If YouTube is the world’s compendium of videos of cute cats and unboxings, then the Sketchfab platform is well on its way to becoming the equivalent cultural database of user-generated 3D objects. CEO Alban Denoyel discusses the origins and the future of the service with Alan in this episode.

Alan: Welcome to the XR for Business Podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today’s guest is Alvin Denyuel– I screwed it up already. How do I say it?

Alban: “Deh-Noh-Yell.”

Alan: “Denoyel,” OK. Today’s guest is Alban Denoyel from Sketchfab, the world’s largest platform to publish and find 3D content online. Imagine it’s like the YouTube for 3D. Prior to Sketchfab, he worked for four years in the 2D world of photography. He loves making 3D content with photogrammetry or VR sculpting. He’s a graduate from the ESSEC Business School in Paris, France. If you want to learn more about the wonderful work they’re doing, you can visit sketchfab.com.

Alban, welcome to the show.

Alban: Hey, Alan, thanks.

Alan: It’s my absolute pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this episode for so long. I’ve had a Sketchfab account for about four years now and I’ve only managed to publish a couple of things on there. But it’s so cool. I mean, you’re literally making the YouTube of 3D models. How did you guys come up with that concept? Where did that come from?

Alban: Actually, it initially came from a technical challenge, I guess. My– So, Sketchfab is built on top of WebGL, which is the first web-based framework to display 3D graphics in the browser and WebGL was initiated by Mozilla back in 2011. And my co-founder and CTO, Cedric, had been a 3D programmer in the gaming industry for 15 years, was hired by Mozilla to make one of the very first demos of WebGL for the launch of Firefox 4. And then I just started peeking around the tech and started building an MVP to essentially help the people he was working with in the 3D industry to be share and display 3D assets with just a euro and a browser.

Alan: Incredible. I mean, you guys have come a long, long way. How long have you been doing that? When did it start?

Alban: Cedric started in 2011, I met him early 2012, and we officially launched in March 2012. So it’s been more than seven years.

Alan: Wow. Seven years. And how many 3D models are hosted on Sketchfab today?

Alban: I stopped counting at three million. [chuckles]

Alan: So there’s over three million 3D assets hosted on Sketchfab today. And I would assume over the next 10 years, as everything moves to 3D, that number is going to probably end up at 3 billion, at some point. So why do people need Sketchfab?

Alban: So people use this mostly in two ways: either to publish content or to find content. So published content means sharing, embedding, displaying, hosting 3D files that they have. So these are as 3D creators, or brands, or architects, or any number of industries. And so they have 3D files and they need a way to embed them on a web page or share them with someone who doesn’t have 3D software to open them, or use them in VR and AR and so on. And then other people come to Sketchfab just because they need content. Either regards to presentations, or it could be to build video games. It can be to build AR/VR experiences, it can be to make a video or two-dimensional learning. Again, the use cases are pretty diverse as well.

Alan: Let’s start with the way– where you guys came from, because up until recently it was a free platform, you could host your 3D models on there. And it was just kind of more– it seemed more consumer-facing. And it, over the last, I guess 24 months, it seems like you’ve morphed into a more business tool applications. Was that always in the business plan or was this just, you saw an opportunity?

Alban: It’s a mix of both, I guess. We started as a community of 3D creators. Our first goal was to attract as many creators as possible, and make sure we would become a good to way for content creators to share and showcase and embed their 3D work. And as a result of that, we became also the largest library of 3D content, that was more as a byproduct, if you will.

It’s also worth noting that when we started WebGL, our tech stack was very early in terms of maturity of the tech. It was running in less than 50 percent of the browsers. So it really took five years to be a scalable technology that would run on mobile and desktop and all browsers. And so for the first years as a company, there was no way we could actually be in business at scale, because the tech was too early, and also it was more important for us to reach critical mass of content creators and content before going after businesses.

