When The Getty Center first opened its doors in 1997, a local billionaire remarked that it was "too good for Los Angeles." Luckily, the J. Paul Getty Museum knows better. Nothing is too good for Los Angeles, and no works of art are too good for the people who admire them.
For thousands of years, powerful people have commissioned artists to venture into museums, churches, temples, and ruins around the world to make copies for their private collections. Today, with 3D scanning, photo-stitching, and printing, that tradition is poised to evolve and spread faithful reproductions of treasured artwork far beyond the walls of elite palaces.
Leading the trend, on June 1, 2012 The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced its collaboration with MakerBot Industries to scan and share data models of objects in the Met's collection. Free, open-source, printable scans will be shared freely on Makerbot's object file-sharing site, Thingiverse.com.
The technological changes happening right now are going to up end traditional notions of a museum's purpose as well as challenge intellectual property concepts and practices across many industries. This terrain is shifting very, very quickly: Autodesk has already released an iPad version of their 3D capturing app.
Forward-thinking institutions like the Met have already begun to realize that these new technologies will increase the importance of their objects' provenance relative to their physicality or exclusivity. Museums will eventually be measured by the quality of the data they publish, and their expert scholarship and curation, as much as by the collections they control. With any luck, The Getty and other leading institutions won't let themselves be outdone by the Met, and will soon advance their educational missions by publishing high-quality wire frame models of their artifacts too. In the meantime, the scans the Met and MakerBot are doing, along with amateur surveys, will have to suffice.
While some institutions may be caught flat-footed, or react to new technologies and distribution channels the way Hollywood and the music industry have, the fact is that there are likely already enough photos in the public domain of every important object displayed in world-class institutions for photo-stitching software eventually to model the objects with or without museums' participation. The data has already left the building.
About my survey:
In late May 2012 I spent about six hours at The Getty Center taking over a thousand photos of several sculptures, including my favorites, Harwood's "Bust of a Man" and Deare's "Venus Reclining on a Sea Monster." The lighting conditions and access around all sides of the objects were far less than ideal (given my skills, at least), but I did the best I could. Imagine what The Getty could do!
I had originally intended to spend much more time refining the few models I'd made, re-shooting them as needed, and possibly printing one life-size version and having it cast in bronze before publishing my results. But when MakerBot and the Met announced their project, I wanted to participate right away. I hope you will too.
The results shown in this video are of a quick and *very* rough prototype — more of a practice run — and used a low-res mesh with minimal corrections. I will post all my original photos and object files so that anyone can work with them from scratch or start at any intermediate stage to improve, mix, or modify them. (I'll update this post and tweet with links to everything once I have it organized and online, which may take some time.) All my mesh files will need a lot of work — and help from others — to get better results. For a start, go to here for "Venus Reclining on a Sea Monster," a beautiful object that I have not yet experimented with, but which looks promisingly printable.
Thousands of years ago, artists carved statues of their rulers outfitted as pagan gods. Renaissance artists depicted historic figures from antiquity in anachronistic, then-fashionable clothing. Artists and their wealthy patrons have inserted their own likenesses in all manner of religious, historic, and political settings since time immemorial. Everything is a jumble and a publicity stunt. Art history is remix history, and the more people that have direct access to these forms, the more wild and fantastic their reinventions will be. Pitch in.
I spent several hours scanning sculptures at the Norton Simon Museum in Los Angeles in June 2012. I was very happy that their 1905 cast of Auguste Rodin's 1877 The Walking Man scanned the best: a seminal piece from a movement dedicated to seeing and expressing the world in new ways, with new eyes...
Of all the sculptures in the world that could be machine-scanned and printed, The Walking Man may be the most appropriate for printing as-is from a rough automated scan — unaltered, without "fixing" any of the incorrectly mapped lumps or errant wisps of data streaming off its surface. Ask Bruce Sterling why — #newaesthetic
The video above is output from the scanning software I used. For my 3D printable file, click here.
I updated the Wikipedia entry for Rodin's masterpiece to include references to my scan file. Until a museum releases a higher quality scan of this piece, mine is the definitive publicly available 3D map of this monumental work of art.
— Cosmo Wenman
3D print and photo of my scan by MakerBot Industries.
My print, made on my MakerBot Replicator, bronzed and patinaed with Alternate Reality Patinas, held up to its ancestor (itself a duplicate) at the Norton Simon Museum, November 2012.
"The level of detail and craft is something that's inscribed within the original design concept." — Tadao Ando
In response to Thingiverse's "Capture Your Town" challenge I've captured several locations in Anaheim; "my town", broadly speaking, being Southern California. These are significant locations here, for horrible reasons:
The first 3D photoscan is of an ephemeral memorial marking the location where Manuel Diaz was shot to death by Anaheim police on July 21, 2012, at 704 North Anna Drive.
This memorial is a public display — those signs are there to be read, and to call attention to the physical place where this event happened — but if I had felt even the slightest cue from anyone in the area that I was intruding or unwelcome, I would have left without photographing anything. When I asked permission, a resident of the building waved me into the gated yard so I could photograph the area behind the fence where Diaz died, handcuffed, face down in the grass. As I was photographing, there was a birthday party with children playing in a bouncy house 40 feet away. (You can just barely see it in the next scan.) Eventually this spot will be reclaimed by children at play too; the memorial won't last forever, and this photoscan, crude and ethereal as it is, may prove more permanent.
The second photoscan is of the spot about 250 feet away, at the corner of North Anna Drive and La Palma, where the residents who had immediately gathered were backed up against the intersection. Here, a few hours later, the police met them with "less-than-lethal" small arms fire fired directly into the small crowd of unarmed men, women, and children. A police dog was released into the crowd here too. However poorly rendered in my scan, it's a real place.
The third photoscan is of Anaheim City Hall, where an overflow City Council meeting spilled into the streets, and where police opened up with more "less-than-lethal" fire on citizens, including credentialed, mainstream media journalists.
The fourth photoscan is of the Anaheim Police Department. As I was photographing, a truck cruised by slowly, holding up traffic behind them. Two women leaned out of the truck to shout taunts at the police building. There was raw disgust and contempt in their voices — it'd be hard to describe, other than that they were focused. There were no police in sight — they were shouting at the building and what it symbolizes to them; people vest a lot in "things". Barricades have been erected, police in camouflage military uniforms now stand guard, and news vans wait for chaos.
The fifth scan: a church. As I was leaving, trucks pulled into the parking lot of the Iglesia Ni Cristo directly across the street from the police department. Workers began boarding up the church windows in anticipation of what may be coming to this particular corner of "my town".
While I was photographing, I met someone who's been walking around the neighborhood for a week, broadcasting a live and semi-live video stream from a DIY rig consisting of a smartphone, a steadycam mount, and 48 hours of continuous-use battery life. He's broadcasting via Ustream under "CrossXbones" here.
Here's someone else — "Timcast" — doing the same thing, broadcasting — untethered — a semi-live telepresence: Timcast
Here's Timcast experimenting with a home-brew streaming-video aerial surveillance drone late last year: Drone
Seeing all the news vans, with their antenna masts extended thirty feet in the air, it occurred to me that they're probably just a few hundred dollars' worth of equipment upgrades away from being able to broadcast a live 3D map of their locations. Maybe just two webcams on the masts, offset for stereoscopic capture. Two or more stationary vans synchronizing continuous mast-cam feeds could produce a stream that could be sliced and stitched into a detailed, navigable, real-time 3D environment.