January 8, 2013

MakerBot Industries exhibited a collection of my 3D printed artwork in their exhibit at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.

We have a common interest in demonstrating that with the right finishes and attention to detail, consumer-grade 3D printers can already produce objects of art worthy of public and private display—objects of desire that show that the 3D scanned and printed future is now.

I am also interested in promoting interest in museums and art collectors publishing 3D scans of their collections, setting the world’s backlog of three dimensional art free into the digital commons. (You can read more about that here, here, and here.)

With my collection for CES, I’ve attempted to merge those themes with another. I have chosen a theme of “3D Printed Portaiture: Past, Present, and Future” in an effort to convey a sense of the weird mix of technology, futurism, timelessness, and anachronicity I see surrounding the young 3D scanning and printing industry, and to point out the bright, burning hunks of science fiction streaking across the sky, just starting to hit the Earth.

The prints’ theme covers a span of at least 1.7 million years of human(oid) history—aeons more if you count the promise of unlimited remix, adaptation, copying, and originality 3D scanning and printing are opening up for us right now.

—Cosmo Wenman

The pieces:


KNMER406 – Paranthropus boisei, 1,700,000 years old

Paranthropus boisei
Age: 1.7 million years
Element: Cranium
Locality: Ileret, East Turkana, Kenya
Date of Discovery: 1969

KNMER406reconstruction Exploring the then-unknown sites of east Turkana near Ileret in 1969, Richard and Meave Leakey and their party were walking along a dry sand river when they saw, looking directly at them, this skull of ER 406. It had some sandstone adhering to the orbits and was without teeth, but it was otherwise complete. It appeared to have rolled out of the dry river bank during the last rains and would most certainly have been washed away during the next rainy season.

This skull is the same species as OH5 (Paranthropus boisei), which Mary Leakey had discovered at Olduvai Gorge almost exactly 10 years earlier. The skull has the characteristic pronounced sagittal crest running along its top, and would have been a male.

I printed this striking visage on behalf of Louise Leakey and her AfricanFossils.org. Leakey and her foundation are interested in getting inexpensive, high quality fossil models into schoolkids’ hands in classrooms around the world. 3D printing seems like an ideal solution, and this print was a proof of concept, and the object of a bit of troubleshooting.

The scan was made by Autodesk. I printed it on a MakerBot Replicator and finished it in bronze with Alternate Reality Patinas.

With Leakey’s permission, my finished print will be displayed at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, in the MakerBot exhibit.



Image source: http://bit.ly/18rsJkL


Bronze Head of Hypnos, God of Sleep, circa 100 BC

There’s something surreal about the whole scan/edit/print process that’s hard to describe. Like a dream, it needs to be experienced to be appreciated. But if there are sculptures that resonate with and might be able to communicate some of that weirdness, the ancient bronze Head of Hypnos in the British Museum is one of them. The subject: the god of sleep, father to Morpheus, god of dreams. The design: an odd asymmetry—the single wing, the missing wing, the ambiguous gender. The whole package makes for a remarkable artifact of otherworldliness that has spoken to people across time.

HypnosOriginalIn 1909, when he was on his way back from a tour of Syria, T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) passed through Naples and wrote a friend “The bronzes in the Naples museum are beyond words.” Lawrence visited a Neapolitan bronze foundry and bought a cheap, flawed freehand copy of the bronze Hypnos head now in the British Museum.

Lawrence loved his Hypnos. He wrote to a friend: “nothing, not even the dawn—can disturb me in my curtains: only the slow crumblings of the coals in the fire: they get so red & throw such splendid glimmerings on the Hypnos.” He also wrote “I would rather possess a fine piece of sculpture than anything in the world.”

The whereabouts of Lawrence’s Hypnos are unrecorded, but a friend of mine has good reason to believe he owns it (but that’s another story), so I’m in a bit of a friendly competition to get one of my own—and now I have it.

I scanned Hypnos in the British Museum using Autodesk 123D Catch, printed it in PLA on a MakerBot Replicator, and coated it in bronze with a blue-green patina with Alternate Reality Patinas in an attempt to make it appear as old and hypnotic as the original.


Image source: http://bit.ly/18rsJkL




Colossal Bust of Alexander the Great, known as “The Inopos”, circa 100 BC

From Faces of Power: Alexander’s Image and Hellenistic Politics by Andrew Stewart:

“It is clear that in antiquity Alexander was a chameleonlike figure indeed, more a paradigm than a person. For not only was his own character multifaceted and contradictory, but his achievements evoked wildly divergent and contradictory responses from those whom it touched. So he swiftly became a cliché—or rather a set of clichés or topoi—to be evoked in images that are wildly divergent in character, quality, type, provenance, date, and, apparently, purpose.

All this points less to a Hellenistic and Roman “portrait” of Alexander than to a complex and multifarious use of his image and its attendant connotations that extended over many centuries. His face was the most influential in history.”

Originally thought to represent the Cycladic river god Inopos, the nearly one meter tall fragmented bust known as “The Inopos” is now accepted as a portrait of Alexander the Great. If the full figure had survived intact, it would stand at well over eight feet tall—god scale. At the Louvre, the imposing, larger-than-life figure hides in plain sight, largely unnoticed, staring down at the crowds that flock to see the Venus de Milo just twenty feet away.

I scanned the original in the Louvre in October 2012 using Autodesk 123D Catch. Using Blender, I digitally restored its damaged nose using a nose I scanned from a portrait of Alexander at the British Museum. I printed the piece in PLA on a MakerBot Replicator2 and reinvented the print in weathered bronze with Alternate Reality Patinas.




Head of Emperor Caligula, circa 40 AD

Almost all portraits of the extremely unpopular emperor Caligula were destroyed after his assassination. The Getty Villa holds a surviving marble bust, which I scanned with Autodesk 123D Catch in November 2012.

