Dreaming in 3D
Limited Edition’s KH Chan and Julian Wai want to change the way we look at things
The type of holograms found in science fiction productions such as Star Trek and Total Recall will soon be a reality, say KH Chan and Julian Wai, the directors and co-founders of Limited Edition, Asia’s first 3D image-capture studio.
Chan and Wai are technology specialists who worked in the financial industry for more than 20 years. “I initially planned to stay [in Hong Kong] for a few years before heading back to Malaysia, but the opportunities available in Hong Kong gave me the motivation to stick around,” Chan says. “I have now been here for nearly 20 years and plan to stay on.”
Both men are particularly passionate about the possibilities offered by 3D technology. “3D technology has been around a long time, mainly in specialised areas such as the medical, manufacturing and design industries,” Chan says. “Recent advances have made it more available to consumers and I believe it is going to be the next big thing.”
Chan’s partnership with Wai started quite by accident. “One day, while having a casual chat, we found we had similar thoughts on 3D technology and where it was heading,” Chan says. “After some research and company visits abroad, we decided to start our own business.”
It took six months to set up the Limited Edition studio, which opened for business in February this year. It is located in an industrial district in Chai Wan that is currently being transformed into commercial space. “Our studio is spacious and we have a relaxed environment because we want to bring our customers a new and unique experience,” Chan says. “After going through the product samples and packages with customers, we bring them to the 3D image-capture dome. Many people are wowed as they walk into the dome and are fascinated by the number of cameras and state-of-the-art equipment.”
One of the biggest challenges is explaining to customers how 3D image capture works. “Many people do not know the difference between 3D scanning and 3D image capturing,” Wai says. “A crude analogy would be this – a fax machine scans a document before sending it to another fax machine. These days, however, people can use their phones to take a photo of the document and then e-mail or WhatsApp it to another person.”
At present, many customers come to Limited Edition to make “mini-me” figurines. “Everyone, me included, loves to take pictures, so why not do something that is even more powerful than a picture – a 3D image?” Chan says. “We capture the 360-degree image of a person and, with that information, produce a 3D figurine with 3D printers. The figurine will be an exact replica of the person, only smaller.”
One major group of clients for figurines is couples planning to get married. “Almost all couples take wedding pictures. But having their own 3D figurines takes visuals to an entirely new level. People tend to put their wedding albums away after showing them to friends and relatives, but a figurine is something to put on display and pass from generation to generation,” Chan says.
One of the biggest advantages of Limited Edition’s technology lies in an ability to capture a moment in 3D almost instantaneously. “We did a figurine of a husband carrying his wife in his arms. He was able to hold the pose for less than a second, but we captured it,” Chan says.
While making figurines is popular, Chan thinks there are many other opportunities to use 3D image-capturing technology. “My next step is to produce holograms and 3D image viewing,” he says. “For a wedding invitation card, guests will be able to see not just the picture, but also a 3D rendered image of the couple via any mobile device. We can also produce icing-sugar figurines of them to put on the wedding cake.”
Inquiries also come from parents keen to make figurines of their children. “It would be amazing to see the different stages of growth of a child through figurines made at various times in their life,” Chan says. “We also have a lot of demand from pet owners who want to find a better way to remember their pets other than photos.”
Chan is also collaborating with commercial clients and believes the fashion industry in particular could be a strong source of opportunities. “It would be great for readers of fashion magazines to view a garment from all the different angles instead of just those offered by 2D photos,” he says.
He also thinks advertisers will be keen to produce 3D images of their products, and that even doctors can make use of imaging to treat patients. “People who undergo cosmetic surgery will have a clearer idea of what they will look like after surgery by looking at a 3D image of their face,” he says.
Chan believes that the potential for 3D imaging remains largely untapped. “It is such a new technology,” he says. “Wai and I are only two minds and our ideas are limited. The key is to educate the public about it. It is more important to let clients learn about the technology and suggest to us how we can help them. I am sure clients can come up with creative ways to put the new technology to use.”
To help more people learn about the new technology, Chan is now organising school and university student visits to the studio. “No university teaches 3D imaging technology, but now that we have mastered the technology, it will not be too difficult for us to train new talent,” he says. “People with backgrounds in programming and animation will have no problem learning the new technology, so I don’t foresee a problem with recruiting if our business is to expand.”
LEARNING FROM FAILURE
Chan and Wai give their advice on starting a new tech business in Hong Kong.
Know your target “As with starting any business, be committed, patient, creative and ready to pivot into the most receptive area of public comments.”
Never give up “Stay firm in your course and belief. Be very focused and do not get swayed into something simpler and seemingly easier to achieve. If it was that easy it would not be a good idea.”
Take action “The biggest differentiator in starting a tech business in Hong Kong is not coming up with the best ideas, but in making them happen.”
Stay resilient “Never feel defeated by failures. Learn and become stronger with a new approach.”
Branch out “Leverage from the multitude of technological resources. Hong Kong offers a great platform to groom and harvest technical innovation and creativity.”