Interviews

By Jeff Mottle

Interview with _blankRepository: Makers of CG food so real you could almost eat it

 

Please introduce yourself and your background in the 3D industry

_blankRepository, Co-Founded by two partners coming from different professional backgrounds and generations. Ivan Mery a 57 years old, old school designer, airbrusher and professional photographer and Ian Mery, a 26 years old CG Artist and entrepreneur, who had worked together in many projects plus several years in the Archviz business in Santiago, Chile. We are united not only by blood but by passion and dedication for quality work.

I think you guys have one of the most unique and high quality niche collections within the 3d entourage space, how did you decide to start up _blankRepository?

We were out of a job, no much money or plans for the future, but we had met this incredible technology a couple of months before while doing a 3D shortcut called Isolated.

 

ISOLATED from Peak Pictures on Vimeo.

 I was thinking about doing something with photogrammetry since we had to use it to scan the faces of the actors in the shortcut. Looking for quick money we thought we could use it to scan women shoes to do 3D catalogs, but we quickly became discouraged by the idea of scanning shoes all day.

Then one day, out of thin air I began to remember all the times I needed 3D fruits or vegetables to put on my scenes, and then I realized all the times I needed 3D food for my commercial work and I found myself purchasing bad quality models over and over again, which didn't looked or felt like food. Then It was all clear, people needed the CG food, let us give them the CG food!

What’s behind the name _blankRepository?

I  wanted to name the company DigitalRepository, but!.... It was already taken. 

I wanted to put some meaning into the name, but I didn’t want to use CG, 3D or scan. So, I knew I loved the word Repository, because of what it meant and we were making something new, something from scratch, and I wanted to add that concept to the name.

One day, while searching some stuff on the internet, I saw that _blank was in every new tab I created on my web browser and I thought it was a interesting concept, so I put them together.
 

Is architecture your primary market or are there other verticals that are getting more attention?

Actually, VFX houses, Studios and independent CG artists are our primary market. Indeed, architecture was our first market when we first opened, but once we got more attention by the CG industry and started using social media, our clients changed drastically and began to ask for other kinds of products. 

We think new people are discovering _blankRepository, coming from new backgrounds like VR or 3D Printing, which is awesome because those market really take advvandatges of all the features of 3d scanning.

I envision your working space feeling a bit like working in the produce section of the supermarket. Does your screen get wet every time the water mister comes on?  

Pretty much, yes. Usually a lot of corn starch flying around to makeup some chocolate or pastry. Some fruits getting bad on drawers, lots and lots of plastic wrappers and sometimes bitten donuts or delicatessens by one of our hungry crew guys.

It's usually a pretty clean environment, because most of the organic products have to be taken on the same day as they were purchased. 

But be honest, everything looks yummy but it's usually hards as a rock, for production purposes.

 

Can you walk us through the process of developing your models.  From the time you think that chocolate Easter bunnies are the next project and walking into the store, to the final model.

It’s random. Ha.

Well not 100% random, we do have a list, but we are emotional people so maybe we saw an awesome avocado today, and that’s it. We are making avocados today, or sometimes it's like the easter bunny, in which we looked at the calendar and realized easter is coming and we really don't have any bunnies. 

But, we usually get a lot of request plus we know what kind of product people are looking for, so we try to do them first.

Once we decided what we are going to scan the many, many, many trips to the stores begins.

One thing is to say “I want to scan an onion”, but other thing is finding that right onion, hopefully 3 of them just in case, to make some cuts, like a half onion.

Once you have the right model, it's all about figuring out the lighting and photo technique you are gonna use, then… shoot the object like a gazillion times, well maybe just 400 but, that's a lot. 

Then it’s mostly processing time on the photogrammetry software. 

The final stage involves, projecting, re-meshing and creating normal and displacement maps in Zbrush and off course creating al the catalog images plus our usual render of product of the week.

So it's quite a lot.

How long does it normally take to create a model?

Tricky. From 5 hours to 5 days really. It’s a complex process, more related to an artisan than to an assembly line. 

It’s not like we have a huge machine, in which we put the model in and wait a couple of hours and done, Easy Bake Scans! The process is slow and painful, but worth it.

It all goes down to the main features of the object you want to scan. Is it shiny? Translucent? Reflective? Have many singular spots? Is it smooth or rough? All things matter and directly affect processing and production time.

How large and detailed are your models?

A raw scan usually contains between 800,000 and 8,000,000 poly faces. So the meshes are pretty thick and detailed. 

We like to work we good quality textures, so we have textures at 4K, 8K and up to 16K for custom jobs.

We don't retouch our models because we believe the quality is in the raw scan itself.

 

You had mentioned you were using photogrammetry. Was it hard to develop a custom pipeline for food or are your techniques as one would expect?

Yes, because there's no such thing as a pipeline for food. There is a pipeline for oranges, for croissants, for avocados. All different, all waiting to be discovered, nonetheless there are some ground rules for shooting basically every object.

The techniques for photographing food and doing photogrammetry with food are fairly different. In photogrammetry is all about getting flat lighting, no specular or reflections and sharp focus all the time. 

I’ve heard many stories of laypeople to the 3D industry thinking they were buying a real sofa for $50. Have you had anyone question why your apples cost $10?

No, but that was always one of my worries before opening the store. Am I gonna get mail asking why a donut is $20? Or if do I sell the kilo of apples at $30 or a single apple at $30?

I'm still waiting for that person.

You must have some interesting stories creating food models?  Any funny or nightmare stories?  

When we first opened blankrepository.com, we were really trying to be creative with our scans, so we had the brilliant idea of making 3D cereal bowls. 

That basically meant that we had to glue the cereal pieces together one by one. At first it was kind of cool, but by the 100th piece, it became horrible.

After tons of glue and cereal, in a couple of days we finally had three different cereal bowls!

That same day we scanned the cereal loops bowl and it was awesome, actually you can find it on our store.

One day, our late dog Ron, entered the office and ate a bunch of breads, 2 apples, a chocolate, and some nuts. He didn't like the marshmallow, but he loved our cereal bowls, he even ate the expanded polystyrene ball inside, he had diarrhea and we don't’ scan cereal any more.

How many models are you creating and do you get requests?

Right now, we are uploading one model per week, but we have many on the process, this year we are making more than 200 products. We are creating scans on a daily basis.

We constantly get requests, from custom jobs to somebody just asking us to do one model in particular.

Are there any foods you never want to see again?

Not yet. But I can assure you I have some strong candidates and definitely I can’t eat a meal or go to the supermarket without thinking, Can we scan this?

What has been the most challenging part of building up your model collection and determining your workflow?

Money, building something like this without money is so difficult. We started this thing from scratch, just working really hard creating a workflow for something that has almost no documentation or examples or anyone to talk about it, just trial and error.

But, the response of the audience and clientes has been amazing.

Did you plan your rotten food collection, or did someone forget to throw out the food over the weekend?

We were thinking about advertising and what kind of models we should scan, like beautiful red apples and big oranges, but then talking about it, the idea of something rotten as something beautiful or useful appeared on our minds. And after watching something organic decompose, I can say it's actually quite beautiful.

How do your models compare to other food collections out there? What separates you?

Quality, quantity, diversity. But most of all, we love what we do, we take a lot of pride on what we do, and I think you can see that in our final products.

What are your plans for the future?

We want to be the CGI Food. Not only with a massive catalog but understanding the needs of the industry and implementing new technologies.

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About this article

_blankRepository reveals the secret world of food modelling and how they develop some of the most realistic food models in the world.

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About the author

Jeff Mottle

Founder at CGarchitect

placeCalgary, CA