It was the dead winter of 2012 when I made the drive from Michigan to Oakland, CA with my youngest daughter. Midway through our journey we were waylaid for 13 hours by the blizzard of the century just outside of Iowa City. We huddled in our Prius to wait out the storm. It was there, at 2 a.m., that the reality of what I was doing really sunk in.
After putting off a life-long dream of moving to the City by the Bay, my wife and I decided to take the plunge (and forever escape those icy Michigan winters).
I had long desired to work in tech, but I still didn’t know where I’d end up. I left a comfortable life in Michigan for the uncertainty of the Bay Area. To friends and family it may have seemed a little crazy.
I had built a career in the furniture and interior design world in Michigan. I moved to San Francisco to explore opportunities in tech, and dove in with meetups and demo days, sniffing out opportunities.
After a few false starts with two promising-looking startups, I attended a meetup where Matterport co-founder Matt Bell demonstrated their beta camera. I was instantly intrigued. When I saw Matt scan the audience and project the 3-D model for us to see, I knew it meant big changes in photography and how we interact with interior spaces.
This product had staying power, and I had to get involved.
With a professional background in interior design, I had a good understanding of managing natural traffic flows and creating focal points in space, which translated into understanding where someone would want to stand in a 3-D model.
I became one of Matterport’s early testers, scanning projects including small residential and commercial spaces. It wasn’t long before I started scanning...well...everything. From hotels and rental spaces, to restaurants, retail locations, and unique large-scale projects like Ai Weiwei’s @Large exhibit on Alcatraz. Scanning has taken me onto aircraft carriers, to the Palace of Fine Arts, and beyond.
Bill Robinson scanning on streets of San Francisco for Homelessness story.
The evolution of a camera
Matterport technology - and people - have advanced at light speed over the past few years. Their team has grown, become more focused and excited, and is always interested in listening to users and improving their product.
For example, an early version of the system required you to scan in a contiguous path - moving into and out of a room with scans in order, or scans would not align. In other words, you couldn’t pick up your camera and move to another scan point. You had to retrace your steps and scan twice the number of scan points!
Matterport’s first ‘egg’ (beta) camera
After user testing and discussion of what photographers needed to find the use of Matterport practical in their jobs, the product was revised, saving a tremendous amount of user labor time.
High art with Matterport
It is amazing to think that Matterport has only been around for three years. The technology has already changed so much. We now see improved scan and processing times; sharper graphics; guided tours and highlight reels; schematic floor plans; photographer branding, and - soon - Mattertags. Today, I can scan much larger spaces than in the past.
In fact, this capability has led to my most challenging project yet: scanning the Palace of Fine Arts.
Last year was the 100th anniversary of the 1915 World’s Fair, marking a significant milestone in the history of this San Francisco landmark. The ‘building’ poses some unique challenges to the Matterport Pro Camera. It’s large, very symmetrical, and is totally outdoors. These are all difficult situations for the camera, which uses spatial features to align different scan positions, and sometimes gets interference from direct sunlight.
I spent many sunrises capturing almost a quarter mile of indoor and outdoor space, avoiding groups of joggers, tourists, artists, brides, and homeless people to create a clean, engaging Space.
Since the beginning, I’ve always included an ‘easter egg’ in almost every Space: a shot of myself, hiding behind a column or in a reflection. I turn those positions off for my customers, but I imagine that, 100 years from now, some Martian may find me in this early 3-D recording.
I take pride in making a complete and artistic model, including post-production editing for each property that I photograph, curating a smooth walkthrough experience. I overscan key areas to create high-quality geometry, and then turn off excess scan positions for an optimized walkthrough experience. In long hallways, I meticulously align my scan positions for a clean visual. I think the artistry of scanning is just beginning, but I already see some MSPs whose attention to detail goes above and beyond.
I am excited to be on the cutting edge of what I view as a new art form. Matterport photographers are building out beautiful portfolios of interesting locations and meticulously captured properties.
My most exciting scans are yet to come...