Introduction: Camera Rig for 123D Catch

Picture of Camera Rig for 123D Catch

123D Catch is a new application and service from Autodesk that turns a series of photographs into a 3D model of an object or space.

The rig described here helps you structure the photos for best results. It lets you spin the camera around the object at a constant height and distance, while the object stays still. You can easily move the camera up and down to get top and bottom angles.

For this project, you will need:


3D printer
Electric screwdriver

Wood materials

3x 36" long 1" dia dowel
1x 12" long x 3/4" thick x 2" wide plank
1x 8" x 8" x 3/4" board
1x 6" x 6" x 3/4" board


38x #8 3/4" construction screws
4x #8 3/4" hex bolt
1x #8 1" hex bolt
5x #8 wing nuts (6x optional)
2x #8 lock washers (3x optional)
1x 1/4" x 3/4" thumbscrew
1x 1/4 washer
2x casters (the base should not exceed 2" in depth)

Step 1: Print the Plastic Parts

Picture of Print the Plastic Parts

You will need a 3D printer, such as a Makerbot, or access to one via a 3D printing bureau such as Shapeways or Ponoko. You will need to print:

1x l-brace
1x 3-brace
2x 2-brace
2x 1-brace
1x collar
1x flange
3x shaft collar
1x camera ring
1x camera platform
1x extension arm (optional)

Download the files and print them yourself, or send them to a service. They are also hosted on Thingiverse.

Step 2: Cut Your Wooden Pieces to Size

Picture of Cut Your Wooden Pieces to Size

Take one piece of dowel, and cut it into 2x 4" pieces, and 2x 8" pieces

Step 3: Attach L-brace to Base

Picture of Attach L-brace to Base

Mark center of your 12" plank. Attach the L-brace to plank with 4x #8 screws.

Step 4: Assemble Bottom Brace

Picture of Assemble Bottom Brace

Place an 8" dowel in the middle of the 3-brace. Insert the 8" dowel into the top of the l-brace. Insert a 4" length of dowel on to the branches of the 3-brace. Fit a 1-brace onto the free end of the 4" dowels

Bring the 1-braces down to the plank by sliding the 3-brace down the longer length of dowel. Make sure the 4" dowels are tightly seated, into the 3-brace on one end, and a 1-brace on the other end.

Attach the 1-braces to the plank using 8x #8 screws. Secure the 4" dowels to the 1-brace and 3-brace by using 4x #8 screws (2 on each side).

Do NOT secure the 8" dowel yet. Its destiny lies elsewhere. 

Step 5: Attach Casters

Picture of Attach Casters

Attach the casters to the bottom of the plank using 8X #8 screws. Try not to hit the screws that hold the 1-brace in place from the other side.

Step 6: Prepare the Main Brace

Picture of Prepare the Main Brace

Put a 2-brace on each end of one piece of 8" dowel (the one that is not in the base). Do not secure it with a screw yet.

Step 7: Assemble the Shaft Collars

Picture of Assemble the Shaft Collars

Assemble the shaft collars by putting a #8 hex bolt through one side, and secure it with a #8 wing nut (do not tighten). The head of the hex bolt goes on the side with a matching hexagonal recess.

Step 8: Prepare the Main Boom

Picture of Prepare the Main Boom

Attach the collar piece to the end of one of the 36" dowels. Put a shaft collar on the dowel with the collar, and slide it down towards the center

Step 9: Prepare Platform

Picture of Prepare Platform

Attach the flange to the 8" x 8" board using 4x #8 screws. Attach the other flange to the 6" x 6" board using 4x #8 screws

Step 10: Assemble Boom and Brace

Picture of Assemble Boom and Brace

Slide one end of the 8" dowel with the 2-braces over the other 8" dowel (in the 3-brace). Put a shaft collar on the dowel with the collar, and slide it down towards the center. Fit the long dowel with the collar through the other 2-brace and then through the bottom of the l-brace. 

Ensure the 2-braces are lined up and secure them with 2x #8 screw

Step 11: Assemble the Base

Picture of Assemble the Base

Remove the 8" dowel from the 3-brace and place it in the flange, secure it with 1x #8 screw.

Put a shaft collar over the 8" dowel in the flange.

Step 12: Assemble Boom and Platform

Picture of Assemble Boom and Platform

Put the collar on the end of the long dowel over the short dowel in the flange.

Adjust the height of the shaft collar so that the long dowel is level.

Step 13: Connect Main Pole to Base

Picture of Connect Main Pole to Base

Place the other long dowel in the top of the 3-brace, threading it through the loose 2-brace. The main structure should be almost completely assembled.

