Fine Prints

Print Your Own Lumpy Fifth Century Sculpture, Thanks to MakerBot and the Met

Hackers upload designs from the Met to MakerBot's Thingiverse.
makerbot thingiverse Print Your Own Lumpy Fifth Century Sculpture, Thanks to MakerBot and the Met

One of the derivative MakerBot 3D printing designs inspired by artwork at the Met.

Over the weekend, Brooklyn-based MakerBot brought a group of more than 30 artists, hackers and teachers from across the country to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Using basic digital cameras, the group scuttled around the museum capturing 360-degree views of sculpture from China, Greece, India and Mesopotamia, which would be made into digital models using 123D Catch, a free program from Autodesk.

“This has really never been done before, and I can safely say we’re more excited about this than just about anything,” Makerbot company blogger Andrew Pelkey said in an email last week.

The Met was equally excited. As the MakerBot group walked around, a security guard tapped MakerBot founder Bre Pettis and requested a 3D model of a certain marble lion. The sculpture is installed so low to the ground that kids are rubbing its nose off, he explained.

“In the spirit of the Museum’s commitment to share its collection with the public, those who have not yet visited the galleries will now be able to examine artwork digitally or ‘in person’ by reproducing the artwork on a MakerBot,” says a press release. “Teachers can bring history straight into the classroom. Artists can modify, remix and re-imagine classics once set in stone.”

Thingiverse, MakerBot’s 3D designs database and community, shows more than 34 scans of Met artworks along with 26 derivative designs inspired by Met works. So far, 25 of the designs have been printed by members of the community, Mr. Pelkey said.

The scans are of varying precision; most of the MakerBot statue designs look like they’ve been coated with molten lead. Seems less than ideal for art history class, but the technology is young yet. As 3D modeling improves, the noseless lion and other statues at the Met will be waiting.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com