Chevette Page

Reconstruction and Animation

Updated 6/14/2016

In the summer of 1991, while ostensibly working on a railroad track condition database at the University of Illinois, I decided that I wanted a three-dimensional computer model of my 1980 Chevette. After some thought and experimentation, I devised the following method of transforming digitized pictures of the car into a reasonably accurate, texture-mapped model. I parked the car next to a tall building and, assisted by friend Ken Brownfield, took telephoto pictures of it from the front, top, sides, and back. I manually located the silhouette of the car in each image, and used the silhouettes to carve out a voxel sculpture of the car. The surfaces of the exposed voxels were then colored according to the images. I then created a short animation of the Chevette flying across the screen. Although (and perhaps because) the final model has flaws resulting from specularities, missing concavities, and imperfect image registration, it unequivocally evokes an uncanny sense of the actual vehicle.

The process of modeling the Chevette. Three of the six original photos taken June 14, 1991 are shown across the top. Ken Brownfield appears at right, holding a backdrop to assist in image segmentation. The box shows how the segmented Chevette images are used to carve out the shape of the car and then to color it in; the central view is computer-generated. A sampling of frames from an animation using the Chevette model are shown at bottom.

The Chevette Project was mentioned in the 5/12/1997 Los Angeles Times.

Mark Ramshaw's Feb 2002 article in CG World magazine mentions the Chevette Project's role in The Campanile Movie and beyond.

The Chevette movie is also available in MPEG (105K) and Quicktime (203K) forms. You can also view a mosaic of all of its frames. A color rendering of the volumetric intersection rendering has recently surfaced. For the Chevette Project 25th anniversary, Yoshita Sharma and I were able to convert the original Chevette model file to an .obj file with per-vertex color (1.5M vertices) viewable with MeshLab so we could walk around the car on a VIVE VR headset.

The project was originally done using a 386 IBM PC for the modeling and a Sun 3/80 for the rendering. The project laid the groundwork for my Ph.D. work at UC Berkeley, Facade: Modeling and Rendering Architecture from Photographs.

The Chevette Project was covered in two different Japanese TV shows (NHK in 2003 and WOWWOW in 2008) about the history of computer graphics, both noting the influence from the flying Delorean effect at the end of the movie Back to the Future.

Additional Chevette Information:
There is a page with a number of documentary photographs of taking the Chevette photographs and the original photos shot for the 3D reconstruction.
On the left is the earliest known film of the Chevette, seen with its original owner (my Mom), in 1980. The dealer sticker can be seen through the back seat window. (MPEG, 200K)
The Chevette appeared in a May, 1994 Aerial Mapping Survey of the UC Berkeley Campus, parked in front of my house on Vine Street. (Click on image for wider view.)
The Chevette has returned to central Illinois, and as of July 20, 1997 is being safely stored in a barn on the Norton family farm, just south of Champaign-Urbana.

Special effects technician Karl Nettmann used the Chevette dataset for a previsualization study for the 1999 film Inspector Gadget wherein the hero (played by Matthew Broderick) drives a Chevette prior to his robotic transformation. A photo from Karl's previsualization is to the left and some stills from the film sequence are below.

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