A Model Week: 3D Scanning at the Museum


Model of Nandi the Bull printing on a MakerBot 3D printer

Model of Nandi the Bull printing on a MakerBot 3D printer.

UPDATE: The event was featured this week in Wired.

This week we embarked on an exciting new technological journey. Along with friends from Autodesk and the MakerBot community, we hosted a 3D Scanathon at the museum.

What on earth does that mean? Well, because this is the future, it’s possible to take 3D scans of objects using ordinary things lying around your house. Like your phone. Autodesk recently released the iPhone app of 123D catch, a free application that allows you to create digital 3D models using photos. That means you can make a 3D model in minutes; it’s perfect for a museum like ours, because we allow photography in our collection galleries, phones are small and portable, and you can’t use flash photography to create the scans. So on Monday and Tuesday, a group of artists and (let’s face it) geeks came to the museum and photographed obejcts. They then uploaded the images to 123D Catch, which gives you back a nice 3D model (don’t ask me how that bit works).

Now, that’s super fun. But the next bit is really cool. Because if you have a 3D printer, (like one of these) you can print those objects. I mean literally print a physical object. I know, right? The models are made from ABS plastic (what Legos are made from) or other plastic filaments. The printing process can take a while; our larger models were printed overnight, taking about 11 hours. The little Nandi pictured printed in about half an hour on our friend Gian Pablo‘s MakerBot, which he kindly brought in for the second day. Nandi the Bull is featured on MakerBot’s Thingiverse, a place where artists and other enthusiasts can share their models, and use models to create new things (like the iPhone 4 case Christian from Autodesk made for our chief curator).

Christian holding the iPhone case next to Scene from the epic Ramayana: Kumbhakarna battles the monkeys

Christian with the iPhone case next to the original lintel, which depicts a scene from the epic Ramayana: Kumbhakarna battles the monkeys.

So what’s next? We’re hoping that artists will create remixes of our objects, as they did when the Met held a similar event earlier in the year. We want to scan more objects (and heopfeully our visitors will download the app and scan some, too). And after that, who knows? It’s limited only by our imagination. Well, ok, there are a few technical limitations. Still. Next time you see someone wearing one of those “where is my jet-pack?” t-shirts, point them at a 3D printer.


Leave a Reply