Evan Penny - Commentary


3D Imaging

2008 to present

In 2007 I began exploring the potential of 3D imaging (laser scanning and photo capture) and associated 3D reproduction technologies (CNC milling, rapid prototyping). My enquiry was motivated by a number of interests and concerns.

While my work, leading up to this point had been totally hand built, it was progressively implying an engagement with digital imaging technologies. So it was not a large step to ask, “What will happen if I actually engage these technologies? What can they offer me, and what can I offer in return?” In other words, “What can it offer conceptually and technically? How far can it go and at what point(s) must I intervene in order to fulfill my vision?

I decided to approach from two distinct directions. The one was to scan directly from a living subject (body scan). The other was to scan from an existing sculpture (inanimate object). The two technologies employed are quite different and yield significantly different results.

Body scans need to happen very quickly because the subject is living, breathing and moving. These quick spontaneous captures are relatively low resolution and produce somewhat unreliable data (shape distortion, loss of detail and resolution). And because human skin is translucent, the laser has trouble seeing the surface accurately. One might imagine them as small image files enlarged, with the resulting pixelation.

By contrast inanimate objects are stationary and opaque and the capture can happen over a much longer period of time. The resulting file can be significantly higher in resolution and contain much more reliable data.

A significant conceptual point of interest for me, and my motivation for engaging the scanning process, rises from a feature and expectation of portrait photography: That it captures a mood and expression associated with a moment in time. I was interested in resolving one of the conundrums I’ve always faced in my process: “Why, as the longer I work, and the more accurate the description becomes, the more neutral the gesture becomes and the less it feels like the subject?” For example with the L. Faux project, I worked with Libby for 400 hours—so it’s an observation of Libby through the course of that 400 hours. I’ve come to realize that the product of that labour might more accurately be imagined as “what Libby looks or feels like in 400 hours”, not after 400 hours. More like a state of being. That it exists in a timespace quite particular to that kind of representation and accurate in it own right. It’s a long drawn out accumulative view of the person, but quite unlike an encounter with the person or a snapshot of Libby. So a sense of the “instant” is impossible to maintain in that kind of process.

Yet that sense of the moment is one of the expectations we have of portraiture, especially in photography. That’s also how we live in relationship with people, more animated, in the moment. Scanning allows me to embed the “moment” into the image even though I might then spend a hundred hours sculpting over it . The original capture has caught me or someone else is a particular point in time. That’s the whole point of scanning for me. One might even say that this is the first time, indexing through this technology, that I have the possibility of making “photo” realist sculpture.

The Process

Scanning: The subject is first scanned. If it is a living person, they stand or sit as the the beam of the laser scanner passes over them, usually just a few seconds. A multiple, simultaneous photo capture is also possible where the dozen or so images are stitched together using a computer program.

Manipulating: The resulting image file is cleaned up and manipulated (morphed, stretched, etc.) in the computer using 3D imaging software.

Printing / Milling: In order to produce a 3-dimensional object, two methods are available. Rapid prototyping is essentially a 3D printing process (imagine 2D ink jet printing), where minute beads of plastic are sprayed in layers, forming a stratified object. This methodology is generally available only for small objects. My sculptures are much too large for rapid prototyping, so I use a CNC milling process. Here the image is carved, or milled from a large block of hard foam.

Sculpting: Because the foam objects milled from the body scanned images are so generalized I make a mould of them and cast them into modelling clay in order to be able to rework and refine both form and surface detail. In the case of pieces that originate from sculptures (ie: Jim Revisited) the milled foam forms are accurate enough that I can sculpt directly on top, adding just a thin veneer of clay in order to redefine and enhance structure and detail.

Moulding / Casting: A mould is made of the finished clay, the piece is cast into silicone. Hair is implanted and the various details of finishing are carried out.

Evan Penny, 2011