It's instant sculpture.
You walk into a photography studio, sit in a standard office chair. Hold extremely still for 15 seconds. No blinking for five.
A computerized camera shaped like the light over a dentist's chair swivels around you, shining a laser beam at your face and measuring distances to your head and shoulders from two fixed points. A quarter of a million different measurements are recorded in those 15 seconds.
That much of your time--plus at least $200 of your money--is all that's needed from you to create a piece of physical immortality. Or a reasonable facsimile.
The accumulated data (which now spans everything from the degree of fullness in your lips to the exact depth of the lines around your eyes) is fed into a computer and relayed, over telephone wires or by mail, to a computer-controlled mill in Pacific Grove, Calif.
A Bronze for $2,700
There, in about three hours, the mill carves a rather precise bust of your likeness. Two to 10 more hours are required for artisans to finish off the rough edges (or smooth out wrinkles, if you like) and apply a bronze or other coating of your choosing. (Fancier, cast bronze busts are also available to those willing to invest considerably more money--$2,700 for a full-size bust--and wait longer for the end result. Prices start at $200 for a finished quarter-size bust, which is about 4 inches tall.)
But compared to the typical time and expense required for artists to create lifelike busts (several thousand dollars and several months), this is zap sculpture, speed-of-light fast and decidedly lower priced.
Its creators call it Rapid 3-D Digitizing and they're being careful not to confuse it with fine art or Michelangelo with a laser. But they expect that their digital sculpture will do for three-dimensional objects what the Xerox machine did for two-dimensional material--multiply it like crazy.
And Lloyd and David Addleman, the father-and-son team from the Monterey area who invented the process, similarly like to think their machines may do for traditional sculpture what photography did to portrait painting--in short, make personal images easily and inexpensively available.
Aid in Surgery
Physicians who have experimented with the busts are also excited about using digital sculpture as an aid in cosmetic and reconstructive surgical procedures. Additional applications are being explored in such fields as manufacturing, criminology, archeology, engineering, anthropology, computer graphics and more.
For example, helmets for Lazer Tag, predicted to be one of the hot toys for the Christmas season, were designed using the digitizer. And representatives from the Army and Air Force have investigated the technology as a possible tool in fitting military uniforms, gas masks and other protective gear.
For now, though, the busts have been commercially available to the public for about a month in just two California test markets: Woodland Hills (through the Howard Kaish and Associates photo studio, where partner/photographer Curtis Dahl has sold 10 of the busts) and in Carmel (through Proud Portraits, where Tony Stender is still setting up the process and has only sold three).
And about 300 people, including Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and other members of the cast of the upcoming "Star Trek IV" film have stopped in to sit for 15-second digitizing sessions at Cyberware Laboratory Inc., the Addlemans' Pacific Grove research and development firm. (It no longer sells to the public.) Now, Mr. Spock and Capt. Kirk have been dematerialized in previous "Star Trek" incarnations, but why were they recently digitized?
Computer animators from Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas' special effects company that is creating the celluloid wizardry for "Star Trek IV," refused to tell even the Addlemans what use the actors' busts would serve. The Addlemans, however, put the stars' measurements to unexpected use; they created busts of Nimoy and Shatner in which the facial features were stretched--much like they would be in a fun house mirror. The inventors simply wanted to demonstrate one of their technology's more unusual possibilities on a couple of famous faces.
Other early users of the fast sculpture machinery have included such physicians as Dr. William Seare Jr., a Salt Lake City plastic surgeon in private practice. Seare has had his 3-D Digitizer for about six weeks and already calls it "invaluable."
Before and After
Thus far, he has used busts (cut from the light-but-tough polyurethane foam used in surfboards) to show three patients what they looked like before and possibly after surgery. During a "3-D consultation," priced at $500, Seare whittles away at a foam bust of the patient to show potential reductions. Or he adds material to the bust to demonstrate potential augmentations.
In one of the three cases in which he used before-and-after busts, the process made a huge difference.