Innovative photo-to-print digital sculpting process links loved ones
“We selected Mcor IRIS HD 3D printer because it provides the best photorealistic colour quality and resolution.”
-Ujjal Mitra, Director of PrintZworldwide India
“Sculpting” conjures images of artists meticulously creating works of art – often statues – from media such as clay, infusing their creativity, skill and vision to capture the complete essence of the subject in the final masterpiece.
The digital sculptors at MiniMeee, a service of PrintZworldwide India, that creates precise 360° scaled physical 3D replicas of people and other subjects are no different, using their technical expertise, imagination and the right tools to produce 3D printed figurines like no other.
While other services offering 3D printed figurines typically use 3D scanning and photogrammetry to capture the digital 3D image of a subject needed for 3D printing a figurine, MiniMeee uniquely uses ordinary photos. Unlike photogrammetry and 3D scanning, which are essentially duplication processes, MiniMeee’s photo-to-model approach captures both the resemblance and character of the subject, thus satisfying the needs of clients who have a strong emotional attachment to the person and therefore the resulting 3D printed figurine.
Linking loved ones
“We developed the photo-to-print digital sculpting technique because, in a country like India, people prefer to 3D print models of loved ones rather then those of themselves,” said Ujjal Mitra, Director of PrintZworldwide India. “The figurines are often of someone’s parents (frequently deceased or living far away), children who are difficult to 3D scan because they are constantly moving and spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends as a special gift. We have even been asked to create idols of gods, such as Ganesha, Lakshmi and Durga. And, since photography is so pervasive on smartphones, it is far easier to capture and share a special moment with this method, widening our target market to cities where new 3D scanning and photogrammetry techniques have yet to reach.”
Other factors the company considered in their decision to use the photo-to-print digital sculpting technique were that, while photogrammetry captures digital images quickly and produces high-quality output, it is very expensive. In comparison, 3D scanners capture digital data more slowly and those capable of producing high-quality output can also be quite costly. Low-cost 3D scanners typically require considerable pre-print file fixing of the mesh and texture.
Photo-to-print digital sculpting
MiniMeee’s innovative photo-to-print digital sculpting process involves the following steps:
Assessing the input data –
This is an important first step in the process where MiniMeee’s digital sculptors immerse themselves into a ‘3D space’ in order to fully understand the subject. They use a variety of input data to accomplish this, including their imagination, photographs and descriptions of the person’s appearance and personality from people who know them best. Although sculptors can work with a single photo, several high-resolution photographs taken from different angles are preferred to provide as much information per pixel as possible. This enables a sculptor to zoom into the image for more in-depth study. The colour projection from high-resolution photographs also works quite well to create the most accurate skin tone on the figurine.
MiniMeee’s digital sculptors also use their existing digital libraries for files of male vs. female forms, children at various ages, body sizes, postures and other characteristics. This enables the sculptor to use a basic form, depending upon the subject’s size, posture and age, as a starting point from which to sculpt a subject. If a relevant library isn’t available, the sculptor creates one from the basic shape of a ‘sphere.’ These libraries play an important role in reducing the amount of time needed to sculpt the digital figure, since a new body form can be adapted from an existing shape vs. the time and processing power required to build many more polygons when creating the basic form from scratch.
Sculpting the digital figure – Using a combination of Wacom tablets, haptic arms, 3D sculpting applications and input data, MiniMeee’s sculptors meticulously create the digital figure.
Verifying and validating – MiniMeee’s digital sculptors completely immerse themselves in their projects, spending hours and days on end creating and refining the digital figures that are so meaningful to their clients. So it’s important that their work-in-progress undergo regular verification and validation by their colleagues. This ensures that they remain on-track.
The sculptors also send the digital figurines to their clients for feedback and approval before exporting the file for 3D printing.
Exporting the file for 3D printing – After two to three days of file preparation and approval, the digital file is ready to be exported to a 3D printable format. Although there are a number of file format options, MiniMeee prefers the .obj format so corrections can be made on the texture in addition to the mesh.
3D printing the figurine – The .obj file is imported into Mcor Technologies’ SliceIT print driver software. MiniMeee uses an Mcor IRIS HD 3D printer that uses low-cost, safe and eco-friendly copy paper as the print medium and provides the industry’s only high-definition, photorealistic colour. “We selected Mcor IRIS HD 3D printer because it provides the best photorealistic colour quality and resolution,” said Mitra. “With the new IRIS HD, the colour has really intensified on the models, especially on the Z-axis.”
A fast growing market
MiniMeee is creating startlingly lifelike scaled figurines of their clients’ loved ones that elicit a true emotional response. The 3D models are even safe and durable enough for children to handle. The company’s clients are thrilled with the result and are coming back for more models of other family members.
“We even scanned a client’s brother to use as a reference photograph to sculpt his elder brother who had been living in the US for a long time and was due to visit his family,” said Mitra. “It was a surprise gift for him and he was delighted to get his model.”
On another occasion, MiniMeee was approached by parents of a one-year old boy who wanted to give their young son a safe and durable 3D printed replica of himself as a lasting gift for his second birthday. “The child’s parents were so pleased with the result they asked MiniMeee to create a model for their four-year old daughter.
The 3D figurine market is gaining momentum in India as a result of MiniMeee’s advanced process using photos, expert digital sculptors and Mcor paper-based 3D printers.
“We can comfortably use our existing workforce to produce 15 to 20 such models in a month,” says Mitra. “However we have a large, talented pool of digital sculptors in India and we can quickly scale the capacity of our output when required to do lot more.”