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Winter Carnival Scans


The Geospatial Engineering department at Michigan Tech owns some LiDAR scanning solutions, thereof which includes a FARO Focus 3D. I—alongside others in the Douglass Houghton Student Chapter of the National Society of Professional Surveyors—perform scans of snow sculptures during Winter Carnival , an annual event on campus that includes snow sculpture competitions.


We perform scans of the winning sculptures, which in recent years has consistently been Phi Kappa Tau. We complete our scans using the FARO Focus 3D. Phi Kappa Tau's snow sculpture featured a landscape of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, which included a boat of oompa loompas and factory buildings. The sculpture was about 65 feet wide, 100 feet long, and at its highest point, 26 feet tall.

Photo of Phi Kappa Tau snow sculpture

Phi Kappa Tau's winning snow sculpture in 2023.


The scan was completed in 15 setups capturing ~93 million points.

Photo of Phi Kappa Tau snow sculpture

The FARO Focus 3D used to scan the sculpture (this is their 2022 sculpture).

Point cloud of Phi Kappa Tau snow sculpture

A screenshot from FARO SCENE of the point cloud.

I then brought the raw capture data into FARO SCENE for processing. We opted out of not setting up targets onsite because we predicted SCENE would be able to register the scans based on surrounding geometry being mostly buildings and structures. This would prove to be true and the mean point error is less than 0.17 inches. You can view the full registration report here .


Once the scans were processed in SCENE, I exported ordered point clouds. These could then be brought into RealityCapture where cleanup and mesh calculation could be performed. I removed some power poles, trees, and other artifacts from the point cloud. I then calculated a mesh and decimated it to fit within Sketchfab's upload limit.


SketchFab provides a great platform for viewing 3D models. I uploaded the model and used the 3D editor to modify the model's materials. I used its post-processing tools to add a vignette and color grading. The blue midtones and shadows help give the illusion of a cold winter day. I also fine-tuned the reflectivity of the snow to make it appear more realistic.

Here's the final model. Note, it is quite large and may take a while to load.