Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Veronica Scanner

Two weeks ago I had a 3D scan of my head made at the Royal Academy as part of the Veronica Scanner project. An interesting, if very short, experience, the scan itself taking just a matter of seconds.

Why did I do this? A very good question! I'm not a natural photographic subject, I don't mind spontaneous photographs but ask me to pose for a shot and I don't know what to do. I usually end up looking puzzled or gurning like a man in leave of his senses (some who know me may well think that description not too far off of the mark!)

I suppose it was partly just to try something different and to be part of an art project but it was also, perhaps, to see myself as others see me. We are used to seeing ourselves in a hard copy photograph or on a phone or a computer screen, but whether it's a still shot or a video, it is remains a slightly flat image. 3D promised something different. So why not give it a go.

So, what happened on the day? I turned up ahead of my booked time slot and took a quick look around before checking in at the desk.

There were a number of examples of printed heads on display, in a variety of materials. Of particular interest were a small series loosely based on the wonderful character heads created by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt in the late 18th century. Examples of his work are held in the collections of the V&A and the Wellcome.

The scanner itself sat in the middle of the room in a large perspex box. It looked like a giant, perforated, desk globe, split vertically with the two halves separated by a couple of feet and in the centre was a saddle-like seat.

After signing the waivers, which would allow the resulting images to be used as part of the project, and a very short wait, it was my turn to be scanned. The first choice I had to make was whether or not to wear my glasses. Apparently, most people have chosen to remove them. That didn't seem to make sense to me. Specs have been part of me for the last 50 plus years and relatively few people would remember me without them, so to keep them on was a no brainer.

The procedure was explained and I soon found myself perched on the saddle as the two halves of the sphere closed in on me. The saddle was raised by the operator to centre me in the scanner and we were good to go.

The sphere has 96 apertures and is lined with a number of low powered flash units. Eight Canon EOS 5D cameras are arranged in an arc on an exterior arm that resembles the support on a conventional globe. The cameras are timed to shoot as they pass the holes in the globe. The for those who care about these things, the overlapping pictures are saved as 24 megapixel RAW files.

Some other sitters chose to be quite creative with their poses but I decided on what I thought was a fairly neutral expression, not that I'm a great judge of these things (see my earlier comments). The operator asked me if I was ready and, after a reminder to remain still during the scan, she hit the button. It apparently takes four seconds to complete the scan, but at the time it seemed much quicker. I was aware of the arm swinging around the outside of the sphere and the flashes firing in sequence and then, it was all over. The cameras had taken their 96 shots and it was now down to the computers to make sense of it all.

After a short wait to be sure that the 96 individual shots had been recorded, it was time to leave.

Now, two weeks later, those 96 individual photographs have been processed to produce this! It may take a little while for this to load (especially on a tablet, a friend and I have had problems on different Samsung Tabs, desktops and laptops seem OK) , but please be patient because, as the advert says, I'm worth it LOL.

I have to admit that I'm pleasantly surprised with the result. There were no guarantees that the scan would be successful and I was fairly convinced that something would go wrong, perhaps I had moved during the scan, or there would be a software glitch, but no, it has turned out OK.

So, what now? I have a digital file that I can send to a 3D printer to have my head recreated in a variety of materials from plastic to glass or even in chocolate. It is also possible to connect to a specialised routing machine to reproduce me in wood (a wooden head? Too close to the truth I think!). There is even the option to print in wax and then produce a bronze Me using the lost wax process! I'm not yet sure if any of these are going to happen for two main reasons. One, I suspect it is going to cost considerably more than a head, an arm and a leg to do it and, Two, I'm not sure that I want to be stared at, in my own home, by another version of me. Might check it out though. Just in case!

The guys below are not me!

In the nine days of the RA event more than 600 heads were scanned. The results of all of these scans can be seen here, along with more information on the project.

I'm not sure that I've learned any more about myself from this but it was an interesting experience with a surprisingly acceptable result.

That's it!

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