RapidMade, Inc.'s CEO and head of the Baltimore Sales office just attended the Smithsonians Institutes's X3D Conference in Washington. The SI has been a trailblazer in applying 3D printing and 3D scanning to digitally save and make replicas of priceless artifacts and artwork to ensure that future generations will always have access to these treasures. Below is her account of the event.
Yesterday’s presentations at the Smithsonian SERIOUSLY AMAZING took me back to early 2011 when I watched the Egyptian uprising on TV with a mix of anticipation and dread. I had just visited Cairo in late 2010 and had the great fortune to see many of its treasures first hand. Watching the events unfold, I realized that I might be one of the last outsiders privileged to see them for some time… or ever if they were destroyed or stolen.
Smithsonian SERIOUSLY AMAZING reminded me that the ability to capture artifacts’ images using 3D scanning techniques can’t prevent destruction or theft, but can allow the pieces to be retained for indefinite viewing and study and, with the advent of Smithsonian X 3D, an on-line vehicle, enable anyone from anywhere to see them in a highly interactive way. For many, Paul Debevec’s keynote address was the conference highlight: the journey of this industry pioneer began with him taking multiple photos of his car from every possible angle and manipulating them to make it do computerized stunts. Along the way, he analyzed the influence of light on captured images to evaluate its impact on scanning. And while he is best known to laypersons for creating the special effects for Avatar, those in the field believe his best achievements are still to come (sorry for sounding like a cheap movie trailer)!
Understanding how 3D scanning works doesn't detract from seeing it in action. Curators demonstrated Smithsonian X 3D’s capabilities by sharing images of the Cosmic Buddha, Wright Flyer, Gunboat Philadelphia, Killer Whale Hat and Cerro Ballena (Whale Hill). The scans allowed us to see these artifacts in ways not possible in the museum.
- Clicking on “hot spots” let us read narratives that further highlighted significant points.
- Presenters manipulated the images to show details up close or in a different light.
- The Cosmic Buddha’s stories were color-coded and laid out flat, so its stories literally unfolded.
- The Wright Flyer was dismantled and explained in detail.
- The Gunboat Philadelphia was reconstructed to illustrate what it looked like before it sank.
- The Killer Whale Hat and Cerro Ballena presentations reinforced one key advantage that 3D scanning has over traditional museum displays – often the museum doesn’t possess the artifacts it wants to share. Archaeologists at the Cerro Ballena dig had days to complete their work. Scanning the pristine site allowed them to collect volumes a data in a short time frame. Similarly, reproducing the Killer Whale Hat with 3D scans and prints lets us see and touch it while the original remains with its owners, the Tlingit Dakl’weidi clan.
Thursday’s agenda continued the discussion by considering future applications that experts suggest include efforts to expand and “scale up” scanning and printing.
In keeping with the interactive nature of the event, the Tech Gallery exhibitors showed off body scanning booths, 3D printers, CAT scan applications and more. It also prompted the inevitable debate that arises among groups of art patrons... one’s treasure is another’s trash… when a colleague called the customized 3D prints of people a collection of junk, I felt compelled as the owner of a 3D printing company to offer another perspective. That’s what I love about 3D printing. It’s personal. It lets each of us decide what is important to us and allows us to create it. At the end of every
soccer season, I love creating personalized ornaments for my daughter and her team mates. And although they are not as elaborate as the equipment, architectural or artistic models we make, to me, they are art. In the end, that’s what is so great about 3D scanning and printing. It is the access it provides to anyone interested enough to try it.