3D laser scanners are well known for their use in the engineering and manufacturing industries, but in the entertainment industry? Not much. After its introduction in 1998, companies whose tasks could obviously be simplified by scanners, such as product design and manufacturing, immediately implemented laser scanning. However, in the past 12 years, laser scanning has reached an increasingly wide range of industries and organizations that can also take advantage of 3D scanning’s ability to collect precise physical data of objects, spaces, and environments—a recent example of which can be seen in the National Geographic Channel’s use of laser scanning to scan the interior of East Philadelphia State Prison—famous for being one of the most terrifying prisons in America.
According to National Geographic, since the prison’s official closure in 1971, the prison’s caretakers and visitors have heard “eerie voices, screams and agonized screams, while others have seen shadows cast in and out of the cells.” Previously featured on various shows about the most haunted places in America, the prison was well known for its hair-raising tails before the National Geographic Channel took its turn. But the prison has not been thoroughly examined with hard science tools as well as suggestive tools commonly used by parapsychologists and psychiatric investigators, such as EVP and video recorders. As a result, viewers were able to travel inside the prison thanks to 3D animation generated from triangulation scans and see where ominous noises and strange sightings are supposed to occur, as evidenced by motion sensors, night vision, and infrared cameras.
The subject of the prison’s primary survey was the twelfth cell block, where more ghostly phenomena are said to occur than other cell blocks. For National Geographic scientists, the challenge was determining whether the cells did indeed display unexplained events or that such events were the result of those who believed in ghosts and therefore inadvertently understood the phenomena due to the prison’s ghostly reputation. To get an answer, the researchers decided to use laser scanning in combination with the aforementioned technology to identify any event in cell block 12. In terms of 3D scanning, triangulation scanners were chosen for their ability to scan relatively large areas with incredible accuracy.
In the end, as with the other famous hauntings, the ghostly goings-on of Eastern State Penitentiary cannot be legitimized or explained. But the presence of laser scanning, among other technologies, gave viewers a greater level of insight toward drawing their own conclusions. In addition to its use in documentary specials, laser scanning is also commonly used in the entertainment industry to create video game characters whose movements are based on real human movements.