3D scanning the US President: The new portrait

Link to video

3D SLS print of President Obama’s captured portrait. Image source: Smithsonian Institute DPO

The White House recently announced its most cutting edge use of 3D data capture technology for presidential portraiture with the release of a video examining the project and processes behind it. Initially proposed two years ago by the Smithsonian Institution as a way of documenting the president, the project used a 3D methodology that evoked the prior scanning of the Lincoln life masks: presidential casts originally taken in 1860 and 1865 respectively.

Over a century and a half later, this project saw the Smithsonian Institution use the handheld structured-light scanner Artec EVA (up to 0.5mm spatial resolution), combined with data captured in a Mobile Light Stage setup by partners at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. With the Artec data and over 80 photographs captured via the MLS, the dataset was augmented with handheld photography, prior to quality assessment and dispatching the data to Autodesk for processing. 72 hours later having registered, unified and normalised spatial and photographic data, plus the addition of a modelled plinth, the produced mesh output consisted of 15 million triangles.

The final step to transition the digital mesh to a physical bust saw the transfer of the data to 3D Systems, and utilised 3D printing using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) to create an accurate representation of the dataset, standing 19in (48cm) tall and weighing around 13lbs (5.8kg). The prints will be entered into the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery collection alongside the raw data from the scanning.

For further information see the original Smithsonian blog from the Digitization Program Office detailing the project.

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