It kind of happened organically about maybe two years or so ago. Pretty much at the same time where we started shooting, we reached critical mass of content creators and content. We also started noticing more and more companies starting to use the platform, mostly to embed content, typically for e-commerce, computer toys, and things like that. And so we decided to expand the product feature set, to better address those needs. And it was also low-hanging fruit to better monetize as a platform; so, keep a free or cheap version for content creators, and then start offering more advanced features for companies, big or small.

Alan: Really amazing. I’m just scrolling the front page of Sketchfab right now — and if you’re listening, you can pull up your phone and sketchfab.com — just scrolling there, you got robots, there’s a 3D model of a Nerf gun, medical visualisations. What are the most common assets that you guys have? It looks like furniture is a big one.

Alban: I mean, from the outside a lot of it looks very artsy or gamey. Our initial power users were definitely more on the artist side. And the contents that tends to surface organically, or through our curation, tends to be more on the art side, just because it’s often the most visually-appealing, and well-made, and so on. But there is no one specific category that gets more volume than any other. I mean, it’s really extremely diverse, which makes it exciting. It’s worth noting that it’s more like in terms of how the content is made. When we started, most of it was pure CG; made with advanced CAD programs or 3D software like 3ds Max and so on. And now a lot of the content is made with 3D capture technologies like photogrammetry. It’s probably around 50 percent, now, of uploads are 3D captures.

Alan: Wow, that’s a big difference. You know, some of the things that sticks out to me with the photogrammetry stuff is you guys have a “museums and heritage” section, where people take photogrammetry of museum objects. And to put it in context, our museum here in Toronto — the Royal Ontario Museum — has, I think it’s something like 30,000 objects that are on display at any given time, around 30,000, but there’s three million objects that are in storage. So being able to capture those in 3D and host them on Sketchfab and then be able to share them in virtual experiences I think is gonna be a massive way for humanity to fully understand and learn about and enjoy hidden artworks.

Alban: Yeah, definitely. We’re actually just past 100,000 3D models in our cultural heritage category. And we’re already working with many museums to do that.

Alan: If you think about it for a second, you guys have been doing this for seven years. And seven years is an eternity in tech. But it feels like it’s just the very beginning. You have 3-million+ models. But as the world moves to 3D, that number is literally going to 1000x.

Alban: Yep.

Alan: So… well, I guess one of my questions is bandwidth. How do you guys deal with the size of the files and then manage that? And is that all part of the platform for users?

Alban: I mean, over the years, we’ve done a lot of optimizations when a file is uploaded. We do a lot of different actions on the file to remove anything that’s unnecessary, and optimize everything we can. And so we do this not only to improve our performances — geologic time and so on — and also save on costs, and things we can only do with the scale that we have. And specifically, when you upload a file, it automatically generates… I think it’s four or five resolutions of the textures of the model. Some are always made of geometry and textures, which are– which is kind of a photomapped on their geometry. Then we generate different resolutions, so that we adapt which texture resolution we show, depending on the device you’re using. It’s a bit like on YouTube, the video quality depends on your Internet bandwidth and your mobile or desktop. And we essentially do something similar for 3D models, which optimizes performances and bandwidth customization. And then just our general infrastructure of everything has really improved over the years, as we’ve reached a larger scale and more expertise around what we do.

Alan: In the past few years since I first found Sketchfab, the loading times are just blazing fast now. And I don’t know if that’s the hardware’s catching up, or the bandwidth, or whatever, but I would assume it’s combination of hardware, the bandwidth, the Wi-Fi, and also your techniques for loading these really quickly. It’s really wonderful. How are businesses using this technology right now?

Alban: The main use case — and it’s our initial power use case — I would say it’s really easy embedding concepts. Ours is easiest way to embed a 3D file on a webpage. So for businesses, it’s very open for e-commerce or corporate websites. If any brand will typically make the physical products, a lot of those brands start their products by designing it in 3D before manufacturing it. And a lot of brands do have 3D assets of their products. We’re making it easy for them to leverage those assets, not only for manufacturing the product, but also showcasing it and marketing it, so it’s very easy to leverage it on their websites.

