If you've ever watched the dystopian cyberpunk movie "Bladerunner", you may remember that scene (one of many!) in which a photograph is essentially turned into a three-dimensional representation that can be "explored" using 3D navigational controls, in much the same way that you might zoom in to look at a 3D model in Google Earth from a particular direction, or explore a photomosaic of a particular building using Microsoft's Photosynth.

If you haven't seen the film, then I guess you probably have seen the "Ken Burns effect" applied to a photograph (even if you didn't know what that effect was called): the view zooms in to a particular area of a photograph and then starts to pan across it. The technique - originally developed to bring movement to still photos in video documentaries - is now widely used in many computer slideshows to retain the viewer's interest.

Anyway, a couple of years ago I came across a piece of academic research called the Popup project that automatically created a "pop-up" 3D model from a single photograph of an outdoor scene. The photograph had to feature a prominent 3D object, such as a corner view of a building or a vehicle, that is, objects with strongly defined edges that could be used to identify strong lines of perspective.

A year or so ago the software moved out of the lab and in to a start-up company called fotowoosh, who put out the following demo movie:

Well, now you can try it for real, with your own photographs, in Facebook at least...

Just add the fotowoosh Facebook application, import an appropriate photo from your Facebook account, and fotowoosh will create a short movie that appears to fly you in to the very movie itself. (You can see an example over on my other blog...)

I can quite easily see this sort of technique being added to photo slideshows in a year or two, but things will get really exciting when you can you can take a single photograph and generate a 3D model from it that can be inserted into a virtual world. After all, you can already generate 3D models from 2D floorplans...

UPDATE: 30th September 2010 - Fotowoosh no longer appears to be available online; however, there is a similar tool you may wish to explore which is on offer, called Make3D. - The OpenLearn team

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Study digital photography with The Open University