Recreating historical art and artifacts has traditionally been the work of a specialist of the original media of the art piece, but with an increased need for a better and more durable option, 3D printing has become a viable method for reproducing ancient art. As 3D printing’s technological accomplishments grow, so does the lifetime of historical artifacts and the exploration of new art forms.
Utilizing 3D printing, original artworks are being redesigned to suit the wear and tear of the world, as in the case of the dragons of the Great Pagoda in London. Of the 80 original dragons adorning the building, the eight largest were hand-carved from African Red Cedar. Having been formed of this very heavy material and weighing in at a staggering 5511.6 lbs, the eight figures became a burden on the weakened architecture of the building on which they were originally mounted. Along with the other original 72 dragons, these figures needed to be recreated to be lighter and more durable in order to still function as decoration on the monument, and 3D printing was determined to be the solution.
In producing to-scale statues of the Great Pagoda dragons, and in recreating any aged piece of artwork with 3D printing, the process starts with an abundance of 3D scans of the original piece to create a virtual 3D outline of the image in the form of a CAD file. Usually with art pieces significant in stature, each piece is scanned and printed separately to accommodate for size. In the case of the Great Pagoda dragons, the 3D artist was able to use both scans and the original pieces to replicate the dragons, which greatly expedited the process.
While in this case, photo references and scans made the 3D printing process simple, in other artwork reproductions, alternative methods are necessary. The process of scanning and reproducing artwork can be hindered when the pieces being replicated are older and further degraded. For the statues at Mosul Museum in Iraq, the 3D artist Morehshin Allahyari searched for multiple images of King Uthal from Hathra, and with these, molded the finished 3D pieces.
Once scanned and created in a 3D modeling program, the objects are then optimized for printing and finishing by 3D printing engineers in order to create a solid and durable end-product. The final step of the process involves finishing and painting for display purposes by skilled artists, as well as durability testing if the art piece is being displayed in a harsh environment.
In a similar recreation process, ProtoCAM assisted Langhorne Carpet Company in reproducing their Jacquard cylinder. But unlike the Great Pagoda dragons, which were simply replicated, ProtoCAM redesigned and optimized the cylinder for modern use. Likewise, 3D printing can be used for more than simply repairing and reproducing sculptures and figures; this technology is also being used to create new and innovative artwork. 3D printers are being utilized to reproduce the brush strokes and the styles of master painters to identically mimic their original paintings, as in the “Touching the Prado” exhibit in Madrid. This exhibit was specially made for people who are blind or visually impaired. Thanks to 3D printing, for the first time in history, everyone can visualize famous paintings, statues, and historical relics.
This innovative technology can even be used in modern art applications. Shane Hope’s 3D printed painting Public Panopticon Powder demonstrates the 3D medium being utilized to create original art, not just reproductions. Hope uses 3D printing to create what could be considered to be organic sculpture reliefs, creating dynamic viewpoints from every angle. Toby Ziegler similarly used a combination of image manipulation, sculpting, casting, and 3D printing to produce his “Slave” sculpture group, in which he intentionally distorted 3D models and “tested” 3D printers with these disruptions to regular layering to produce unique shapes and figures.
ProtoCAM has plenty of experience assisting artists in creating modern artwork with 3D printing. In collaboration with artist Kiki Seror, ProtoCAM had the challenge of producing a 3D art piece in a transparent material for optimal lighting. With a few changes to Seror’s original drawings to stabilize the 3D art, ProtoCAM was able to produce the piece using stereolithography (SLA). We also worked with artist Heather Gorham to produce her art piece, Reflections, which demonstrates dual images of nature and human impact on the environment. This fragile piece was printed using SLA technology, and carefully and skillfully painted by our finishing technicians.
It is clear that art, both ancient and modern, will continue to be influenced by new advances in 3D printing. The technology functions as a tool to not only repair, but to produce new creations in ways never before possible. With ever-increasing advances in 3D printing technology and the availability of materials, level of detail, and structures possible, the technology’s ability to continue to make strides the art world will only continue to increase and optimize.