Step 14: Finish Platform

Picture of Finish Platform

Place the small platform (with flange) over the short dowel that is attached to the bottom plate

Step 15: Secure the Boom

Picture of Secure the Boom

Place a shaft collar on the outside of the long horizontal dowel. Tighten it down to secure the boom. Move the shaft collar that you placed on the boom earlier out, to secure the lower brace.

Step 16: Assemble Camera Adapter

Picture of Assemble Camera Adapter

Assemble the camera adapter by putting a #8 hex bolt through the two tabs, and secure it with a wing nut.

Attach the camera platform to the camera adapter with a "1 #8 hex bolt, placing a lock washer between the adapter ring and the platform. Secure with a wing nut.

Put a 1/4" thumbscrew in the bottom of the camera platform (the side with the raised ring) and tighten it.

Step 17: Place Camera Adapter on Pole

Picture of Place Camera Adapter on Pole

Put the camera adapter ring over the main pole (vertical dowel) and secure it by tightening the wing nut.

Step 18: Finished! Now, Use It to Take Some Pictures.

Picture of Finished! Now, Use It to Take Some Pictures.

Congratulations! You have finished assembling the rig. Test it out by pushing the base back and forth, it should orbit smoothly around the platform.

Attach your camera to the camera platform by screwing the 1/4" thumbscrew into the tripod fixture in the bottom of the camera, securing it to the camera platform.

Loosen the wing nut that holds the platform and camera adapter ring, and adjust the camera until it is pointed right at the platform.

Place your target object on the platform, and take 30 or so evenly spaced pictures. 

Loosen the wing nut on the camera adapter, and slide the whole camera mount up. Take another 20-30 pictures looking down at the platform.

Repeat, this time moving the camera mount down, so you can take pictures looking up at the platform.

You can adjust the vertical pole to move it farther or closer to the object, by loosening the two shaft collars and sliding the whole assembly on the boom.


solar1618 (author)2014-11-14

I have read several of your comments and given the problems listed some thought.
It seems to me that one could just have a stationary table. Bevel the outer edge of the table top. Bend pvc into the bevel. Use a three way connector to attach the ends together. Attach another length of pipe to the third opening in the connector (the opening sticking out and away from the table top). Insert another pipe ( smaller in diameter) (longer in length) into that one. Drill pin holes at intervals into the outside pipe and a single set into the inside pipe. Use an adapter coupling on the inside pipe to add another very short piece of pipe that is the outside pipe's same size. Put another t connector on the very short pipe so that there are two ends aligned vertically. Attach a length of pipe to the bottom (enough so that it can rest on the floor). Slide the smaller pipe into the top. Make pin holes as before. Attach camera to top of small pipe. The end result should be something like a large, side ways T attached to a hoop that is wrapped around a table. Each leg of the T is adjustable (via the pin holes) and the hoop should spin freely around the table.
Below is a simple hand drawn picture to give you a better idea of what I mean. I hope this helps.
If any one is interested in this I would be willing to make a video on how to do this or make a 3d model of it.
Either one may take some time since I work offshore and will only be able to work on this once I get home.

Super Giant Bubbles (author)2012-03-22

I don't understand why this is better (or even as good as) having your camera on a tripod and the model on a turntable. This seems needlessly complex to an extreme degree. Maybe I missed something?

Since 123D Catch is stitching images by looking at surface features, a turntable would confuse it in two ways:

1. The object would appear to be moving in relation to the background.
2. The lighting would change from shot to shot, and the shadows would move.

Other scanning techniques (structured light, laser) are less subject to these constraints, but have their own limitations in terms of cost/accuracy/ability to capture a texture.

przemek (author)gpvillamil2012-03-22

1. The object would appear to be moving in relation to the background.

you could attach background to the turntable---

2. The lighting would change from shot to shot, and the shadows would move.

The lighting should probably come from around the camera, in either case.

I agree. I've used 123D Catch with a turntable. I made a background for the turntable (with a unique geometric colored shape for each corner). The lighting was consistent and 123D Catch had no problems. I suppose a large object may be more suited to having a moving camera mount.

Do you have a photo somewhere that shows what you mean? I'm having trouble visualizing what the background looks like and where the unique geometric shapes at the corner fit into the whole scheme...

Here is a Sketchup mockup of what I did. The white square is the paper sheet I printed with geometric shapes. The gray shape is just a model of a rock.

Wow I have to give this a try. I'm working on developing a protocol for museums to use free apps to capture 3D image of specimens but have had little success so far.

