Thai boy cave rescue – 3D scan journey through the cave complex

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3D Scanning of Tham Luang cave

Our involvement in the Tham Luang cave rescue documentary began through our involvement with our worldwide LiDAR surveying service “Commendium 3D”. We were invited to scan the mountains and the Tham Luang cave, to capture the ‘complete cave system and the mountains above’, thus delivering the first accurate 3D built system of the Thai cave. The 3D Lidar scans would be later used to illustrate the story of the rescue in the “Drain the Oceans” documentary with compelling 3D effects.

Tham Luang Cave in Northern Thailand was virtually unknown beyond the small village bordering Myanmar. It all changed when, on the 23 of June 2018, twelve young boys and their football coach became entrapped by unexpected floodwaters. One and a half miles inside the cave system the boys waited, The International effort which took over three weeks must rate as one of the most impressive and courageous rescue missions in history.

National Geographic

The documentary film was for one episode of National Geographic’s “Drain the Oceans Series”. Filming and film production were expertly led by MSPTV in Bristol and we worked on 3D visuals with 422South, also of Bristol. Using our scan data 422South built some stunning CGI to accompany the 3D visuals included in the film.

Roo on Camera

In the field, our first week was spent supporting the filming of the cave. This involved filming us scanning, working in the cave, many interviews, and of course carrying filming gear through the cave.

3D scanning Roo Walters with Sophie Elwin Harris Directing and Rob Franklin Filming

Scanning the Cave

After supporting the film crew, we started the two weeks of cave scanning. Scanning included the mountain above for which we employed the terrestrial LiDAR and drone surveys. 3D scanning started from the far end of the cave complex; this meant our trips into the cave became easier as we progressed. Whilst hot, dry, and energy-sapping with 25kg of survey equipment, plus another 15kg of photographic gear, the cave is, for cavers at least, relatively easy, but some sections did involve flat out belly crawling and a few slippery climbs.

As we traveled deep into the complex, we kept finding parts of the cave that were not recorded on the original survey. These new areas also had to be scanned to gain a complete 3D model of the cave. A key part of the film was to explain how the cave had flooded so quickly, so every cm had to be recorded. Ensuring we had captured all the data, we built rough 3D models out in the field, checking the meshes and models.

Back in the UK

Once back in the UK, all the 3D scan models, consisting of 8.7 billion data points and more than 7000 photographs, were rebuilt in higher resolution. With the 3D data captured, built, and checked, we liaised with 422South to build further CGI models and effects. The modeling and CGI process produced some fantastic visuals, the results are stunning. Caving experts having watched the documentary say they struggled to spot where CGI was being used, it is simply amazing. The film is a new visualisation of this underground world. The results of our 3D scans and the whole National Geographic Documentary about the plight of the Thai Schoolboys in Thailand is available on National Geographic and Disney channels, located under “Drain the Oceans” – ‘Thai Cave Rescue’, the trailer is HERE.

The latest brilliant news on the documentary is, it has won a silver medal at the New York Festival Film and TV awards.

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