Then we have a bunch of features to make it nicer, like 3D annotations — you can highlight specific product features or 3D configurators. You can change colors or different versions of the product. It’s kind of the main use case. There are other customer-facing use cases, like advertising or social media, for example. And then one use case that is getting bigger as well is more private sharing, and internal review and collaboration. So, it’s more like a Dropbox use case, if you will, for all the phases of product development, where a 3D artist needs to iterate with his colleagues and coworkers — and of course, none of them have 3D software to open any of the 3D designs. And so we’re one of the easiest ways to just share a 3D asset for review.

Alan: Especially as marketers start to market in full 3D. I mean, right now, they’re using 3D images instead of photography. I know IKEA, about 50 percent of their whole catalog is CG. I mean, that’s– if you think about it, from just a cost savings from photographs alone, if you have to make a kitchen and build a physical kitchen to take photographs of it, and then you have to make a change to that, you got to change the whole physical set, reshoot the photographs. Whereas in CG, you can make changes to every country and have a Canadian flag in one country, an American flag in another, and a French flag in another. Are– the configurators and these tools, are they easy to use?

Alban: Yes. I mean, it depends. The kind of default tool, which is just the viewer, is really easy to use, which is one of the reasons why we got to where we are today. When we started, 3D was very fragmented, and a lot of people working in 3D, either have to or want to go vertical, and go after a specific industry, because it is much easier to better address the specific needs of this industry.

There’s more than 100 3D formats and each of those formats and vertical has their own set of tools, and each vertical has specific needs. The needs of the gaming industries are very different from cultural heritage, from e-commerce, and so on and so on. We decided to stay completely horizontal. The result: we don’t have any of the features specific to a given vertical, but our product is much easier to use in any given situation. The basic product is quite easy to use.

Then we spent years building integration with the entire ecosystems; we’re integrated with more than 100 creation softwares today. So you can publish directly from any of the 3D tools you use to Sketchfab. And then we’ve done similar integrations on the embed sides, that we’ve become the easiest way to embed 3D. And then also on the import sides, you can import Sketchfab content directly into other applications. Then we have a set of APIs to let you go deeper, if you have a developer resources to build things like configurators and so on.

Alan: Now do you have a generic configurator? So for example, I have a chair — and let’s just use the chair for an example — and it comes in 10 different colors. What do I do with that? I make a 3D model of the chair and then I load it into a configurator and select the colors, and… how does that work?

Alban: First, you upload the chair to Sketchfab and then we have a configurator studio. It’s kind of in beta right now, but it makes it plug-and-play to add different options; colours, or materials, or things like that. And so you can either select the different colors you want to show up in your configurator, or select the different textures type, and then you can just embed that — just like you would embed a YouTube video — and plug it in any website. It works on most websites, or WordPress, or anything.

Alan: It’s really incredible. You guys have taken something very complex — I mean, you said there’s 100+ model formats, and I know there’s been some work towards standardization of those models. I think people were all moving towards glTF, and then Apple decided, “hey, we got our own file format, USDZ” — how do you manage a hundred different…? Let’s just take it, for example, in comparison to YouTube. YouTube has MP4s, and maybe MOV files. So maybe there’s three or four types of video files. You are dealing with 100+ types of 3D formats. How do you guys manage that? Or do you just say, “you have to use these formats, and this is what it is?” Or do you have a converter that automatically converts? How does that work, and how does a customer know which file format to use, when?

