Starburns Industries Uses 3D Printing to Bring Greater Realism to Anomalisa Character

Product: CJP Print
Industry: Design and Art

3D printer delivers color, volume and quality to enable Starburns to create “thousands upon thousands” of faces for stop-motion puppets.

“Sad,” “beautiful,” “witty,” “every character fascinating and boldly realized”: These are not words one typically associates with a stop-motion film starring puppets.

But, then again, the film Anomalisa is something that’s not been seen before.

The range of expressive humanity achieved in the film was made possible by the high-resolution 3D color printing of the 3D Systems ProJet® CJP 660 system. Starburns Industries, a full-service production company based in Burbank, California, used the 3D printer to turn out thousands of different faces with life-like details such as wrinkles, smiles, frowns, worry lines and bags under the eyes.

Starburns Anamolisa CJP Printed Faces

Aesthetic Value Meets Productivity

Over the last few years, 3D printing has become commonplace in the movie industry for applications such as prototyping, prop making and creating objects that are difficult to construct in traditional ways. But, in the sheer volume of parts and in the emotional realm in which it is used, Anomalisa sets new precedents for 3D printing in entertainment.

Duke Johnson, co-director of Anomalisa, along with Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), cited 3D printing for helping to establish the inner feelings of the characters and providing a higher level of detail.
But for all the aesthetic value that the ProJet CJP 660 helped bring to the characters, the use of this particular 3D printer came down primarily to productivity: the system is fast, reliable and generates life-like color. 

The ProJet CJP 660 outputs full-color 3D prints in one run without having to change palettes. Its build area of 254 x 381 x 203 mm (10 x 15 x 8 inches) enabled Starburns to turn out dozens of faces with different expressions in a single run within hours.
“Color is the most important attribute for us, along with speed and the volume the machine can produce,” says Bryan LaFata, Operations Supervisor at Starburns Industries. “We were running the ProJet almost non-stop for a year and a half during Anomalisa production, creating thousands upon thousands of faces.”

Thousands of Expressions   

Starburns modeled and printed three basic head designs for Anomalisa: One each for the lead characters Michael and Lisa, and another for what is called the “world face,” a composite face modeled from 20 or more Starburns employees. The world face was used for every character except Michael and Lisa.

The faces for the characters include an upper and lower faceplate. Thousands of expressions were modeled and printed by Starburns for the characters. This gave animators access to nearly every possible expression for a given scene.
“We produced racks full of faces so they could be switched out at any time,” says LaFata. “It could take multiple facial models just to get the right smile.”

Retaining the Look and Feel  

A conscious choice was made by the Anomalisa directors to keep the lines between the upper and lower faces in place without digital airbrushing.

James A. Fino, Executive Producer and Partner at Starburns, explains this decision in an article on the Producer’s Guild of America website: “Recent stop-motion animated features typically erase those lines digitally, but that was not our choice for Anomalisa. Rather than a distracting element, the seams serve as subtle and persistent signs of the incredible artistry on display in the film.”

In a New York Times article by Mekado Murphy, co-director Kaufman explained it this way: “We didn’t want to hide the fact that it’s stop-motion. We didn’t want to paint out the thing that it was…we wanted that feeling of the unseen presence of the animators.”

Starburns also did minimum post-processing of the characters’ faces, retaining the look and feel that came directly from the ProJet 660. Again, this was the directors’ preference.

“We used [3D printing] for a very specific purpose with the realism that they wanted in the faces, and the textures and the differences in color would not have been possible by hand-painting,” says Caroline Kastelic, Starburns Puppet Supervisor, in an IndieWire interview. “And that’s why they have that nice texture on them…I find that aesthetically brilliant and it also saved us a lot of time.”

Local Support 

Creating the thousands of faces, dozens of body models, and the realistic sets for a production such as Anomalisa takes teamwork; not just among the nearly 200 people at Starburns, but by outside partners as well.

LaFata gives credit to 3D Rapid Prototyping, a 3D Systems partner based in nearby Garden Grove, California, for keeping Starburns supplied with materials and even printing face models when needed.

“We were pushing out a lot of faces, often 24/7, and Bill Craig [3D Rapid Prototyping President/CFO] and his team were always there to help us out,” he says.

Big Future for 3D Printing 

Starburns Anamolisa CJP Figures

No matter how fascinating the behind-the-scenes technology is for a film, the ultimate measure of success is how the story is delivered. In the case of Anomalisa, 3D printing is not just a special effect or quirky conversation piece; it is integral to the way the characters perform.

The approach seemed to have struck a chord: Beyond Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, Anomalisa was the first animated film to win the Grand Jury Prize at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival. In his five-star review in Rolling Stone magazine, Peter Travers calls Anomalisa a “stop-motion masterpiece.”

Bryan LaFata doesn’t think Anomalisa is a one-off phenomenon.

“The scale and speed at which you can produce full-color models on a machine such as the ProJet CJP 660 is definitely a major benefit,” he says. 

“I think 3D printing has a big future for stop-motion films.”

Artec Leo helps Vorteq create the world’s fastest cycling skinsuits

Product: Artec Leo
Industry: Design and Art

In high-performance cycling, speed is everything. And even if you’re racing on an indoor track with controlled conditions, you’re going to be battling wind resistance and drag every turn of the pedals. With up to 90% of a cyclist’s energy output being spent to overcome air resistance, reducing drag is paramount. In terms of professional riders and serious hobbyists, there’s comparatively little to be gained from spending what could easily be ten thousand dollars and up on a more aerodynamic bike. With the rider’s body being responsible for roughly 80% of the drag, and their bike the remaining 20%, it makes far more sense to focus on the rider, their biomechanics in various riding positions, their training, and especially, their clothing.

