Laser scanning an actor to make a head in a jar!

Queensland Theatre is working on some props for their upcoming play, Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe adapted for the stage by Tim McGarry, and (without giving too much away!) there was a need for a head in a jar. They heard that we here in the Fabrication Lab like to make stuff, and so we teamed up together!  

Utilising our 3D laser scanner and our 3D printers (along with some old-school body casting) we were able to take the actor’s head from real life into a computer and then back out again as a 3D print, now we can make as many copies of our actor’s noggin as we please! 

The 3D Printers have been a staple of the Fabrication Lab for many years, but we’ve only recently got the laser scanner working. We’ve had it for a while but it’s not been in use due to an extremely esoteric manual and a bunch of downright mystifying error codes, but through perseverance and enthusiasm (and help from a certain scanning-friend who used a similar machine to scan all the stuff for the Harry Potter films) I managed to get it working over a few Hack the Evening sessions back when I used to come to the space as a patron (before I started work here).

Our Laser Scanner is a Konica Minolta Vivid i9 and works by projecting lasers onto an object and measuring the time they take to bounce back to the machine, allowing it to build up a 3D representation of that section of the object. You then take a bunch of scans and combine them together to get your full object. 

We couldn’t directly scan our actor, partially because we don’t love the idea of firing lasers at someone’s face (no mater how low powered) but also because even the most practiced yoga master couldn’t hold still enough for our laser’s precision. So we ended up taking a cast of actor’s head, in a process that went like so; 

Take your actor and ‘ice’ them in 2-part skin-safe silicone rubber (we used Barnes Oddbod) to capture the details of their lovely visage.

Then, mummify your actor using plaster bandage (yes, the same stuff used on broken bones!) to form a rigid outer shell for our silicone. 

Release your actor from the mold, and fill the molds with plaster of paris. 

Remove it from the mold and ta-da! Plaster actor!

 

And then we scan that using our laser scanner to create a 3D model 

And we 3D print that model. Because the actors head was just sliiiightly too big for our printers (no jokes about ego please!) he had to split him in two and join it up after printing. This ended up being a good thing though because the print was a very long one, about a day each side, and splitting it in two meant we could get it done a bit quicker than if we were using just one printer. 

We also smoothed the layer lines of the print out a bit with a slurry made from epoxy paste thinned with alcohol.

Accurate laser scans of real objects are pretty handy and fun! With a good scan you can;

  • Reverse-engineer a mechanical part
  • Take a real-life object and put it in a video game or digital render
  • Make a copy of a real-life object by 3D printing it after scanning
  • Share a real-life object with people all across the globe that might otherwise not be able to see/use it (check out the Scan the World project to see more of that!) 
  • You can edit a real-life object, for example we could give our actor antlers or a moustache

If you’re interested in scanning something, good news! You don’t need a special Induction, only a general one for the space, and as always if you come on a Thursday night to our Hack the Evening social event (6-8pm every Thursday) you can try machines out even if you’re not yet inducted (we have extra hands on deck during this time to help out). It’s also just a super fun time, you get to meet up with other makers, hear about their projects, get help with yours, and in general get involved in cool stuff. It’s how I first got started with the Fabrication Lab and now I work here! 

And if you’re keen to see the world premiere of Boy Swallows Universe presented by Queensland Theatre, Brisbane Festival and QPAC this September, you can check it out here.

As always if you have any questions you can reach out to myself or the team on appliedcreativity@slq.qld.gov.au

Happy making! 

-Billie

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That's awesome!!!! And a little bit creepy.