Alban: So, we support about a bit more than 50 formats, and then most of the other softwares are able to export to one of 50 formats. That’s kind of the 50 formats we cover are like 95 percent, 98 percent of the needs. And then we have the integration we have with other tools. I mean, the end user doesn’t need to worry about the formats that you use; if you use Revit, or Max, or Blender, or whatever, you can– these are we have native integrations. We ship with Blender’s. There is a “share to Sketchfab” button inside Blender. Or for Revit, you can install Sketchfab for Revit add-on and it’ll allow the “share to Sketchfab” button. And then you don’t even have to worry about which formats. We’re just going to leverage the export capabilities of Revit to make sure they’re going to use a format that we like. Both, actually.

So that this is all on the import side. On the export side, we’ve built our own glTF converter, to able to convert and use these formats to glTF. And this is actually the most robust glTF converter on the market, which means that anyone who needs a glTF from any of those 50 formats we support can very easily get it by just uploading and downloading from Sketchfab. A number of people use us just for that.

Alan: That’s awesome. Yeah, I know there’s some other glTF-to-USDZ converters, there’s one called Meshmorph, and I think there’s a bunch of them out there, but it’s going to be needed, especially– Do you deal with USDZ formats now?

Alban: Actually, we’re– it’s a long story. We were launching partners of Apple for USDZ and we’re working on it. So we will, yes.

Alan: Perfect. Awesome. You’ve basically created a platform that makes it easy to upload, share, download, and view 3D models across any device. What are some of the specific business use cases? I know there’s architectural models, for example. We’ll go by industry, and we’ll talk about each one. How are architects or architectural real estate, how are they using this?

Alban: So, architecture is actually not one of our biggest markets. I initially said it would be, but for a number of reasons, it’s not really the case. One of them is that I think they like to keep control, and so they make 3D models and then use them to make beautiful 2D renders, and they control how people are going to consume that content in 2D or videos. And so it’s typically, they’re just going to just do the front of the building, add some nice trees, and so on. At Sketchfab, we give full power to the visitor, although there are ways to limit that. But it actually requires even more work to use our platform, because they need to do design the back of the building as well, things like that. So some people–

Alan: I guess if you if you’re talking pixels versus voxels, you actually have to think about programming the back of the building, because if you spin it around, there’s no walls….

Alban: Yeah, exactly.

Alan: Never thought of that.

Alban: Yeah.

Alan: But I mean, if you think about it, from an architectural standpoint, you guys have a pro version of the software, right? So there’s a pro/private version of this, so that if I wanted to use it internally in my company, I can upload my files, and it won’t be seen by the public. Is that correct?

Alban: Yeah, that’s correct. But–

Alan: The privacy is there.

Alban: As for consumer use cases, most of our business is more around product display; large consumer brands using it to showcase shoes, or boats, or cars.

Alan: Yeah. A lot of consumer electronics, from what I can see. So let’s talk about retail, then. So we talked about real estate. We’ll move on to retail, because the retail seems obvious to me, if you’re gonna sell a product. Do you have any data around whether 3D increases conversion rates or anything like that?

Alban: Yeah. I mean, one of our first enterprise customers was MADE.com, which is probably the largest online retailer of furniture in the UK. They started implementing Sketchfab a bit more than a year ago, and now they’re giving it to more and more SKUs and they recently shared the initial data that they could find on using Sketchfab, and their finding with it, the people would would check a 3D viewer on any given product are 25 percent more likely to buy than those who don’t. It was pretty mindblowing to hear that stat, and so of course we use that a lot.

Alan: Sorry, wait a second. So, people who interact with the 3D version of the whatever it is — furniture, let’s say, or a retail product — did you say it increases their likelihood of buying by 25 percent?

Alban: Yeah, exactly.

Alan: That’s crazy. Think about it: what other tool can increase your sales by 25 percent?

Alban: It is pretty amazing.

Alan: There’s nothing, I don’t think… other than spam advertising. Nobody likes that, anyway.

Alban: Yeah.