Vorteq is making use of a full-sized, sports-dedicated wind tunnel, a custom fabric wind tunnel, and the latest in 3D scanning technology to create custom skinsuits for cyclists. A skinsuit is essentially the most aerodynamic piece of clothing a rider can wear, reducing their level of drag down below that of being naked. A quality skinsuit should also be comfortable, lightweight, breathable, and made specifically for the athlete wearing it. Otherwise they’re bound to fit improperly and wrinkle up, and in the world of aerodynamics, every wrinkle adds to performance-killing drag. As well, many fabrics “open up” when overstretched, introducing greater drag across their surfaces, so fabrics and seams should be chosen carefully for specific areas of the body, with each skinsuit designed and manufactured to have the exact amount of fabric tension for that particular rider’s anatomy, to achieve optimum airflow and the least wind resistance. Considering how body shapes and sizes of cyclists can differ so dramatically, such a customized fit simply isn’t possible with an off-the-shelf, small-medium-large type of skinsuit.

Vorteq’s parent company, TotalSim, has deep experience from working closely with professional cyclists, Olympic cycling teams, Tour de France riders, and other top cyclists over the past 10 years. This has made it possible for Vorteq to create what they believe to be the fastest skinsuits available today. To engineer their skinsuits beyond what was ever possible in the past, Vorteq has invested in excess of $500,000 in R&D, while testing more than 45,000 different material, tension, and speed combinations in the specialized wind tunnels at Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub (SSEH). The end result is every athlete receives their own skinsuit, created with custom patterns and fabrics, each designed for maximum performance.

Despite Vorteq’s lengthy work exclusively with Olympic teams and other elite athletes, as of January 1st, 2020, their custom skinsuits are available to serious riders of all levels of experience. This means that any cyclist, not just the pros, now has the chance to get a custom Vorteq skinsuit, and when they’re sprinting towards the finish line, they’ll be wearing the same level of skinsuit technology as if they were one of Vorteq’s Olympic clients.

To create these custom skinsuits, the use of a 3D scanner is a crucial element for digitally capturing a rider’s exact anatomy, and in the hours that follow those few minutes of scanning, all the sizes, patterns, and types of fabric will be meticulously selected in the computational draping system and then assembled by Vorteq’s skinsuit team.

In the past, TotalSim was using an arm-based scanner for scanning race cars, bicycles, and other objects, but when it came to using the scanner for capturing people, they ran into significant difficulties and weren’t able to proceed any further with their old technology.

That’s when Vorteq turned to Artec Ambassador Central Scanning, specialists in all aspects of 3D scanning. During an onsite visit and consultation, the experts at Central Scanning recommended the Artec Leo, a revolutionary handheld 3D scanner with a built-in touchscreen and up to 80 fps capture rate, as well as being an entirely cable-free scanner that excels at capturing medium-sized objects such as people in mere minutes. TotalSim had used two Artec scanners in the past for their CFD and metrology work, Artec Eva and Artec Spider, so they were already familiar with Artec’s high level of scanning technology.

When Sam Quilter and his colleagues at Vorteq saw how fast and accurately Leo captured the exact anatomy of a cyclist, they knew they had found the right tool for the job. In the hours after taking delivery of their new Leo, they began creating their digital capture workflow, which Quilter described as follows:

“The rider comes into the wind tunnel with their bike, mounts it in place on the platform, hops on, and in just 5 to 6 minutes with Leo, I capture the rider in two positions in precise, high-resolution color 3D. And then I need just another minute to capture their shoe, on all sides,” Quilter said. “Basically this means that in ten minutes I can be totally done with that rider and they can go elsewhere. I’ve got everything I need to design an anatomically-accurate, fast-as-a-bullet Vorteq skinsuit. No chance of a rescan needed. Not once.”

Quilter continued, “We usually scan cyclists in their underwear, to get as much detail of the body as possible, so that when we design the skinsuits, they lay down perfectly over that cyclist’s anatomy in a way that just isn’t attainable if we’re designing from a scan that includes some overlying fabric blocking exact anatomical structures from view.”

“When we’re making our skinsuits, we’re working directly from the Leo scans, so it’s not measurements we’re taking, it’s the exact physical data that’s being used, and the difference is crucial. Because if you’re taking physical measurements and then entering them into a CAD system, or a computational draping system like ours, something is going to be lost in the transition. And that something can easily result in imprecise dimensions being used to create a skinsuit, which is entirely unacceptable to us. Even one tiny mismeasurement could result in a wrinkle here or there, or fabric being overstretched. So, for us, how Leo gives us the exact physical data of the athlete to work with makes all the difference.

Quilter summarized the process, “From the time an athlete walks in the door and we start scanning with Leo, then using Artec Studio to post-process the scans, followed by 3D modeling work in Geomagic Wrap, and finally exporting the 3D model for use in making a skinsuit, we are looking at about 2 hours total, which absolutely wasn’t possible in the past, not even close. And as far as the total production time for a skinsuit that’s ready to race, currently we’re at 2 days, but that gap is narrowing, and we’re shooting for a 24-hour turnaround time, which we’re sure to hit before too long.”

Quilter explained his post-processing workflow in Artec Studio, “Leo makes it easy for me. Not many steps are needed in Artec Studio at all. I basically read the Leo data in, double-check everything visually, then use the Eraser tool for a few clicks to remove any occasional, unwanted bits. I normally keep the bike in the scan, since it’s a great reference point to get XYZ positioning as well as the angle, and then I go into Global Registration, where I just use the default settings because they work brilliantly as is. Normally I don’t need to do Outlier Removal, because the data is already clean enough for a person. Then I do a Smooth Fusion, and after a few other minor changes, I export it as an STL file for use in Geomagic Wrap.”

