A Study in Gloss

Secondment review by Sina Mehraeen

One’s ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature
                                                                                     ― Arthur Conan Doyle

Here are the chronicles of my adventures during my secondment at the Department of Psychology, University of Southampton, under the supervision of Prof. Wendy Adams and Prof. Marc Ernst.

The Objectives of the trip:

  1. Gain an understanding of the interaction between illumination and material perception, including analysis of spherical high dynamic range natural illumination environments.
  2. Gain experience of working in a Psychology department in another EU country.

To begin at the beginning, I was excited to work with Wendy and to be exposed to the cool research she does on material perception, illumination environments and rendering virtual objects.  I had also never been to the UK, and was eager to get a glimpse of that part of the world.

The plan was twofold; first, I would conduct a pilot study on the interaction between illumination and gloss and how gloss might affect the way we manipulate a physical object. At the same time, I would try to learn as much as possible on rendering virtual objects in natural illumination environments and learn the statistics involved.

Sample HDR illumination environment sourced from the Southampton-York Natural Scenes (SYNS) Dataset. The SYNS dataset is a collection of high definition images (and their relevant metadata) from around 100 rural and urban locations.

After a short trip to a metal supermarket, we got some nice aluminum box pipes which we would use as our physical stimuli. The main question we were seeking to address with these physical objects is whether their glossiness affects the way people handle them. This is in line with previous studies looking at the relationship between gloss and touch (Kerrigan, Adams, & Graf, 2010 ; Adams, Kerrigan & Graf, 2016).

Aluminum box pipe

Once the objects were cleaned and nicely polished, we started testing out a suitable experimental setup. This proved more challenging than expected due to the unpredictable nature of natural lighting. In order to get the desired outcome, we really had to control the angle and intensity of illumination so using natural lighting was out of the question. We also tested various coatings to get the objects to be as glossy as possible. Currently, we have made some tweaks to the set up and we are in the process of data collection; so more info coming soon.

On the side and as a secondary objective, I began learning the basics of Blender to generate virtual objects and to import them as .obj files into Octane Render. Octane is fast rendering engine which allows for easy manipulation of minute elements which make up a scene, e.g. material qualities an object might possess and how those certain qualities (e.g. surface reflectance) interact with light. Once we had set those parameters, we placed them in a natural illumination environment and got something that looked like this:

A virtual object placed in a natural illumination environment

To conclude, I’d like to thank Wendy, Marc and Erich for their continuous support during my stay and also Davide and Paul for helping me with the setup. I’d also like to say a big thanks to everyone I had the good fortune of meeting at the Department of Psychology in Soton; for showing me around town and volunteering to participate in the experiment. Looking forward to seeing you all again soon.

Cheerio!

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