Alan: So, that’s incredible. That’s amazing. And you’ve got retailers, they’re using it. Are they making the 3D models, or are they having them made? Are they talking to their suppliers? Because, you know, I would think — if you’re, let’s say, furniture – if I’m MADE.com, I’m not going to make all of the 3D models for every SKU that we sell. I’m going to go to my suppliers and say “this is the format we need it in; provide it.” Is that what you’ve seen? Is that what’s happening?

Alban: It really depends. Some bigger brands often have in-house 3D designers and so they make their own 3D versions of all the shoes, for example. Luxury brands. Smaller brands outsource it, or some retailers will sell other people’s brands and outsource it. And sometimes we’d take care of content creation for retailers who don’t have anything. Most of our customers have their own, and so they have a clear need because they have 3D assets. So they are actively looking for a solution to do more with them. But we also have inbound from companies who have nothing.

Alan: So some of the features that you guys have on here extend beyond just a 3D view on a website. You’ve got also– there’s a button, if you’re looking at a 3D model, there’s a button for a VR view — it looks like a little VR goggles. Are people using the VR view? What are the stats around that? Is it growing?

Alban: To be honest, I haven’t even thought of that in a while. The thing is, we have so much volume on the regular web that anything in VR is going to be tiny, tiny conpared to that.

Alan: Yeah, I can imagine.

Alban: And it’s based on WebVR. So VR is early. And then WebVR is a niche within VR. It’s very early, except in Firefox, it’s going to need better versions of browsers like Chrome. You need specific actions on the user’s site for it to work. So it’s early. And then you need the headsets and so on.

Alan: But you guys have also introduced an AR viewer with–

Alban: Yeah, we’re using the AR phones, but you have to use our mobile app to use it for now. And so I think the use is going to really increase once wearables support AR with our app, which should come sometime next year. I think VR is great for spaces and places; AR is great for objects. And we have much more objects than places. I think both are great, but AR is going to be an even better fit for us, especially once wearables support AR straight from the embedded player.

Alan: Yeah, it’s going to be incredible, because you’re just on a website, you’re like “Oh, I want to see that chair.” Press the button, the chair appears in your room in the real size. Boom, Bob’s your uncle.

Alban: Yep.

Alan: The amount of progress that you guys have made in such a– seems like a long time, seven years. But really over the last couple of years, you’ve really grown leaps and bounds from both a technical standpoint, but also the sheer numbers. When did it start to grow really fast? When did you guys say, “Holy crap, this is really taking off?”

Alban: I think we’ve always felt that, because I always feel like the biggest of the small guys or the smallest is a big guys. When we started, we were just, like, two people. And it kept growing and growing, and we reached like 10,000 models, and it seems huge, and then it reached 100,000. It seems huge at every step. I don’t think we’ve ever felt a specific shift. It’s always felt like growing. I mean, maybe when we passed 1 million models and–

Alan: That must have been a big day. What do you guys do to celebrate your wins? I mean, obviously you have wins every once in a while. What do you guys do to celebrate?

Alban: We’re a lot of French people, so we like good food and good wine.

[chuckles]

We have a good meal and champagne and–

Alan: I love it. How many people are at Sketchfab now?

Alban: We’re 30 people. And two thirds of them are in mostly Europe, mostly Paris. And then a third in New York.

Alan: Amazing. I would assume that the people in New York are sales.

Alban: Sales, marketing, community, user support. Everything that’s non-tech.

Alan: So where are the users coming from around the world?

Alban: Not particularly France. I mean, a lot of people have no idea that we’re a French company. We moved to the US after a year, so it was fairly fast. I would say about 40 percent of the users are in the US, and then another 40 percent in Europe. We’ve got a lot of users in Asia, a lot of users in Eastern Europe.

Alan: So let’s dive into healthcare, because I’ve seen a few things on there. Is there any industry that won’t be impacted by this? Like, I can’t think of anything. You’ve got running shoes to TVs, you’ve got real estate, you’re got buildings, you’ve got flowers. Everything is going to be in 3D. And as we move into spatial computing as a regular computing platform, probably it’s going to be, in my opinion, maybe five years from now. But you guys, it seems like you’re perfectly positioned to be the YouTube of 3D and it doesn’t look like YouTube or Google or any of these other big players are playing in your sandbox. What are your thoughts on that?