“In Geomagic Wrap, I use the Decimate tool to get the triangle count down further, and if I’m getting rid of any wrinkles, which shouldn’t be in the scan, but on a very rare occasion might be, I use the Relax command, and then I move on to the Smooth commands, which let me cut out any imperfections, because sometimes athletes twitch their fingers during the scanning, and we need to fix that. After we’ve done all we need to do, we export it as an OBJ file for use in our computational draping software,” Quilter said.

Vorteq’s newest offering is that of using their Leo to create scans for 3D printing anatomically-precise mannequins of athletes. These mannequins are then used to create new skinsuits for the athletes without them having to visit the Vorteq office. Let’s say, for example, that a cyclist is training on the other side of the world and needs a skinsuit specifically for an upcoming long-distance time trial that’s mostly on the flats but also includes a long downhill phase. By having a 3D mannequin of the athlete, Vorteq can create a custom skinsuit for them, test multiple fabrics and patterns in its wind tunnels, and craft the new skinsuit in the hours that follow, then express deliver it to them on the other side of the world, or anywhere. At present, the custom mannequin process takes just under 2 days, but that number is decreasing with each passing week. The target turnaround time is 24 hours from 3D scan to completion for creating a new 3D-printed mannequin.

Quilter spoke about the why behind 3D-printed mannequins, “A full-sized mannequin lets us do wind tunnel tests on fabrics in isolation on just an arm, for example, to see how various fabrics and patterns affect drag reduction. That’s where the marginal gains really add up. Because with a live rider in the wind tunnel, there’s going to be the wiggle factor to deal with, where the rider is moving around, even ever so slightly, and that’s going to affect results. With a live rider, you can never have the exact measurement possible with a perfectly still mannequin, where the only factor that’s changed is the fabric that’s been put on.”

“Mannequins don’t get tired, and they’re always perfectly still, which allows us to know exactly what kinds of changes our fabrics and designs are causing in terms of drag and performance.”

TotalSim also provides biomechanical consultation and training for cyclists and teams, advising athletes on which body positions, equipment adjustments, riding habits, and clothing will either enhance or diminish their power, drag, endurance, and more.

“Our mission is to help serious athletes, many of whom are already at the top of their game or near, find those many ‘tiny’ gains that when you add them all together, can really give an athlete the kind of edge that helps them surge over the top and on to victory,” Quilter said.

In addition to Vorteq’s skinsuits and TotalSim’s biomechanical consulting and training services, they also provide scanning services to a range of clients, including cycling teams. Their Leo has played a pivotal role in their ability to 3D scan anywhere their projects lead them, whether in-house, around the UK, or overseas.

As Quilter explained, “In contrast to our previous scanners, Leo gives us that flexibility to just pick up and go virtually anywhere in the world to do scanning, without requiring extra hardware, just the Leo itself. This kind of freedom is tremendous when you’re going offsite to random locations that aren’t exactly laboratories in regards to their conditions.”

Artec Space Spider scans gigantic 150-million-year-old Stegosaurus skeleton

Product: Artec Space Spider
Industry: Design and Art

One of the most iconic scenes depicted in a dinosaur exhibit has to be the Stegosaurus and Allosaurus facing off in the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. The 26-foot-long Stegosaurus represents Colorado’s State Dinosaur. Not just the species of dinosaur, but the individual specimen that was adopted to represent the state. Stegosaurus was a herbivorous dinosaur weighing up to 10 tons that inhabited the area now called Colorado 150 million years ago. What makes this particular Stegosaurus so special is not the fact that it was found in Cañon City, Colorado, or even that it was mostly complete, a very rare thing for dinosaur skeletons. It was found by a class of high school students on a fossil-hunting field trip in 1936, and the teacher of that class of students, Frederick Carl Kessler, was able to arrange for his students to work alongside professional paleontologists to excavate the fossil skeleton.

Enter Mike Triebold of Triebold Paleontology, Inc. (TPI) in Woodland Park, Colorado. TPI restores and mounts fossil skeletons and creates skeleton casts, supplying them to museums across the globe. The company’s clients include the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The TPI headquarters house a collection of casts and original fossil specimens, which are on exhibit at the company’s hands-on natural history museum, the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center.

Mike Triebold was looking to add a Stegosaurus to his catalog of casts, but not just any Stegosaurus. He was focused on getting the famous Kessler Stegosaurus at the Denver Museum for the project if at all possible because the new Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience in Canon City was being built and they wanted a copy of the Stegosaurus that was collected by Kessler near Canon City.  RGDE owner Zach Reynolds’ grandfather regularly accompanied Kessler on dinosaur digs from the 40s through the 60s, so the Stegosaurus has both family and community ties.

Discussions ensued and with the Denver Museum’s blessing, the work began

Reproducing this specimen was complicated by a couple of factors. One is the size of the specimen. Not only is this dinosaur over 26 feet long, but with the tall plates lining its neck, back and tail, it is also over 9 feet tall. Normally the size would not be an insurmountable challenge as each individual bone would just be molded in silicone and cast from liquid plastics. This specimen is not just bones on shelves though. It was mounted and placed on exhibit in the 1990s using purely permanent means, so it was not built to ever be taken apart. Steel was shaped around the skeleton, welded in place, and permanently puttied to the bones, so molding the individual bones in silicone was rendered impossible.

To recreate this specimen TPI’s Matt Christopher needed to mold it using 3D scanning. “We needed to three-dimensionally digitize the skeleton that could not be dismantled so that a replica could be 3D printed,” says Matt. “The dimensions and surface details needed to be close enough to what we would get from a silicone mold so that we could hand-finish 3D prints to look exactly like the original specimen.”

TPI used Artec Spider structured-light 3D scanner along with Artec Studio 3D scanning and processing software for the job. The scanner was supplied by Artec’s local partner 3D Printing Colorado. “Our Artec Spider captured exactly what we needed,” says Matt.

