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Ancient Art, New Technology: Sculpture, 3D Printing, and Photoshop

By Terri Stone

James Stewart is equally adept at designing digital characters for films and sculpting in clay. Given his comfort with new and old media, it’s no surprise that he’s now combined the two in vibrantly colored 3D prints of a sculpture he originally modeled in clay. With 3D printers and Adobe Photoshop CC, James has imbued his art with layers of meaning that would have been unattainable with traditional methods.

 

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

James lives in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. While he now spends his time sculpting and running his own gallery, he studied visual effects at the Vancouver Film School and spent years making characters for such films as District 9, Madagascar, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

He has also travelled widely, photographing the people and places that draw his eye. Those photos became the starting point for Pangea, a collection of sculptures depicting people around the world. James chose one of those figures, called Jeri, for his experiments with 3D printing.

 

JERI’S EVOLUTION

The Jeri sculpture is based on a capoeira dancer James met in Brazil. Although the man went through a series of athletic moves, it was the moment when he paused in a crouch that James re-created in clay and then cast in bronze. That rough statue—you can see James’s fingerprints on the surface—practically vibrates with the dancer’s barely contained energy.

“There’s a connection I have with art,” says James, “and that I think everyone has, especially when it’s handmade. When you can see the hand of the artist, it’s visceral.”

In addition to showing the hand of the artist, James wanted the statue to reflect the subject’s environmental influences. “The environment where this guy grew up, the art he grew up with—it’s affected who he is,” says James. “I wanted the viewer to literally see society’s input on the surface.”

And so James conceived of “tattooing” the sculpture with visual snippets, from Brazilian graffiti to a Pablo Picasso painting. 3D printing caught up with James’s vision just in time. “It’s a marriage between my new life and old life,” he says. “I’m taking the original sculpted piece, 3D texturing it, and expressing the results with 3D printing.”

 

MELDING 2D AND 3D

To create the tattoo texture maps, James first opens a 3D scan of a sculpture in Photoshop. He then opens a photo as a separate file, selects and copies a part of it, and projects it onto the scan as a texture. He can see the results immediately.

Photoshop takes care of the complicated math, so it really is as easy as that. “It’s simple to go back and forth between 2D and 3D in Photoshop,” he notes. The difficulty lies in choosing photos and deciding where to place them on the sculpture. James went through several iterations of Jeri’s tattoos.

Video of sculpture James Stewart and his statue Jeri as a cast bronze piece and a 3D print tattooed in Adobe Photoshop.

Video of sculptor James Stewart and his statue Jeri as a cast bronze piece and a 3D print tattooed in Adobe Photoshop.

 

Despite technological advances, some restrictions remain. “You can’t cover something in myriad colors and print at any size,” he says. “The print bed is only twelve by ten by eight inches.”

To get around the size limitation, James digitally disassembled the Jeri statue, printed the pieces, and constructed a larger sculpture from the parts. A version of Jeri that is 16 inches high is featured at the 3D Printshow in New York.

“It’s just now that all of this is really getting possible,” James says. “Where it’s going, I don’t know.”

Learn how to create and print a 3D object in Photoshop, in this tutorial.