Alban: I mean, I agree that most industries are going to be impacted by that. I guess the only ones that wouldn’t are financial services, things that are–

Alan: Today, Magic Leap just released a press release. And there’s a guy from Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal who’s made a complete 3D visualization of the stock exchange in New York.

Alban: I guess you can use it for financial visualization. That’s true.

Alan: Yes. So, I mean, even the financial markets, there’s not a business in the world that won’t be impacted by 3D and spatial computing. And you guys are really way, way ahead of everybody on this. But you’ve had some early successes, some early wins. What’s next? What’s next on your roadmap, that is like the next thing? I mean, obviously 10-million models would be the next marker or whatever. But what is the next hurdle that you guys have to go through in order to expand and grow?

Alban: Thereare mostly two things in my mind right now. But on the publishing side… until now, we’ve been mostly focused on public and consumer-facing use cases. And as I mentioned, we are getting more traction around private sharing, so we’re starting to build features specific to internal use and private sharing. Things like collaboration tools and multiple seats. And not only be the market leader in embedding and consumer-facing use cases, but also in private sharing and collaboration around 3D assets. This is one big thing.

On the download side of things; all the download side is fairly new to us, and we’ve really spent most of the past seven years onboarding content. We released our store and our download API only a year ago, and so are really just starting to build everything we need to also become the market leader when it comes to finding content. And a lot of it is going to happen through integrations, so that you can search Sketchfab within other applications. And so we already have a set of integrations with proprietary tools like Unity and Real Render and so on. And then we’ll set integration with tools like SparkAR by Facebook or VR Hubs by Mozilla. And there is a lot of work to do there to essentially be the search bar for the 3D world and be printed everywhere. And just like on Google Sheets, you can search Shutterstock to preview images and you want to do the same thing on Magic Leap or Hololens or any 3D application, like Unity or Instagram AR.

Alan: That’s really incredible. So you’re already starting to design this — or will build it — for integration with all of the other kind of 3D platforms.

Alban: Yep.

Alan: It’s fantastic. What is the number one platform now? I guess it would be still Unity, for now.

Alban: Well, it depends on how you look, because for professional use, Unity is definitely pretty high. But then we also have very strong adoption in smaller tools, like Substance, Painter, or several user bases smaller but very active with Sketchfab in general. And then there are new platforms which are kind of B2B2C, if you will. But platform like SparkAR, which is a tool by Facebook to let you publish AR filters on Instagram, they just went out of beta in August and the volume has really exploded.

Alan: Yeah, amazing. People who are listening, if you haven’t tried SparkAR, it’s really an easy tool for making AR, using Facebook’s platform. And I know another one is– have you guys worked with Ske – pfft, “with Sketchfab.” Of course you’ve worked with Sketchfab — with Snapchat?

Alban: We’re discussing their users using our content, and so we were kind of exploring ways to streamline that process.

Alan: I’m scrolling– as we’re talking, I just keep scrolling through — and there’s just so many variations of everything. I’m looking at an eagle, and a mainframe computer, and a running shoe, and a castle, and a Bugatti, and a dragon. It’s literally neverending. And I think really, what’s going to happen is the tools to create these 3D assets are getting better and better. There’s tools like Qlone out there now, where you can just take a regular phone, hold your phone around this product or any physical object, and it’ll automatically kick it out as a 3D object. The democratization of the content creation is really going to be when you guys are going to see a massive uptake. What are the tools are you seeing that allow people to create faster?

Alban: So a lot of our users used photogrammetry software, mostly desktop software.

Alan: CapturingReality or something.

Alban: Yeah. CapturingReality and Metashape by Agisoft.