Spider was used to scan individual bones and regions of the skeleton as individual projects in Artec Studio. “This involved crawling inside the rib cage (yes, a full-grown person fits inside the rib cage of Stegosaurus) to capture the dorsal vertebrae forming the dinosaur’s back and the medial surfaces of the rib cage, shoulder blades, and hips,” says Matt. “There were also some interesting poses taken atop a step ladder to reach the tops of the big fan-shaped plates on the dinosaur’s back. We were able to capture all of the elements we needed, from the tip of the nose to the huge spikes at the end of the tail.”

The team ended up with 629 individual scans across 71 individual scan projects in Artec Studio. The number could have been higher, but in order to save time it was decided to skip scanning the elements that could be mirror-imaged to generate the other side, like the arms, legs and ribs.

Each scan needed to be aligned, cropped, and converted to 3D mesh files in Artec Studio. “The alignment features in Artec Studio were absolutely paramount to the success of this project,” says Matt. “Aligning each scan was as simple as manually orienting to a loose approximation of the correct position and letting the alignment tool refine the fit to perfection. Using Artec Studio to create and control the mesh generated from the aligned scans allowed us to extract the exact level of detail we wanted for manipulating and 3D printing.”

Exported meshes were free of artifacts thanks to a filter in Artec Studio that removes all elements smaller than the master scan. Small holes were automatically filled using the hole filling algorithm in Artec Studio. “Had we been scanning individual, unmounted bones, it would have been easy to generate complete, watertight meshes directly out of Artec Studio that would have required no additional post processing” says Matt. “With the steel armature remaining to be removed and the obstructed surfaces left to be reconstructed, watertight meshes were not really an option or a necessity for remaking the Stegosaurus.”

The resulting meshes were imported into ZBrush for separation of articulated elements, reconstruction of surfaces that were impossible to reach with the 3D scanner, like the spaces between articulated bones, and removal of the steel armature that obscured some bone surfaces.

TPI has a variety of 3D printers at their disposal ranging from a small Formlabs Form2 SLA desktop unit to a large-format Atlas from Titan Robotics. With numerous printers working on the project, printing the skeleton required six months. As the prints were finished, they were lightly resurfaced by hand and prepared for molding by adding mockups for internal steel armature and articulating some specimens to be molded in sections rather than as individual bones. Each completed bone or assembly is called a master. These masters were then molded in silicone rubber using high quality liquid silicone rubbers in two-part to multiple-part molds; something TPI staff has been doing for nearly 30 years.

The finished molds were then fitted with internal steel to be surrounded by plastic resins in the casting process. “The plastic is poured around the steel, so no external armature that would hide bone surfaces is needed,” says Mike. “With the casts poured around the armature, we can assemble the skeleton in any one of an infinite number of poses and weld together the steel protruding from inside each plastic cast. The mounted skeleton is then ready for hand-painting and delivery.”

With the project now completed, it will be on permanent display at the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience (  www.dinoxp.com ) in Canon City, Colorado, being unveiled on Saturday, May 19th. Zach Reynolds, his family and dad Dave will now be able to share the fulfilment of this important wish with the public for years to come.

According to Mike, this project would have been impossible to complete a couple of decades ago. “With our Artec Spider we were able to marry the best technologies of today with the most advanced traditional methods of molding and casting to create an exact copy of that great dinosaur without even touching it,” he says. “Now, how about that Allosaurus…”

Artec Eva digitizes 500 years of history from one of the world’s oldest synagogues

Product: Artec Eva
Industry: Design and Art

The Holy Torah Ark of Mantua is one of the rarest and most impressive exhibits at the Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in Jerusalem. Designed to house the holy Torah scrolls and created by the finest craftsmen of Mantua, Italy in 1543, this unique wooden ark decorated with the original gilded carving is one of the oldest in the world. Its style echoes that of the biblical Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which is believed to have housed the Ark of the Covenant. It was designed in the shape of a building and features architectural elements such as columns and capitals.

From the time of its construction to the present day, the Mantua Ark has undergone multiple incarnations. Finally, after World War II, with a declining Jewish community, the ark was shipped to Jerusalem and placed in its present abode. Once there, it underwent extensive renovation, preservation, and restoration, all of which brought it back to its wonderful present condition.

For an ordinary visitor to the museum as well as visitors to the museum’s website, however, the ark’s special history in regards to its symbolism and features remains unknown. Its size and position prevents close inspection and even the features which are visible cannot be fully appreciated.

In 2015, the Nahon Museum initiated a project designed to tell the story of the ark, its journey, and its historic meaning in the context of Jewish Italian life. The website Mantua in Jerusalem outlines the history, life, and culture of the Mantua Jewish community and the importance the ark held to its people, generation after generation.

It was for this reason that the museum chose to embark on an ambitious endeavor – to 3D scan the ark and make it fully accessible to visitors, both in person and virtual.

Due to its size, geometry, and the complexity of its texture, the scanning of the Mantua Ark posed certain challenges:

  • The topography of the ark – extremely complex, with numerous areas without direct visual access. In addition, the ark stands so close to museum walls it left very little room for the scanning equipment to work, as well as operating the scanner at the angles required to reach the blocked surfaces.
  • The texture. The ark was initially made of wood. However, its entire surface is coated in a gold leaf, which is smooth and shiny – one of the most hard-to-capture surfaces for any 3D scanner. When it came time to do the scanning, it was neither permitted nor practical to coat the surface with matte powder. Even if it were, it would have altered the surface quality of the ark.
  • Thirdly, while the topography of the ark is complex, the texture is very symmetrical and the pattern is repetitive, which somewhat complicated aligning and fusing the multiple scans.
  • And finally, the size of the ark (over 3 meters high) made the scanning process all the more challenging.

