Replica3D creates rapid resemblances

Monday, October 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Company creates inexpensive computer-generated sculptures that can preserve your memories in three dimensions instead of two.

By Jerry Seregni /

How will you remember your loved ones, or for that matter, how will they remember you? Most of us have photographs or family albums. You may even have a pair of booties or a rattle somewhere in a drawer. Well, how about something extra special?

Now, don't go thinking I'm suggesting a hologram or some other hi-tech foolishness. I'm talking about a statue, a full head sculpture. Wouldn't it be great to have a sculpture of your spouse's smile or the cherub-like faces of your grandkids? Too expensive, you say? Well, thanks to a new company, you can now preserve your memories in three dimensions for between $50 and $150.

The technique is the brainstorm of engineers Prabhat Jain and Joel Lema. Their company is called Replica3D, and the process they have pioneered allows a person’s image to be digitally photographed from various angles and then transformed into a three-dimensional rendering that can be finished in alabaster, bronze, copper or pewter.

Replica3D uses three-dimensional scanning and rapid prototyping to create a full head sculpture that stands 3.5 inches tall. "Rapid prototyping" is the term for a method where computed aided design (CAD) data can be quickly turned into a physical model for visualization or pre-production testing. The process started in the U.S. in the late 1980s and is used today all over the world. Although rapid prototyping has been used to create models of everything from the athletic shoes to automotive parts, Jain and Lema figured out a way to build likenesses of people.

The CAD data for the sculpture is created by digitizing and merging two-dimension images. Replica3D accomplishes this with a portable image capture device that gathers a subject's geometric characteristics and color textures. The device uses a white halogen light that is completely harmless to humans. There are no laser beams to injure the subject's eyes. The process can analyze a given surface in a matter of seconds, although Lema says hair presents a special challenge.

The next part of the process is outputting the CAD data to the hopper of a 3D printer loaded with a special plaster-like powder. The printer creates three-dimensional objects in .004 - 0.01 inch layers, one at a time, at a rate of approximately two vertical inches per hour.

When the printing is completed, the "green" (meaning not cured, similar to unfired clay pottery) sculpture is taken into a special chamber where compressed air clears away the excess debris and finishing touches are applied. The final product is then cured with a special finish and mounted on a marble base for presentation.

Replica3D just opened a new studio, but Jain says the company is looking to partner with a major retail outlet. He hopes to have a self-contained Replica3D booth ready by year's end. A booth is necessary because the process requires controlled lighting conditions, but the Jain and Lema say they're going to make the booth as easy to use as a photo booth. But don't get the idea your sculpture is going to pop out like a Polaroid; delivery time for most items is two to four weeks.

One of Replica3D's most popular items is a hanging ornament, which sells for $49.95. Jain says he and Lema were almost mobbed when they recently held a special showing. "Once a subject is digitized, you can archive the data and use it again and again. You can start with an ornament, and then create something else years later. Can you imagine the kind of wall display you could create if you scan your children every year or so? You could see them growing up before your very eyes!"

The two engineers were both working for a technology company when they realized that free-form fabrication techniques could produce artwork the average consumer couldn't otherwise afford. They are true "e-entrepreneurs" and already have several patents pending. "The challenge," says Jain, "is to make this technology top of mind with the public. That way when an occasion like a wedding or an anniversary approaches, people will think of Replica3D and preserve their memories in three dimensions, not just two."

Find Replica3D on the Web at