Alan: I thought– it used to be called something else, wasn’t it?

Alban: Yeah, PhotoScan.

Alan: Yeah. What’s it called now?

Alban: Metashape. And so those two are the market leaders — CapturingReality and Metashape — and it gives incredible results. It’s quite time-consuming, because processing time is pretty long. And then there are more and more mobile applications, Qlone is one, Trnio is another one. Then there are also new depth sensor-based applications like ScanD, it’s the fastest but result is less good. It’s kind of a tradeoff between speed and budget and quality, I guess.

Alan: There is always that: speed, budget, quality — choose any two. [laughs] It’s interesting. I’m looking here. Most of the models looked like they were CG. But you’re saying that 50 percent of what you’re seeing come through now is photogrammetry. That’s really impressive.

I guess the future, if we look even a couple of years out, volumetric capture of video or videorammetry is really starting to take off. Will your platform support things like output from the Metastage or these volumetric– or Intel Studios or something like that?

Alban: We already support that.

Alan: Oh, well, there you go.

Alban: And you can already support– you can already output volumetric video, either as a mesh or as a point cloud. Right now we support it in kind of a brute force way, which is a sequence of scans; we have one scan per frame of the video, so it’s not ideal in terms of performances — it’s far from ideal — but it works. And then as it evolves, we’re going to look into ways to better support it.

Early on we had an integration with Mimesis as a French company which was recently acquired by Magic Leap, and their first software was a volumetric video capture software, and I used it to capture the first steps of my son when he was one year old.

Alan: I saw that!

Alban: That was a volumetric video; we processed it and uploaded it to Sketchfab.

Alan: That is so cool. Think about that — when your son is 18, you’ll be able to put him in a pair of glasses and he’ll be able to have himelf walking on the floor as a baby in full volumetric. It’s really incredible. It’s the memories that we’re gonna be able to capture — even just places. My daughter’s room. I’m going to do her room up in photogrammetry and just keep it as a space, because as she gets older, the posters on the wall will change and all of these things, and capturing that place — you could do it in 360 video or 360 photos — but really capturing it volumetrically, allowing you to move around in space, it’s really beautiful. Like capturing your son’s first steps. How cool is that?

What are some of the other things that you’ve seen that just kind of blew your way? What are some things that you’ve seen on the platform that you really didn’t think people would ever do with this product?

Alban: That’s a good question. It’s used more and more to document world events. And so typically, aerial 3D capture’s pretty big on Sketchfab; people using drones to take video, or tons of pictures and then stitching them together into 3D models. I wasn’t really expecting news outlets to use Sketchfab for storytelling. And so I think it’s a very interesting use case that is emerging. Last week, Time Magazine released a story about the Amazon Forest, and they made 3D capturers to show which was impacted by the fire. And then they used Sketchfab to show that on their website. That was really cool.

Alan: And I think the other one that I saw was the chapel that burned…

Alban: Yeah, Notre-Dame.

Alan: People were showing laser-scanned 3D before and after the fire. And I thought that was really interesting. It’s funny, because 3D is the only way to really understand it. You can zoom into it. You can get right into it. With your, I think, your software, you can add annotations, if I’m not wrong.

Alban: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Alan: You can add little highlights and say “click here” and it’ll give you some information about that. I’m looking at one right now. It’s called the Charterhouse Chapel, and I’m inside this beautiful cathedral looking chapel and I look all around It’s gorgeous. One question I had, I’m looking at this model here and you can zoom in, zoom out and like I can go right inside the front doors, and it looks like a kind of a dollhouse effect. Are you able to upload Matterport camera outputs to Sketchfab?

Alban: Yes, definitely. Lot of people do that.