After assessing the complexity of the job, it became clear that the highest-quality tool is needed to digitize the ark, and the museum turned to Caliber Engineering and Computers Ltd, Artec 3D’s Gold Certified Partner in Tel Aviv. Zvi Grinberg, head of Caliber at the time, was immediately brought into the project. Being so different from the technical engineering CAD projects his company usually undertook, he recognized both the professional challenge and the unique cultural value of this project, which he volunteered to take on at no cost.

After a thorough examination of the ark, the Caliber team decided Artec Eva was the most suitable scanner for the job. Called “a monster among handheld scanners,” this structured-light 3D scanner excels at capturing medium-to-large objects with an outstanding accuracy of up to 0.1 mm and exceptional resolution, even for black and shiny surfaces, which gives it an edge over other scanning solutions on the market. Plus, it is lightweight and fast, which makes it especially helpful when capturing diverse historical pieces, sculptures, and monuments in far-from-ideal scanning environments, whether on a sunny day outside or deep within a dimly lit gallery.

To capture the ark from the ground up and give the scanning team easy access to the top of the object, special scaffolding was built in the museum. Normally used for medium-sized objects, it was a personal challenge for Eva to capture such a large object. It took 15 hours over three days for the team to complete the scanning, followed by several more to align, clean, and fuse the multiple scans together. Overall, 78 separate scans were made. The final model was over 700 MB and contained over 16 million polygons.

“Despite the ark’s large size, we’ve managed to get good results with Artec Eva right from the first attempt thanks to the texture and geometry of the ark. After the scan, we were able to finish all the work at the office using Artec Studio software, with no need to come back for additional scans and repair,” said Guy Engel, CEO of Caliber Engineering.

After the initial processing stage, the Caliber team reduced the size of the file while maintaining the quality of the original scans, and touched up the 3D model to prepare it for public display. At this point, the file was passed on from Caliber to the Department of Photographic Communication at the Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem, to Associate Professor Moshe Caine specifically. Having extensive knowledge and experience in 3D scanning and photogrammetry solutions for cultural heritage preservation, Professor Caine polished the 3D model of the ark to the peak of perfection.

Professor Caine’s scan processing workflow went as follows:

Fine-tuning and cleaning minor defects of the mesh using Autodesk (beta) Memento Software.

Adding in a back wall and floor. Because the ark was mounted to the museum wall, it was impossible to scan the back and underside of the ark. Rather than construct a false rendition of them, it was decided to computer generate a simple wall and floor and add them to the model.

Image processing of the texture map. Despite the meticulous work during the scanning stage, small defects still remained, as well as an inaccurate color rendition of the ark. Additional photography was subsequently carried out using a DSLR Nikon camera, and the corrected surfaces were fused into the original UV map. Various methods were tested for this purpose, including:

  • Parameterization and texturing from rasters in Meshlab.
  • Exporting the map as a PSD (Photoshop) file, correcting in Photoshop, reimporting to and then exporting the corrected model.
  • Opening the OBJ file in Photoshop and working directly on the texture layer. Ultimately, a combination of the above techniques was employed until satisfactory results were achieved.
  • Color correction was carried out on the final texture map with Photoshop software, using the actual ark as the sole reference.

After scanning dozens of historical pieces, Professor Caine elaborated on his approach to the 3D scanning and processing workflow:

“One major piece of advice (for those planning to 3D scan cultural heritage) is this: work slowly and carefully. Don’t hurry. Move in as close as possible to the object. Use lots of soft light. And remember the saying: ‘Garbage in… garbage out.’ The result will only be as good as the work and care that goes into it.”

When Professor Caine finished his meticulous scan processing, the final model was uploaded for public viewing to the Nahon Museum website Mantua in Jerusalem, dedicated to the art of Mantua’s Jewish community. In addition, an onsite kiosk with a touchscreen was installed next to the ark, making it possible for museum visitors to view the magnificent historical showpiece from all angles, zoom in and out to examine every detail, and most importantly, to have immediate access via hotspots to the relevant information for various aspects of the historic artifact.

The overall response to the model has been very positive and enthusiastic. According to the museum’s personnel and Professor Caine, people particularly appreciate the ability to explore the ark up close and from all angles. This is the magic of 3D models, which 2D images or even physical objects as large as the Mantua Ark normally cannot compete with. Projects such as this are an amazing example of how 3D scanning technologies transform the way we perceive and can preserve cultural heritage.

Back in the 1500s, the citizens and members of Mantua’s Jewish community couldn’t even imagine that their descendants would one day not merely be able to see their community’s signature artifact all in one piece, even after 500 years, but also be able to explore it up close in 360 degrees without even leaving their homes.

Great Pagoda, Kew, Returns to 18th Century Glory with Help from 3D Systems

Product: SLS Printing
Industry: Design and Art

Restoration is a major undertaking. Beyond the painstaking care essential to preserve and stabilize historical structures, restoration includes lots of research and planning to return relics to a known or assumed state with as much integrity as possible.

When the Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) in the United Kingdom began its undertaking to restore The Great Pagoda, Kew, it faced some monumental challenges. Several key design elements from the original building had been lost to history, and replacing them quickly proved challenging in terms of cost, logistics and design. Yet by bringing the technologies and expertise of 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing to this project, this effort was made not only manageable, but efficient. 

Using a scan-to-CAD workflow with selective laser sintering (SLS) additive manufacturing, 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing team delivered durable and repeatable fixtures for HRP’s restoration effort. Far from a hands-off process, the team contributed many hours of frontend engineering and backend finishing to provide high quality full-service design and manufacturing expertise.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Though popular opinion of King George III may be divided, there is no denying the impact of his 59-year reign. Beyond the countless volumes of extensive studies and films on his life and rule, his legacy is steeped into the very earth of the lands he governed – particularly at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the gardens are home to The Great Pagoda, a striking 163-foot structure commissioned in 1761 and built in ornate and highly fashionable Chinoiserie style.