Thanks a lot! We're still refining the process for our models (primate skulls), so I will give this a try.

sarveshk (author)gpvillamil2012-03-22

You are absolutely right!
I have tried to use 123D catch with a turntable and did not work even after giving it several tries.

Then I found the trick and the turntable method worket very fine.
I used a colored surface with large pattern for the turn table. I clicked photos with such angles that the background other than the turntable does not get into the photo. Also focused it nicely so that, the background was totally out of focus

Your method seems to be very useful one.

but clicking photos by holding the camera by hands, doen't give bad results in 123D catch. If you click photos with progression near 10% (90% prev data, 10% new data), then you can scan the objects with very sharp details.

Well, thanks for nice instructable and the design.
Please post the scanning videos and scanned object pics too!

she.jamie (author)sarveshk2014-11-07

I have to give your method a try! I've been trying to capture fossils for a museum project with little success using a handheld camera.

dutchlion (author)2014-06-30

It was easy to make, but it's a pity the measures were only in inches and not metric.

karlpinturr (author)2012-03-22

An intriguing and well-executed, if a little impractical, project. The horizontal 'swing-arm' effect requires a lot of floor space (though that would be good for lots of (natural) light), and does demand a FLAT floor.

It does, however, seem a reasonable solution to modelling larger objects than might be practical on a turntable. Four more pieces similar to the 45-degree(?) braces for the vertical pole, but pivoted by their flats, to allow for larger platforms, could connect by dowels to the sleeve on the platform-support (possibly, it would also need pivoted attachments), to support larger platforms without blocking the 'swing-arm'.

I would like to see some length/distance markings ruled on the 'swing-arm', and height marks on the vertical pole (so that you can set-up regularly-used points more accurately), as well as a line along the upright's entire length, which could be matched up with a mark on the camera collar, to keep it always pointed in the same direction .

jschrempp (author)karlpinturr2013-01-07

I think it has been said before, but 123D Catch does not work well with a turntable. I've found that lighting changes confuse it.

karlpinturr (author)jschrempp2013-01-07

It has, indeed, been said before - by many users - and I'd hope that the programmers are working on what seems to be a problem of scale.

I say "a problem of scale" because this is, essentially, a giant, stripped-down, turntable - albeit with the camera moving, rather than the 'table' and subject - and 123D Catch doesn't seem to have a problem with it.

The main issue with this particular rig is the need for a flat, smooth, level (circlular) space, something over 6-ft in diameter, which doesn't seem particularly suited to 'home use' (not that I think it was/is intended to be such).

jschrempp (author)karlpinturr2013-01-08
Right, I agree, a turntable version of this would not be useful with the current 123D Catch software.

Sure, you need space to use this rig; no question about that. I like this Instructable because in my experience 123D Catch has worked best with consistently lit, well overlapped photos. This rig can help the less experienced user get that right. A person might attach lighting to the stable central platform to provide unmoving light on the subject.

I wonder about your suggestion to enhance the program to allow for a rotating subject with stationary camera. One beautiful feature of 123D Catch is that the photos can be taken with a handheld camera in arbitrary positions. I don't want to lose that. If the software needs consistent lighting cues to be able to handle the camera motions, that's a tradeoff I'm willing to accept.

karlpinturr (author)jschrempp2013-01-08

You're right - it would be a pity to lose the flexibility - hopefully a not-too-distant update will come with either a 'mode'(?) option so you can tell it if you're working freehand or static, or it might have to be 2 different 'versions' (though I'd hope - and assume - not, as they might conflict if you tried to install both on the one machine).

However, looking anew at previous comments, some people are claiming success with turntables, so maybe there are ways around the problem, without waiting for software fixes that may never come (even if they are possible)...

golsen1 (author)2012-12-02

I'm interested to know if anyone has practical experience with this rig? Did it improve the quality of your captures? I'm using a tripod and remote trigger at the moment but I'm looking for something better.

xfrench (author)2012-10-12

Hi. I'm excited to explore your rig, but I am finding myself obfuscated trying to download the spl files and/or finding them on Thingverse. Any helpful hints? Thanks!

FrankenPaper (author)2012-07-23

I really need/want a 3d printer. I am jealous (in the nicest possible way) that you are to bring your 3d ideas to life. One day, I will join you (figuratively speaking) in making good ideas into useful ideas. Keep up the nice work. Keep posting Instructables. And thanks, by the way, for including the stl files.

ydeardorff (author)2012-07-22

How would you scale this up to do the side of a whole car? Then how would you use the program? This is very interesting to me.

