First published Jun 14, 2013 http://fentonstephens.com.au/blog/creativity/watts-works-interview-david-watts-about-his-3d-scanning-studio-shinjukutokyo
I was on facebook the other week and an old friend had uploaded a picture of herself as a realistic digital character, shot from every angle. After enquiring, she put me in contact with David Watts from Tokyo, the guy behind an interesting process that scans your entire body and converts it into a 3D model. Basically, David has gathered heaps of SLR cameras and rigged them up so they simultaneously take a photo of you from every angle. Once the shot is taken, they are pieced together on a computer and you have a 3D portrait of yourself to view online or get 3D printed. The level of detail is incredible to say the least. I contacted David and asked him a few questions about the scanner he built.
In a nutshell, describe the process in simple language. ‘We take 70 overlapping photos of you in the same instant. If two cameras can see a birthmark or some pattern we know where it is relative to the two cameras. Multiply that by 70 cameras and we can know a lot about the whole surface of you.’
What are your backgrounds and interests? ‘I studied Video/3D Animation and kept crashing my computer and then I studied Computer Science to better understand why. Since then I've done a bit of design—antler chandeliers and a couple of wallets and a tiny bit of 3D graphics programming. I want to do more of the latter, hence the 3D scanning business.’
Where did you begin? What started you on the path to creating the 3D scanner? ‘I used some free software called ThreePhase, a projector and a camera to scan my wife's face and mine for our wedding ring. We got the rings 3D printed in titanium. You could only just see our stretched faces in the titanium ring and the surface was a bit rough so in the end I ground it smooth. But wearing my wedding ring every day, I am constantly reminded that I should do something with 3D scanning/printing and, of course, that I'm married.’
Was it difficult to create the set up? ‘Sourcing all of the cameras took a while because I bought them individually on Yahoo Auction and not being able to read Japanese well meant I bought a couple of lenses which didn't have autofocus by mistake. I made a bed frame out of wood recently and I watched a lot of woodworking videos on YouTube so I was confident I could make the cylindrical camera rig. The shutter release wiring, USB cables and electrics were a bit daunting at first but you just add one system after another, testing as you go.'
Do you see yourself as a modern day portraiture artist? ‘I see myself as more of a lazy sculptor than a portrait painter in that the process is fairly automatic. But because of that it is cheaper than commissioning a proper sculptor to make a sculpture of you.’
What is the 3d scanning/printing scene like in Tokyo at the moment? ‘In terms of an ongoing scene, that mainly exists online for me because my Japanese is limited. I've been following Infinite Realities and ten24 in the UK who are getting great results with a similar set up. Recently a Shibuya based marketing company called Concent came in for free scans, printed them out on their own monochrome printer and posted the pics on Twitter. It was good to see people having fun with the scan data. Unlike other 3D printed figurine companies in Tokyo like Omote3D and Sony's Prigure we release the data of the scan so that you can get making things yourself which is one of the great promises of the 3D printing revolution after all.
What will people need to be able to view their scan? ‘I upload your 3D scanned model to an online portfolio hosted by Sketchfab, where you can view it easily on either a desktop or a laptop with net access in a browser. You can decide whether you want your model to be made public or private. The portfolio is at thewattsworks. If you're on a mobile device like an iphone you'll probably need to install something like Meshlab which is a free 3D viewer.’ I
love the detail of the clothing and tattoos that scans pick up, but has anyone requested to be scanned nude? ‘Yes, people have asked this and I suspect more are merely thinking it. We are open to doing 3D scans of nudes if that is what the customer requests.’
What technology excites you right now? ‘I have seen a few research papers on 3D collage and 3D search engines. I believe these kinds of algorithms for searching 3D data will bring some great special effects. In the movie Life of Pi, the fish made up of the animals from the zoo is an example of 3D collage although it might have been done by hand. I think it could be used to create forms made up from many small representational parts.’
Has offering the scans for free stirred up interest? ‘Yes, as with any new technology, people are unsure of how it can benefit them. The free scan campaign, which runs until the 30th of June is a stress-free way to get accustomed to what is possible and for how much. Also people can embed their models in blogs or Facebook posts and spread the word.’
Do you have any plans to collaborate with anyone on future projects? ‘Not really, as we are focusing on perfecting the 3D scanning and 3D printing process for individual customers. But recently I was at TedxTokyo and I talked to the Japanese artist Makoto Aida, who made a video work where he masturbates naked in front of the kanji for a beautiful young girl. I told him about our 3D scanning service and he immediately asked whether it could be "sukebe" which means "not prudish" in Japanese. So, potentially, he would be our first nude customer. That would be a great collaboration.’
Where do you see this all going? ‘Affordable baroque furniture. Everyday houses with sculpted walls like the Cathedral of the Sacred Family in Barcelona. Basically, more representation in design and architecture. Already we can see a move away from geometric shapes to organic forms with the bubble swimming pool in Beijing or the silk worm cocoon inspired Hal Mode in Shinjuku powered by computers. But I'm keen to see a swimming pool roof made out of thousands of sculptures of people each with a unique pose maybe even telling a story. Sounds a bit gaudy but you could probably make it look good if you tried.’
The WattsWorks online gallery is filling up with some 70 scans online. Just jump on the website and have a look through. If you are in Tokyo, David is offering free scans till the 30th of June. http://www.thewattsworks.com/