In the years following the pagoda’s unveiling, it drew crowds of tourists who came to marvel at its exotic and eye-catching details. Central to all conversations were the 80 painted wooden dragons that adorned the octagonal corners of each successive level.

The talk of the town for more than twenty years, the Kew dragons were removed in the 1780s to accommodate roof repairs to the pagoda and were never replaced. Although rumors allege the dragons served as payment for royal gambling debts, experts believe the wood had simply rotted over time. An often revisited topic for conservationists, The Great Pagoda is finally being returned to its former splendor, dragons and all, for the first time in over 200 years. As part of a restoration project undertaken by HRP and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, this batch of dragons is designed to stand the test of time with special reinforcement by modern technology.

Quality fit for a king

As HRP began to explore methodologies for replacing the dragons, it faced a dilemma: not only would wooden replacements invite the same longevity issue as before, but the pagoda had not supported the weight of the dragons for two centuries. “One of the most challenging aspects of this project was to minimize the impact imposed by so many dragons on this grade one listed building,” said Craig Hatto, Project Director at Historic Royal Palaces. Concerned that the aged structure may respond poorly to the sudden reintroduction of 80 full-weight, large-scale ornaments, HRP wanted to explore a lighter-weight alternative to help guarantee a successful and incident-free installation. Paired with these practical considerations were the equally valid issues of the time and costs associated with traditional materials and processes.

HRP was looking for a restoration solution that would answer the quality, weight, time and cost concerns inherent to the project. In searching for a supplier capable of delivering on all aspects, HRP asked 3D Systems to submit a competitive tender, which it subsequently won on the basis of being able to provide the expertise, technology, quality and scalability required to fulfill the project.

Designing the dragons

The Kew dragons were brought to life as a collaborative effort between two sets of specialized designers. The exterior appearance of the dragons was recreated by HRP using the scarce historical information available to achieve the most accurate representation possible. Once designed, a dragon prototype was carved from wood to enable the digital manufacturing workflow that followed, undertaken by the second design and engineering team at 3D Systems. Seven additional wooden dragons were carved to adorn the first level of the pagoda, leaving 72 to be created using SLS printing.

Using a reverse engineering workflow and a FARO® Design ScanArm, the carved wooden dragon was scanned into a 3D design environment that would allow 3D Systems to address HRP’s concerns regarding weight. 3D Systems’ design experts used a variety of software including Geomagic® Design X™ to reverse engineer the scan data into CAD and hollow the scan data to a controlled thickness, preserving both the exterior details and structural integrity in the process.

When combined with the intricate exteriors of the hand cut masters, the resulting hollow geometry was too complex to be manufactured traditionally and required additive manufacturing for production. Using a digital manufacturing workflow also enabled 3D Systems to seamlessly scale the dragons to achieve a slightly different size for levels two through ten of the pagoda. In total, 18 designs were prepared, comprised of nine different dragon sizes and a left- and right-hand version of each.

3D Systems’ engineers incorporated another simple yet compelling feature into each of the dragon designs by adding built-in mounting features directly into the CAD files. These designs constituted part of the dragons’ construction designs, and were devised and implemented by 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing team in close collaboration with Hockley & Dawson, the other lead engineering team on the project. Due to the mechanics required for reinforcement and mounting, each of the 18 dragon variations required individual attention and design work.

“The final dragons are essentially a perfect copy of the original, but have been improved upon in a way that is invisible to the observer,” said Nick Lewis, General Manager UK, 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing. “We engineered internal elements for a secure mounting process, but designed them in such a way as to be completely concealed so no nuts, bolts or traces of construction will be visible.”

Hidden benefits of additive manufacturing

Taking advantage of the ability to design for additive manufacturing, 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing team incorporated a series of screws, threads and covers that follow the exact form of the dragons along the spine. “The final structures we delivered take advantage of the unique value that can be extracted from the additive process,” said Lewis. “Engineering in this way is common practice for us, but it is still miraculous to our customers. The wow-factor makes it fun to reveal, but to me it’s about being resourceful and solving problems more effectively and efficiently, which is a central benefit of using our technology.”

3D Systems’ engineering expertise is built into each of the 18 different versions of the dragons that were SLS printed. As 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing Regional Sales Manager Simon Hammond points out, the ability to match precision with variety is a consistent benefit of using additive manufacturing for production. “Many hours of careful engineering work were put into the final designs, but by using a digital workflow with 3D CAD and 3D printing, we are able to frontload the time investment,” Hammond says. “Once final files were ready, we could launch into production with 18 different outcomes without 18 sets of tooling and molds. Designing and manufacturing the same outcome with good cost and sensible timing would be challenging for any other process.”

Following 3D scanning and design, early prototypes of the dragons were printed for analysis and testing to ensure the final designs were built in accordance with the stringent requirements of modern construction.

Throughout this process, 3D Systems worked diligently to deliver on the customer’s aesthetic requirements while meeting all the technical requirements of the builders. These considerations came into play as 3D Systems’ engineers determined how to best divide the SLS models for printing as well as position and conceal the various caps and closures for mounting.

Production 3D printing for historical restoration

3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing teams in the UK and the Netherlands printed the dragons using SLS technology. Due to the large scale of the dragons, each with final dimensions in the 1.2 – 2 meter range, 3D Systems sPro® 230 SLS machines were chosen for the task. With a maximum build volume of 550 mm x 550 mm x 750 mm, the sPro 230 enabled the dragons to be produced in a low number of large pieces that were expertly assembled by the 3D Systems team.

The dragons were 3D printed in DuraForm® PA, a durable polyamide 12 nylon material capable of producing a comparable look and feel to the original dragons. The resolution and mechanical properties of DuraForm PA make it an ideal candidate for complex parts with thin walls or snap fit requirements. In the case of the Kew dragons, these features suited both the functionality requirement of installation as well as the cosmetic requirements of the historic restoration. Once printed, the dragons were finished and hand painted in the UK by the 3D Systems High Wycombe finishing department. 3D Systems’ team also painted the final wooden dragons to ensure visual consistency across the project.