Thanks in advance!


bfk (author)2012-04-27

Great work and nice prints. I especially like the red fittings. I'm waiting for my Replicator to arrive and am experimenting with both the Autodesk imaging system and the David laser system. I'll be working with smaller objects and am wondering, have you experimented with a turntable and stationary camera?

...Man, I really like those red fittings:)

Jayefuu (author)2012-03-21

Nice work! Now you need a people free space so people won't keep walking into your pictures and messing up the results!

A similar design made from PVC plumbing fixtures would be interesting as a more accessible/cheaper solution.

What models have you managed to catch nicely so far?

gpvillamil (author)Jayefuu2012-03-22

I'll be posting models shortly! I think the Makerbot blog has images of some scans already.

I looked at PVC initially - the problem is that it is difficult to find PVC pipe fittings (especially flanges) with a 45 degree angle, and slip joints don't exist. PVC couplers generally contain a small ring inside to keep the pipes from sliding through, and for this design I need the pipes to slide.

However, the build stage lends itself to being built from metal plumbing fixtures, a pipe and two flanges. That would make it more stable. However, it would cost more than all the printed plastic parts put together...

Gadget93 (author)gpvillamil2012-03-23

I would respectfully disagree although I do live in an area where PVC supplies are rather abundant. Printing 3D unfortunately is exorbitantly expensive...assuming one can actually find a place with one of these devices for public use. Buying a machine is just straight out of the question considering huge expense. Sure, there is a really big coolness factor to 3D printing but it is just plain expensive. I think I will try this great project but I will use PVC and improvise wherever needed.

pcgirl (author)2012-03-22

I want a 3D printer. :'( It seems that instructibles is becoming more and more a showcase for these machines and I can't do any of them. This makes me sad.

Nice idea btw. :D

Gadget93 (author)pcgirl2012-03-23

I concur

benwade (author)2012-03-22

El cheapo.

An adjustable pole, a level,a camera, 123D Catch, and a piece of string.

1) Attach the camera and the level to the top of the pole.
2) Loop the string loosely around the object and tie a knot.
3) Tie string to the top of the pole securely at a distance from the object that suits your need.
4) Use the level (attached to the top of the pole) to ensure the camera is level.
5) take picture
6) move around object until you have photographed all aspects.
7) Detach string from subject and wrap arounf pole.
8) Detach camera.
7) input pictures to 123D catch.
9) Done!

mpm.prudencio (author)2012-03-22

Great idea and Amazing tutorial man, and the files... wow! Congratulations! Excelent work!

Viaticus (author)2012-03-22

Okay work with me here - I can see a potential application / adaptation of this that would really rock! Don't forget where you heard it...

What if you built a structure or booth that the object - or even a person! - could sit in. The rig as described in this instructible would be flipped upside-down so that the axis is directly above the object (or person's) head. You could actually do a 3-D bust of an individual and from there create a mold to cast the likeness in plaster, cement or bronze!

atanguay (author)2012-03-22

Great idea...123 Catch is really really handy when fed properly.

spike3579 (author)2012-03-21

Very cool. First time I've sen something useful come out of a makerbot. Usually it's the statue of liberty or star wars figures. How long did it take to print the components?

gpvillamil (author)spike35792012-03-21

It took about 12 hours to print all the components, at stock Thing-O-Matic settings. I've had some success with using an experimental firmware that supports acceleration, and thus higher speeds, using that I estimate all parts could be printed in 4 hours.

ironsmiter (author)2012-03-21

I've not played with 123D yet... but might I suggest adding a
and a pointer to the base and boom?

having your photos accurate to within a part of a degree can't hurt any, and might help? If 123D can compensate without issue... the small addition may also make the rig useful for something else?

ironsmiter (author)ironsmiter2012-03-21

on second thought, a MUCH more useful addition would be a flood light mounted on top of the camera support pole.

20-30 pictures, twice = dead AA's for MY camera anyhow.
Without needing a flash, it'd handle 60 image captures without even losing a bar of battery...

gpvillamil (author)ironsmiter2012-03-21

Actually, putting a light on the rig would really throw things off, since the shadows would be in a different position from picture to picture, and would confuse the stitching algorithm. I tested running a string of LEDs up the pole.

If this didn't matter, then it would be a simple matter of putting the target object on a turntable.

The degree wheel is an excellent idea.

About This Instructable




More by gpvillamil:Make more of Tinkerplay with Meshmixer and 123DBeyond the Blocks: Super Duper Rocket with TinkercadMake your own 3D printed Chinese space ship and station
Add instructable to: