Image (c) Spin Me and Foto Robot.
“After six years,” say Paul Beddis and John Warner of Spin Me, “we’re still learning.” But they’ve come a long way. What started as a shot in the dark has been fully realised; in fact, their innovative, high-tech service exceeds their original ambitions by a long way.
Spin me is the official UK distributor of Foto Robot’s suite of 360°-imaging robots. The concept is simple: place an object on a turntable, connect your digital SLR to a robotic arm and, in seconds, the proprietary software will handle the automated creation of a photographic animation of that object, which can then be used on ecommerce sites to increase sales.
Spin me started more than six years ago when the pair, who have a background in IT, worked together for another company. But when one of them was made redundant, they decided to move forward with their plans. They rented an office space, and experimented with 360° models rather than straightforward panoramas. “We were in touch with an ecommerce company and got the contract to shoot hundreds of products for their Christmas catalogue.” But when they started shooting, they ran into problems.
“Shooting one single product is fine,” says Warner. “But when you have to handle volumes, that’s when the challenges start. We spent days, evenings and weekends on it. economically, it didn’t make sense.”
The pair decided to find a more efficient way of working. “We started building scripts to cut down the time,” says Warner. “Paul’s idea was to build an application to help us. That’s when the workflow software at the heart of Spin me started its life.” The scripts automated the shooting and stitching of images to create product animations, but that was only half the story. Until two years ago, Beddis and Warner worked in their own space, but they were told that the application they’d created “was worth more than anything you’re doing in your studio”.
However, even then, they only controlled the software side as the turntables, at that time, were not connected to the software. So, in their quest to find the right partner, the pair stumbled upon a small czech company – Foto Robot.
Foto Robot started as the spin- off to an online vendor of power tools. “They developed a series of turntables to photograph the power tools they were selling online,” a spokeswoman told BJP when we saw its stand of large-scale robotic arms at Photokina earlier this year.
Spin me admired the quality of Foto Robot’s hardware, Warner explains. “The equipment they produced can’t be equaled. It’s very robust, reliable and well designed. But we saw that the way they were capturing the images was long- winded. It made sense to partner with them. They produce the hardware; we provide the software.” Together they enable companies to create 360° animations on a repetitive basis – something that has always been a challenge.
“We’re starting to see a lot of interest for 360o dynamic imaging,” Warner tells BJP. “companies are seeing the value of such images on their websites.” And, according to Spin me, these animations have two advantages: “They attract customers by giving them a better online experience, and it reduces the number of returns.”
Spin me estimates that returns cost UK businesses more than £1bn a year. “Businesses are trying to reduce this and, in order to achieve that goal, they need to help customers make the right choice. Imaging is one thing that can help.” The idea is that if a customer can see exactly what they are about to purchase, they are less likely to make a mistake and return it.
But the other attraction, claims Warner, is more psychological. “By being able to interact with the animation, you instigate a two- way communication,” he says. “By taking control of the product, you bring engagement and, as any sale person will tell you, the key to selling is to engage the customer.”
From jewellery to cars
Foto Robot and Spin me offer a variety of hardware packages, big and small. “We’ve shot jewellery, footwear, guitars, computers, doll houses, high-end fashion glasses and motorbikes,” says Beddis. And, with the recent release of a new platform, Spin me can even create 360o animations of cars in record time.
At the Photokina trade show, Foto Robot demonstrated the creation of 360o animations of shoes, phones, cars, and even models – who sat on specifically designed chairs connected on a rotating pole.
“We can shoot most products in our own studios at prices starting at £15,” Beddis tells BJP. “But we’re also selling the hardware to stores and photographers.” The smallest platform retails at €3000.
While smaller companies often ask Spin me to shoot their objects in its studio, larger players “want to take it on themselves, especially if they have an in-house studio”, says Warner. “We provide training and can set up the studio and workflow according to their needs.” And training is key. “People don’t always appreciate the challenges you’ll come across when doing these type of animations,” says Warner.
“While a photographer might know about lighting, the techniques involved in this type of photography are different. In order to get consistent results, you need to take colour control into account, have a clean background and be careful about reflections with certain objects.” Also, the object has to be perfectly centred using a series of lasers for precision, says Beddis. “You can’t do this by eye. If your product doesn’t spin on its axis, you won’t be able to produce a seamless animation.”
Spin me is getting results. “Selfridges, B&Q and Dixons are looking to take on the technology,” says Warner. “It’s been very successful. We’re providing the means to produce these type of animations for the web in an efficient and economic way – a way of tackling high volumes in a studio environment.” In fact, he says, some companies that are looking for only four or five shots of an object at different angles are also requesting Spin Me’s help. “It’s far quicker for us to shoot an animation and pull four or five still shots from it than it is to reposition the object each time during a traditional shoot. All of this is thanks to the software.”
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