“3D Systems is greatly honored to have been selected for this project,” said Lewis. “In addition to the rare opportunity to help restore a cultural and historical landmark, this project showcases the extreme element of what we do. Our expertise extends far beyond 3D printing and we were able to offer guidance across multiple stages of this restoration, from engineering and scalable production through to finishing.”

The big reveal

After standing for 200 years without its proper ornamentation, The Great Pagoda, Kew, will finally be restored to draw curious crowds once more. “Over the decades, many have tried and failed to recreate the lost dragons at Kew, which has now only become possible through the innovative use of 3D printing,” says Hatto. “The specialist team developed an innovative, lightweight and durable solution, which has ultimately allowed us to return these lost icons to this treasured royal building. The dragons can take their rightful place within this UNESCO World Heritage Site and once again be part of the London skyline for many years to come.”

Whether you are seeking full reverse engineering and low volume manufacturing services or need fast turn 3D printed parts, advanced prototyping or appearance models, 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing can help. Technologies include a broad array of 3D printing technology and finishing expertise as well as conventional CNC, urethane casting and injection tooling.

Node-Audio Evolves Hi-Fi Sound with 3D Printed Speakers

Product: SLS Printer
Industry: Consumer products

Nearly every piece of high-fidelity (hi-fi) equipment seeks to claim live-performance sound quality, yet many of these products are manufactured very similarly to their box speaker counterparts. The HYLIXA loudspeaker by Node-Audio represents a true departure and hi-fi industry breakthrough, made possible by using selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing to produce a distinctive, complex cabinet structure. According to David Evans, industrial designer and co-founder of Node, this revolutionary new speaker was not only produced with 3D printing; it was inspired by the capabilities additive manufacturing makes possible.

Seizing the opportunity to create a high-value product

Industrial designers Ashley May and David Evans entered the hi-fi world because they saw an opportunity to do something that had never been done. With access to a 3D Systems SLS 3D printer in their production facility, they put their heads together to devise a high-value, high performance product that took advantage of the additive process.

“It was like a fresh start for us as designers,” says Evans. “We’ve always known how to design things so they could be manufactured in a particular way, whereas this sort of threw everything out the window and opened up our imaginations to what was possible.”

SLS, or selective laser sintering, is an additive manufacturing technology that fuses powdered materials together in a self-supported build style. Because of this layer-by-layer manufacturing process, it is possible to achieve far more complex and organically shaped components than conventional manufacturing methods allow.

Using 3D sound simulations to iterate the ideal design

With the industrial design component under control, Evans and May enlisted the help of an acoustic engineer to guide the technical development of a new loudspeaker. Their vision was to create a loudspeaker that produces audio quality that rivals a live experience, with beautiful, sculptural aesthetics.

The development process began with 3D designs from Evans and May that then ran through specialized 3D audio simulation software to inform the next iteration. As the simulation output began to confirm the next-level sound the team was after, they began to prototype and refine further, until finally arriving at Node’s flagship product, HYLIXA.

HYLIXA speakers feature a conical cabinet with a patent-pending helical transmission line that spirals for 1.6 meters around the cabinet interior. This line is fed by a dedicated bass driver and releases the sound through a circular vent around the mid and the tweeter. Because the rounded cabinet is designed and manufactured as a single piece, there are no edges to produce diffraction (a disruption to sound precision). This results in smooth sound travel and an enhanced listening experience. According to a review on the hi-fi music gear website The Ear, “the [more complex] the music gets, the better [HYLIXA] sounds, which is the opposite of what you get with most speakers.”

HYLIXA loud speakers by Node Audio

Maximizing technology in design and production

Production and prototyping for the HYLIXA speakers are done on a 3D Systems sPro™ 60 SLS printer. The speakers, which are sold in a set of two, are each printed separately within the printer’s 381 mm x 330 mm x 460 mm build volume. Evans says the team maximizes each build by nesting the other components within the speaker cabinet.

The cabinet and front baffle components of HYLIXA are printed in DuraForm® GF, a glass-filled engineering plastic that delivers an excellent surface finish that is machinable and paintable. As the primary display piece of the speakers, Node puts the HYLIXA cabinets through a methodical post-processing regimen to evacuate all material from the pieces and prepare the surfaces for whatever finishing the customer requests. 

“We learned through the prototyping process that DuraForm GF actually worked very well acoustically,” says Evans. “It has almost a ceramic-like quality to the touch, which helped us both structurally and sonically. As designers, we could freely exploit SLS production to create the internal structure, but also design something that looked as beautiful as it sounds.”

“Every component that we 3D printed, we’ve done for a reason,” says Evans. “We’ve used the technology to benefit the product in one way or another, and pushed to take everything to the absolute limit.”

Close up of SLS produced loud speaker HYLIXA

Reception in the industry and future products

After launching HYLIXA in 2019, Node sent several pairs of speakers to hi-fi industry experts for their unbiased take. In addition to descriptions such as “radical,” “unusual,” and “seductive,” publication Hi-Fi+ praises the speakers for “an almost unbelievable ‘out of the box’ sound” with “an exceptional dynamic range.” 

“The feedback has been even better than we first hoped, to be honest,” said Evans. Having now earned credibility within the industry, Node has more up its sleeves and is looking to grow. Evans says what’s to come is still “very top secret” at the moment, but Node remains committed to its process. 3D printing will be an integral part of the company’s strategy to differentiate itself by doing things that haven’t been done before.

Learn more about this story here.