Alan: So cool. That, I didn’t know. That’s awesome. So you can get a Matteport camera, which… it’s like a mix between a 360 camera and a volumetric camera, I guess. It’s got laser sensors on it that add some depth, and then overlay the video on top, or the photo on top of it. But it’s really impressive. And you can now upload that right into Sketchfab. I’m assuming– actually now that I’m looking at this, it must be — that’s how they did this chapel. It’s awesome.

Is there anything else you want people to know?

Alban: It’s hard for us to expose well how wide our feature suite is. A lot of people assume that this particular thing is not going to work out on Sketchfab, but we support a very wide set of features. Don’t assume that it’s not going to work. We support point cloud, we support animated content, we support huge files, we support physically-based rendering, we support VR and AR andso on. And so my message is to try it and see for yourself. It’s pretty magical when you upload your file, and a super-fast process — it’s over in 10 seconds — see it live in your browser window, and then just the fact of doing that keeps a lot of ideas on what you can do with that file, now that’s it’s posted on the Internet.

Alan: It’s really exciting. I can’t wait. I’m going to start uploading way more stuff. I did a bunch at the beginning and then I was like, you know, I didn’t have the time. But yeah, I just– I’m going to start uploading things. And I know Samsung’s new Note 10 has 3D capture built into it. I’ve seen some people try. It’s not quite there. Not like the video they did on their launch, didn’t turn out really perfect. A friend of mine took a bear and scanned it and it ended up looking like a bear with three eyes. [laughs] It was a little weird. But, hey, I mean, it’s a good start if you think about it. Five years ago, we had Google Tango phones that did this.

Alban: I still use it.

Alan: They got rid of the extra depth sensing camera and now they’re introducing the depth sensing camera back again. So Google was way ahead of the game, just a little too early to the party, I guess.

So, what is the most important thing businesses can do right now to start using the power of Sketchfab?

Alban: Uploading the content and embedding it to their website. I think most businesses who build physical products probably have 3D files somewhere. They should be able to play with the platform out of the box, and then we’ll optimize the content, or make it look really good in Sketchfab. And if you don’t have content, for a small budget, we can help you get your content to 3D, either through free capture or through CAD programs. Then you don’t have to think crazy big from the start; you can really test it with a single SKU, a single product. Upload it to Sketchfab, embed it the same day, and then you can start getting a sense of whether you’re getting a return on the investment doing that.

Alan: And what would a cash outlay for that kind of test be?

Alban: If you don’t have content, making content really depends on the complexity and quality and so on, but can go from 50 bucks to unlimited amounts. But like, for a shoe, you can get a nice little shoe for 200 bucks and then–

Alan: So, for under a thousand dollars, you can run a reasonable test on your website to see and you can run A/B tests on your e-commerce. Let’s say for example, a test of whether 3D does in fact increase your conversions.

Alban: Our pricing for companies starts at 79 bucks a month. That’s it. For less than 100 bucks on a given month you can start playing with that.

Alan: Amazing. All right, I’ve one last question for you. And first of all, want to say thank you so much for sharing all this amazing information. I know — it’s funny — I’m really glad to have caught you now, before you end up getting into the billions of models, because I think at that point you’re gonna be too busy to be on my podcast.

What is a problem in the world that you want to see solved using XR technologies?

Alban: I think we touched about it with the cultural heritage thing. I think it goes a bit beyond cultural heritage — just preserving things that are not going to exist in the future. This also applies to iconic products. The very first Nike shoe, or Lego sets that you can’t buy anymore, and having your virtual museum of everything on Earth. Which requires the efforts of not only brands, but crowdsourced, user-generated content. And of course it’s great for cultural heritage, but actually it needs to happen for places and buildings and objects and toys and so on. And that’s really one thing we can solve with digital twins of everything. It will be used for commerce, and entertainment, and history, and learning, and education, and even crime scenes. We’re discussing with some people who are using Sketchfab for crime scenes — or for counterfeits, fraud detection and so many things.

Looking for more insights on XR and the future of business? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify. You can also follow us on Twitter @XRforBusiness and connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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