Attack of the Space Spider

Wondrous things have been going on in the Charles Lyell Project recently! I have been using a really cool piece of kit that uses structured light scanning to produce a 3D image of the fossils. The best thing is it’s called the Space Spider and looks like a gadget from Star Trek, maybe a high tech whisk or iron. Using this, and a very helpful assistant, you can produce a complete 3D image in 15 – 40 minutes depending on how large and complicated the specimen is and how many times you mess up (assistant sold separately).

This is what you can create!

So for anyone who has, or now wants to have, a Space Spider (and the Artec Studio 11 Professional software that goes with it) this is how I used it…

1. Be patient

It takes quite a long time to warm up. It will say it has 10 minutes left which is actually about an hour. Bring a book or something to do. It is worth the wait.

If you are dealing with large specimens or complex specimens the scans will take up a lot of memory meaning occasionally the program will freeze.

2. Scan as much as possible

In your first scan you want to cover as much of the specimen as possible to make it easier when it comes to alignment later. We started off with two complete scans of the specimen in two different orientations, adding more later if necessary, unless it was obvious we had missed something.

Using the real time fusion setting makes it much easier to see when scanning.

3. Just because the machine is high tech doesn’t mean you need to be

It is easier to put the specimen on something that rotates such as the turntable baker’s use to ice cakes. We did not have this so instead we used a plastic box. However we noticed that we were losing tracking more often than we were before. It was because of the box being reflective (this was also seen when it reflected off rings). So we used powder free vinyl gloves to cover the box solving the problem.

High tech meets very low tech

4. Get rid of the floaters

There is often some noise generated by the scan, whether it has picked up a bit of table or you accidentally scanned your finger when turning the box. This can be removed in the editing part of the software. We found using the lasso or rectangle to be the easiest. Doing this after every scan rather than after scanning is complete will make it easier.

Don’t worry about getting every single one, you can get rid of the rest later using the small object filter!

5. Alignment

It was usually a bit of trial and error with the alignment but if you have done two really good scans you can get it in one go. To align you set similar points on the two scans, it is best to aim for 3 but has worked with 2.

One silly mistake that is really easy to make (especially when you are tired) is putting the points on and pressing apply without actually aligning them. Back to the beginning you go!

Three points used to align the two scans

6. The thing you have to do and I don’t know why

Globally register the scans. I don’t know what it means or what it does but you have to do it before you can move on.

Don’t question, just do.

7. The rest of the tools

After globally registering your scans you can use the other tools.

First: Fast fusion. There are two other types of fusion, sharp and smooth, but this one is much faster and gives good results. Only fuse the scans without texture as you add this later.

Second: Small object filter. This gets rid of any pesky floaters still remaining after fusing.

Specimen before hole filling, looking pretty good though

Third: Hole filler. Does what it says on the tin, fills any holes that are in the scan. This is particularly useful for apertures of gastropods as the scanner can’t always get into them.

8. Weird lumps

So you have fused your scans, got rid of holes and the last standing floater but oh no there’s a weird lump on your scan that’s not on your specimen, disaster! Don’t fear the smoothing brush is here. In editor there is a smoothing brush (located above erase) which you can adjust the size of and get rid of any pesky lumps and bumps.

9. Going back

If none of the above has worked to fill a gap or there’s an odd bit go back and add another scan. Then repeat stages 2-8. If not move on and feel proud that you got it in one go.

10. Adding texture

At this stage you should have a beautiful 3D model but it will be one solid colour, not like the outside of the specimen at all. So to get the specimen looking its best you go to the texture tab. Highlight the scans that you want to use. The standard and recommended settings work well for this.

It will save your project. This is the point you feel glad that someone remembered to save it. This bit takes a little while (not more than 5 minutes) so you may want to refer to the book or activity from before.

You can use the sidebar to change brightness, saturation and other fun things. The most entertaining setting to play with is the hue; you can make the specimens any colour (even making them look mouldy).

Once you are happy, apply it.

With texture.jpg
This is with texture added

11. Save again

Pat yourself on the back for remembering.

12. Export

Exporting scans in a PLY format will give you the scans without the texture.

I recommend exporting meshes which has the texture export format as jpg. This gives you a PLY file with texture this time.

13. You’re done

Well done you have reached the end. My record was 15 minutes.


Just a few final tips:

  • Remember to press apply so you don’t lose the changes you have made
  • Try to remember to save as you go along
  • Play with the settings until you find what you need
  • Don’t be afraid of trial and error
  • If it freezes just give it a minute, it usually comes back.