Mao Zedong’s horse was turned into a 3D model, twice

Producto: Artec EVA
Industry: Design and Art

A controversial figure in the Western world, Mao Zedong stands out from the crowd of national leaders and other historical personalities for hundreds of millions of Chinese. The legacy of the founder of the People’s Republic of China is revered, thoroughly studied, and passed down from generation to generation.

A chapter in Great Helmsman’s life story was recently updated as 3D scanning technology was called upon to preserve for posterity the appearance of Chairman Mao’s favorite horse, which was taxidermied shortly after he died of old age.

What makes the horse so special?

Legend has it that the horse, nicknamed Little Blue One, saved its owner’s life during the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949). Who knows if modern China would be the way it is today if Mao’s horse had made a move at the wrong time during a military withdrawal operation called The Long March (1934-1935)

One afternoon, while Mao and his comrades were being chased by rival Kuomintang squads, Little Blue One with his owner on his back stopped under a cliff they were passing by. No one could understand why the horse simply refused to move until they heard a roar coming from afar – moments later, enemy combatants buzzed overhead. Thanks to Little Blue One, the group went unnoticed in the shadow of the cliff.

At the end of the Civil War, Mao brought his Little Blue, a horse with military merits at the time, to Beijing, where he lived his life in a special enclosure at the Beijing Zoo, until his death in 1962.

Conservation project: completed and reopened

Soon after, the Beijing Museum of Natural History ordered a taxidermy mount of the legendary stallion. After the work was done, the precious relic was taken to the Revolutionary Memorial Museum in the city of Yan’an, northwest China, where the Communist Party had its headquarters from 1935 to 1947.

As time passed, small cracks began to show up here and there, threatening to cause the entire mount to crumble, making the urgent need for restoration really pressing.

Before embarking on the project, the museum administration decided to make a high-precision digital copy of the support to compare its condition before and after restoration. The work was commissioned to Artec 3D Beijing Onrol Technology Co., Ltd. Gold Partner, who had the required experience in 3D digital archiving.

Choosing the right 3D scanner

Every day counted. The scan should be done in the shortest time possible. The Onrol team was given just one day to scan the horse in 3D and convert the collected data into a flawless 3D model.

Attaching targets to the object for better tracking was just out of the question. Even touching it was forbidden, not to mention the use of any hardware that could pose a risk to its condition.

It didn’t take much deliberation to choose Eva as the 3D scanning tool for the project. This portable scanner has been the device of choice for quality control and heritage preservation with companies and institutions ranging from Tesla to the British Museum.

Absolutely safe to use, Eva has a flash bulb and a set of LED lights, the same as in lamps found in any room, to project a structured light beam onto the surface of an object and detect its curves with a precision of up to 0.1 mm.

Along with the object’s shape, Eva captures the texture with a color depth of 24 bits per pixel, giving more than 16 million color variations – more than the human eye can perceive. Capturing Little Blue One in true color was vital to the project.

Scanning speed mattered no less than the quality of the scans. Eva can take up to 16 frames, or snapshots, per second. Each snapshot covers an area approximately the size of a sheet of paper from A4 to A3. This field of view is ideal for working with medium and large objects, such as horseback. When moving around the object, the user takes several snapshots with the scanner of it to 3D digitize the entire surface in a minimum time, preserving all the necessary details.

Ultimately the scanner is very light (0.9kg) and easy to handle, which was another factor that tipped the scales in Eva’s favor.

On-site 3D scanning

On the appointed day, Little Blue One’s taxidermy mount was taken to a designated workshop, where scan specialists from Onrol performed scans, one holding the scanner and the other holding a laptop to which data from the scanner was transmitted.

The team used Real-Time Fusion, a tool from Artec Studio’s 3D scanning and processing software that merges the raw data into scans on the fly. In most cases, especially if the object is large and has complex geometry, full processing is required after scanning, but thanks to real-time fusion, the user can see a preview of the final 3D model on their screen during the scan and immediately understand if the collected data is complete or if some parts of the surface have been lost. Since the possibility of a second scan session was ruled out, Artec Studio’s real-time fusion played an indispensable role.

Simplified 3D data processing

Initial processing of the raw data was done on-site, taking only a few minutes. After verifying that they had gathered all the necessary data, the Onrol team headed back to their office to process the scans into a high-resolution 3D model in Artec Studio.

Artec Studio is loaded with a number of powerful features, allowing you, for example, to automatically remove the base on which the object was scanned, or to organically repair and seal holes and gaps in your scans. The software even takes care of the brightness while scanning, adjusting it to avoid overexposure. When is it really useful? If the lighting conditions were far from ideal during the scan, you may end up with one side of the object being brighter than the other and then having to spend hours fixing that. With automatic brightness adjustment, there is nothing to worry about.

The finishing touch, the texture mapping, was done at a rapid pace, all thanks to the fact that version 14 of the software, which was used in the project, saw an 800% increase in the speed of mapping textures.

Now, the 3D model was ready, and its measurements (length, width, and height) were taken.

All objectives met

Obtaining the 3D model of Little Blue One, the museum proceeded to the restoration. After it was completed, the montage was 3D scanned with Artec Eva and measured in Artec Studio again. No critical discrepancies were found between the two 3D models of the horse, attesting to the high quality of the restoration work.

The Onrol scanning team and museum administration agreed to collaborate further to monitor the condition of the restored mount so that it can be preserved centuries ahead.

The timely three-dimensional digitization of precious artifacts is key to preserving cultural heritage and advancing research in anthropology, paleontology, and a number of related fields. If they are shared or posted online, the high-resolution 3D models of artifacts can be accessed by anyone with an interest, regardless of where they are located. 3D scanning technology is an easy way to create digital doubles of fossils and specimens at excavation sites, or museum exhibits, avoiding the need for any physical contact with the object. Ultimately, 3D models can be displayed through interactive virtual reality platforms, expanding the reach of museums both locally and around the world.