From the Getty’s description:

GettyCaligulaOriginal“The Romans had a long tradition of portraiture, but portraits of emperors had a specific propaganda function beyond that of ordinary portraits. The actual appearance of the individual was combined with the political message that the portrait was meant to convey. Portraits of Caligula show a young man with a high forehead, small mouth, and thin lips. He is identifiable as an individual, yet his hairstyle copies that of the emperor Augustus, making a deliberate allusion to his dynastic connection and his right to rule.

The depiction of the emperor in these official portraits bears no resemblance to the unpleasant descriptions of Caligula provided by Roman writers such as Suetonius:

Height: tall — Complexion: pallid — Body: hairy and badly built — Neck: thin — Legs: spindling — Eyes: sunken — Temples: hollow — Forehead: broad and forbidding — Scalp: almost hairless, especially on top. Because of his baldness and hairiness he announced that it was a capital offense either for anyone to look down on him as he passed or to mention goats in any context.

I digitally repaired the ears and nose of the Getty’s portrait, used Alternate Reality Patinas to finish my print in bronze, and attempted to imitate the patina and fracture of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s beautiful bronze portrait of Caligula’s grandfather, Marcus Agrippa. My piece’s green is still fresh and a shade or two on the bright side, but it will darken some as the patina oxidizes over the coming few weeks.



Albert Einstein by Jacob Epstein, 1933

Albert Einstein sat for sculptor Jacob Epstein in Britain in 1933, while a refugee from Nazi Germany. Epstein described Einstein’s “wild hair floating in the wind” and wrote that “his glance contained a mixture of the humane, the humorous, and the profound.”

AlbertEinsteinOriginal_w600 I scanned a cast of Epstein’s bronze portrait in August 2012 in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where it is displayed in a gallery where visitors are encouraged to touch the artwork. I used Autodesk 123D Catch to make the scan. I printed the piece in PLA with a MakerBot Replicator and finished it in bronze with Alternate Reality Patinas.

This study is my first attempt at the outright duplication of a sculpture scanned in situ in a museum, and I am pleased with the result. My scan captured the rough volume of the features’ broader strokes, though not all their individual contours. More time photographing and better lighting would certainly yield a more faithful model.

This subject may be a bit of a cheat, though; Epstein’s loose style is particularly forgiving, and the nearly uniform, dark bronze patina is pretty straightforward to approximate. And, of course, Einstein’s iconic face is so memorable and easily recognizable. His spark leaps through any medium.



Portraits of a Child I & II

I scanned two privately held, traditional busts of children and remixed them with two powerful, otherworldy, and futuristic sculptures I admire: Constantin Brancusi’s 1910 Sleeping Muse and Jacob Epstein’s 1915 Portrait of Iris Beerbohm Tree.

PortraitsOfChild1I used Autodesk 123D Catch to scan the conventional busts of the children, edited them using MeshMixer and Blender, and incorporated details and styling from the century-old museum pieces from photo references. I printed the results in PLA with a MakerBot Replicator and finished them in bright and patinated brass with Alternate Reality Patinas.

I’m not sure what it says about my own perception, or about the current (stale?) state of science fiction imagery, but the futuristic iconography that most resonates with me is from futures conceived long ago. William Gibson “giving up” on predicting the future comes to mind, and fits into the picture somehow. I also think of Disneyland restyling Tomorrowland, moving away from a 1960s brute force engineered future, and toward hundred-year-old Jules Vernesque fantasy imagery.

In any case, the surreal, Promethean spread of creative power via easy 3D scanning and printing hints at very cool, unpredictable things to come. Such as…



Portrait of Alexander the Great, 3D scanned, printed, and realized in solid bronze for the first time in 2,000 years

In August 2012 I scanned the British Museum’s Marble Portrait of Alexander the Great. I printed three life-size reinventions and presented them at the 2012 London 3D Print Show. You can see them here.

Taking a fragment from that same scan, I have recently produced a copy in bronze. Not a bronze finish, but solid bronze. It should last many, many millenia. Longer, I would think, than the original marble.

“Bronze manifests a value unique to itself, atavistic, arcane and deeply linked to our Stone Age forefathers as they made their great technical leap in human history. What unimaginable toil led to the development of agriculture and the use of earthenware! An intellectual leap, said by Claude Levy Strauss, to have been perhaps the most powerful force in humanity’s advancement. Nothing, however, compared to the raw intelligence that first grasped, perhaps in the wilds of Anatolia or Caucaso, that the molten fragments surrounding Neolithic fire pits were the precious metals obtained by the first, primitive steps of chemistry as the magic of fire imparted magical properties to magical stones that the mysteries had brought together…

They learned to cast metal objects in sand molds, to laminate it and to work it with tools, transforming it into weapons, utensils, sheets and statues…

We learned to control the alloy, to adjust its formulations for each usage, to stabilize its surface with sophisticated treatments. We entrusted the covering of Ancient Roman temples and the eternity of the finest sculpture, from the Greek athletes to mythic Renaissance figures. Bronze itself became a myth.” — Phillipe Daviero

The scan-to-print-to-bronze process I used to create my bronze portrait of Alexander is still experimental, but I am extremely happy with the early, very promising results. I’ll have the bronze with me at CES 2013.

I am eager to try more, much larger pieces, and if you are interested in realizing any of my scans—or your own designs or scan commissions—in a truly timeless material and setting them on a trajectory for the deep future and myth, let’s talk.

—Cosmo Wenman
January 2013


Photos from the Louvre, October 2012, and the Consumer Electronics show, January 2013:

Venus de Milo and Inopos Mindshare Competition at the Louvre_w480

Venus de Milo vs. The Inopos mindshare competition at the Louvre. Note the visitors’ gazes.