Saturday, December 6, 2014

First 3-D Printed Presidential Life Mask and Bust

Where: Smithsonian Castle

When: through December 31, 2014

This is a great time of year to visit the Castle - it's decorated for the holidays with a big tree and other greenery, festive without being overwhelming.   Another reason to wander over is to see a bust and life mask of President Obama - the first president to have these made using 3-D printing technology.

Staff from the National Portrait Gallery used some really cutting-edge tools to scan the President for the bust and life mask - both banks of LED lights and handheld devices.  The results are on display this month at the far end of the Castle, where the exhibit of items from various Smithsonian museums are located.

Along with President Obama, two 3-D printed versions of the life masks of President Lincoln are also on display.  When you think about how uncomfortable and time-consuming it must have been in the 1800s to have plaster put all over your face to create a life mask, you realize that the 21st century's version - a few seconds sitting in a chair - is a vast improvement.

The idea is that the 3-D printer creates an objective picture of reality, as opposed to paintings or sculptures, which are inherently non-objective.  Of course, the same case has been made for photography, and I've seen more than one exhibit demonstrating that the camera certainly does lie.  Whether the same is true of the 3-D printer, I think we'll have to wait to see.

If you're interested in learning more about the process of making the images, see this short video at the Smithsonian Magazine website:

Verdict: If you're heading over to the Castle, make sure to have a look.  I'm sure this technology will be commonplace some day, but it's still pretty exciting today.

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