for instance, are both the same height in the frame. Since I took the photo handheld and didn't use any apparatus to stabilize or align, it's just natural it will be a little off. You have the ability to move and rotate your images in 3D Camera to align them. It will probably take some experimentation to get it just how you like it. Once you have your images aligned, select the side by side option and turn the phone on it's side and view. At this point you need to decide if you want to parallel view, cross view, color or gray anaglyph (red/cyan).

Parallel view, seen below, is achieved by relaxing the eyes and merging the images.

Crosseye, as it's name implies, is crossing your eyes to merge the images.

If you have a pair of anaglyph glasses (the red/cyan glasses) you can use the other methods:

Color anaglyph

Black and white anaglyph

What view you choose is very much a personal preference, so don't be surprised if one is way easier than the other for you. In fact, I wouldn't be too surprised if you simply can't see the 3D images at all. In my experience, more than 40% of the population has difficulty seeing stereo images, and a good 15% can't see it at all. They simply have one eye that is too dominant and the second things get uncomfortable their weak eye simply shuts off. A stereo viewer (stereoscope) can be used to properly view the images too.

After you are happy with the results you just save the image, upload it to LEGO Stereoscopic 3D Flickr group, and impress all your fellow AFOLs with your mad 3D skills!

Tommy Williamson is a stereoscopic effects and visual effects expert. As mentioned above, he supervised 3D effects for Alice in Wonderland. As an AFOL, he is best known for his LEGO rendition of The Colbert Report set in miniland scale, which can be seen in his gallery and this BrickJournal video!

BrickJournal will have an upcoming issue featuring 3D photography this summer!