Why Using Full Body Scans Would Be A Big Mistake

While pitching the Shadow app, one of the questions I receive most often is “Why don’t you scan my entire body?
That question is often followed by “Why waste time creating a virtual body when I could just use mine?

These are legitimate questions, especially since we do promise that our users are able to create lifelike avatars through the app.
But as it turns out, using full body scans would be a terrible mistake and here is why.

It Takes Ages

That’s the first parameter to consider. We create avatars from head scans (more details here), and to do that from all angles with a compatible phone already takes from 30 seconds to a minute.

While it is technically feasible to do a full-body scan, the process is much more cumbersome. Staying still while seated is not super natural, but it’s reasonably easy. But try to stay completely still for two to three minutes, while standing, with your arms straight and spread out!

And yes, spreading your arms is necessary, otherwise how would the machine identify the distinction between your torso and your arms? The same goes for the legs.

This is why, in industries where doing a full body scans is key, people take what is called an “A Pose” — obviously, from the shape of your body while keeping still.

A-Pose in a lab (credit: https://ps.is.tuebingen.mpg.de)

Another reason why it’s important to spread the limbs is to minimize “occlusions”. Roughly speaking, whatever scanning system you are using, it is unlikely that you will be able to capture the body from absolutely all angles and distances. In some places, one body part could “mask” another one, and you would be left with an undetermined zone (or just a hole).

The “occlusion” phenomenon occurs even more frequently if the person is clothed. And to be clear, no, we never considered asking our potential users to do their scans in their underpants.
Let’s develop this point further:

Please, Pleeeaaase, Keep Your Clothes On

Could you imagine if you had to undress to create your avatar? Unthinkable.
This would mean that if we assume we’re taking your full-body scan as an input, we need to use the clothes you’re wearing during the capture. Note that some companies that developed 3D scanning booths have chosen to do just that.

But the major caveat is, since you are already dressed, it is not easy for these companies to offer customization options. It would imply that they also have systems in place that automatically remove your clothes’ shapes and colors, and replace them by extrapolating dimensions from a corresponding body. This can be done, but it is not something easily accessible off-the-shelf.

Quick note: for some use cases, it does make sense to do the scan while undressed. Some of the best examples come from the healthcare and fitness industries, including what the team at Fit3D is working on (scan yourself regularly at the gym to closely follow the evolution of your measurements).

Astute use case for full body scanning (credit: Fit3D)

Let’s forget about this for a second. I’m delving too much into the tech details here, and I want to explain the most important reason why, very early on, we chose to dismiss full body scans.

LET’S ASSUME that there were no technical constraints at all.
LET’S ASSUME that you can recreate your 3D double, with your body, just from a couple pictures.
No time wasted, no occlusion, no clothing issues. Easy-peasy!

Well, my friends, I can GUARANTEE that you will not be satisfied by the result.

The reason is simple:

People Do Not Like Their Bodies. (Yes, Including You.)

Two years ago, when we started with our first gaming concept, we did tests with full-body avatars. The invariable reaction was:

Can I look thinner/taller/fitter/etc.?


People did not like what they saw, for two main reasons:

1. You are not used to seeing yourself from ALL angles

In most cases, we see our image in a mirror (..or in selfies), which creates a sort of self-representation bias. When you look at yourself captured from other angles, it’s not uncommon to wonder, “Is this really me?”

This already happens when you go into a fitting room that has mirrors all over the place. It’s so you can see how the clothes fit you from all angles, including angles that you are not used to and might be repulsed by.

2. In most societies, we yearn for idealized body/beauty references.

I don’t think that I need to address here the constantly-discussed impact that the media/Hollywood/social media has on our self-esteem.
The bottom line is that if you could magically change something about your body to make it look better (this being, of course, extremely subjective), then you probably would jump at the chance.

Magic Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Fairest of Them All? (credit: Louis CK)

And since an avatar is supposed to be customizable, it’s only natural that you want it to represent an “enhanced” version of yourself. It’s still you, but a slightly better version :)

Have You Ever Played The Sims?

I wanted to conclude this post on a funnier note. If you have ever played the video game The Sims or any other avatar-centric game, then you must have had a good time tweaking your avatar’s appearance. It’s just part of the fun.

Me trying out two pretty different body types in the Shadow app :)

In the Shadow app, you immediately recognize yourself, since your head is unchanged. But the fact that you can choose different body types adds a fun factor that we didn’t want to turn down.