President Barack Obama goes 3-D

President Barack Obama with his 3-D bust at the White House. (Courtesy of White House video)
President Barack Obama with his 3-D bust at the White House. (Courtesy of White House video)

Online Staff Report

ADELPHI, Maryland — The White House has released a video documenting how a Smithsonian-led team created the first 3-D models of a president. The video highlights the use of an Army-funded Light Stage scanning system, which was key to creating the highest resolution digital model that has ever been made of a head of state.

The Mobile Light Stage, delivered to the White House from the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, an Army-sponsored, University Affiliated Research Center that is managed by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, collects detailed facial and reflectance data in a process lasting about a second. The development of this high-speed, high-resolution system is the result of nearly 15 years of Army investment in technologies for creating believable digital doubles that can be used for training.

Over the years, realistic faces created using Light Stage scan data have appeared in Army simulations, in movies and in video games,” said Paul Debevec, ICT’s chief visual officer. “We are thrilled that this technology could now be applied to this historic and exciting project.”

The video explains that for the Smithsonian, the project presents an opportunity to use modern-day technologies to connect us to history.

According to a White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog post, the video illustrates the innovative capabilities of 3-D scanning, modeling and printing. It states that the democratization of tools and technologies like 3-D printing has the potential to create more opportunities to engage students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, facilitate entrepreneurship, and boost advanced manufacturing in the United States.

It is gratifying to see Army-sponsored research transition in projects like this,” said ARL’s John Hart, who is the chief of the Human Research and Engineering Directorate’s Creative Technologies Branch in Orlando, Florida, and the program manager for ICT. “ICT’s Light Stage scanning process demonstrates the power of technology to help preserve our past and inspire our future leaders.”

In addition to ICT’s Light Stage, a Smithsonian team used handheld 3-D scanners and traditional single-lens reflex cameras to record peripheral 3-D data to create an accurate bust. The data captured was post-processed by 3-D graphics experts at the software company Autodesk to create final high-resolution models. The life mask and bust were then printed using 3D system’s selective laser sintering printers.

This collaboration is a great symbol of the imagination and innovation that the government, academia and industry can accomplish by working together,” said Randall W. Hill Jr., ICT’s executive director. “It also provides a literal example of research leaving the lab — going directly into to the White House — to make a powerful societal impact.”

The 3-D presidential models of President Barack Obama — a bust and a life mask — are now part of the National Portrait Gallery and will be on display at the Smithsonian Castle through the end of the year.

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Posted Dec. 5, 2014

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