The goal of my project is to create a collection of sculptures of animal skulls -- in effect, a skeletal zoo. Each sculpture will be based upon a CT scan taken from an actual specimen. The sculptures will be printed using 3D printing technology. Prints can be made in acrylic plastic, stainless steel, bronze, and silver.
You may be asking yourself, "So what? Why would I be interested in this Kickstarter project?" Yes, you can find sculptures of animal skulls in so many other places, including museum shops and home decor outlets. But my sculptures are different. As a medical doctor and biologist, I realized I could make scientifically accurate sculptures from CT scans. CT scans are the x-ray vision that allows us to peer into our bodies. CT scans provide an exquisitely accurate rendering of skeletal structures. Thus my sculptures display the minute details of an actual individual animal as a representative of its species. Each of my sculptures is in effect a “memento mori” or remembrance of the death of the individual and of the species. Being mindful of death is of course a way to celebrate life, both of the individual and the species.
This project serves several purposes. First, it allows me the creative outlet of combining my passions as a naturalist and artist. In addition, the project will have educational value. I plan to provide the stereolithography (STL) files that I have created on my website as free downloadable resources for students, biologists and artists to use as non-commercial resources. I know no other resource on the web that has the files that I will be creating.
If you love nature and animals, if you can appreciate the extraordinary beauty of the natural world around us, and if you think that combining computer technology, medicine, 3D printing and art is a novel and interesting approach to creating sculpture, then this project may interest you.
Here is my first project -- a sculpture in bronzed stainless steel of a caiman alligator skull that I have been working on over the last year.
I created this sculpture by putting the alligator skull through a CT scanner. The result is a series of hundreds of x-ray slices. I have taken those images and used radiology and computer modeling software to produce a digital file which I can send to a 3D printer to create a sculpture in various sizes and materials.
This sculpture, which is about 2 inches in length, captures all the minute details of the bony structure of the actual skull. Using the same process, I have created two more prototype sculptures, one of a spider monkey skull, the other of a black bear skull.
Here are 3D prints of the four prototype skulls that have already been finished. The sculptures in translucent, acrylic plastic appear to glow when lit from below with a small LED light. The transparency of the plastic lets you see into the skull and appreciate its fine details.
The bronze-infused stainless steel skulls are polished solid metal sculptures. They are nearly indestructible and inexpensive to print. They can be worn as a pendant or displayed as a work of art. Below are examples of some of the stainless steel sculptures and jewelry being offered in this project. If you see something you like, let me know and I can include it as a reward.
My goal is to create an entire menagerie of sculptures of different animal skulls, using the techniques that I have already worked out.
The traditional route of offering my work by traveling to craft fairs, and making a pitch to galleries and stores can be tedious, expensive and ineffective. I want to see if the Kickstarter model will provide better exposure and enthusiasm for this art project. My goal is to initially offer my sculptures directly to Kickstarter supporters at a modest price. Most of the most of the money from the rewards goes not to me, but to the 3D printing company that fabricates the skulls. I am hoping that the funding from this project will allow me to process, print, promote and distribute skeletal sculptures of dozens of different animals to a wide audience.
The rewards for pledges will primarily be the sculptures themselves. That is what I am creating, and that's what I want you to own!
Most of the money from a pledge merely goes to what I have to pay the 3D printing company to make a sculpture. What I hope to gain from this project is your support and enthusiasm which will justify spending my time working on this project. I think it would be great to know that a thousand people would love to hold one of these sculptures in their hand, and to know that they admire both nature's exquisite designs as well as the artwork I created from them.
Even if you only have a few dollars to pledge, your support will let me know that you like this project. I will email you a PDF file with pictures from the project and a movie file showing a 3D model of a skull rotating in space. For a few dollars more, you can get one of the prototype sculptures printed in detailed translucent acrylic plastic.
For higher support, you can get one of the 3 completed skulls in bronzed stainless steel. To show off these beautiful skulls, they can be mounted on museum display stands or encased in glass bell jars. I will build hand-made display stands of solid walnut wood or fabricate steel stands, as shown in the photos below. Or you might want to wear one of these skulls as a pendant on a silver chain. Or perhaps have one as a simple paperweight to remind you that nothing is more beautiful than nature's own creations.
The highest levels of support will be rewarded with signed, limited edition sculptures of animals that have just been scanned but still need to be transformed into 3D digital files. These designs will take some time to prepare, and will be printed in larger sizes. Since the printing company charges according to the volume of material printed, larger sizes mean greater expenses. If you are willing to support this project to its fullest, you can have a signed, limited edition sculpture that has never before been printed! If you would like a stand to show off your skull, I will provide you with a hand-made display stand, either of walnut wood or steel.
My Background Story
The basic idea of this project --to create sculptural objects that accurately reflect the complex structures of nature -- has evolved as one of the passions of my life. When I was a teenager, I spent much of my time collecting insects and assembling skeletons from dead animals that I found. For me, these pursuits were a perfect marriage of my curiosity about nature and my interest in the visual arts. I didn't want to just collect things and put them in jars of alcohol or formaldehyde. I wanted to find a way to display their intricate beauty. At a summer arts camp, I learned about lost wax casting and made my first silver sculpture from a delicate mushroom. About 10 years later, I had a chance to cast a few more objects from my natural history collection. I had a petrified, dried up fish skeleton that I found on a beach. It was smelly and discolored, with pieces of flesh and ligaments still attached to the bones. By casting it in bronze, I transformed it into a something beautiful which now hangs on my office wall.
Likewise, I cast a fetal pig which I had preserved in alcohol many years earlier.
These preludes led to my current project, which makes use of CT scanners normally used to diagnose human diseases. As an emergency room doctor, I have ordered thousands of CT scans. I have learned to "read" a CT scan by looking at dozens of slices of human anatomy and forming a 3D picture in my mind. I can now apply this skill to creating sculptures from animal skulls.
In addition, my biology research has led me into the field of digital photography and computer modeling. For several decades I have used a camera and computer software programs to produce images for lectures, magazines, and textbooks. These skills now allow me to create three dimensional digital objects for my sculptures.
From Skull to CT Scan to Sculpture
The following photo shows a few of the dozens of different animal skulls that I am transforming into sculptures.
Here are some animal skulls going into a CT scanner. I scanned these animal skulls recently, in preparation for starting this project.
It has taken me over a year to refine the techniques to transform the CT scans of animal skulls into printable 3D images.
The following illustration shows CT scan slices of the caiman alligator skull as they appear in my radiology software program.
I am now in a position to efficiently convert all my new CT scans into sculptures. I have already experimented with different kinds of software, explored the limitations that different materials place on 3D printing, and dealt with other unexpected problems. Now that I have addressed the technical problems, I can devote my time to making sculptures from the animal skeletons that I have recently scanned.
Work in Progress
Animal skulls which I plan to make into sculptures:
- Chimpanzee (endangered species)
- Gorilla (endangered species)
- Sumatran Orangutan (endangered species)
- Borneo Orangutan (endangered species)
- Siamang gibbon (endangered species)
- Lar gibbon (endangered species)
- Agile gibbon (endangered species)
- Pig-tailed langur (endangered species)
- Brown howler monkey (endangered species)
- Geoffroy's spider monkey (endangered species)
- Southern muriqui (endangered species)
- White-fronted spider monkey (endangered species)
- Western red colobus (endangered species)
- Human (This happens to be my skull. Perhaps you have a CT scan of your own that you would like me to process!)
- White-tailed Deer (6-point buck)
- White-tailed deer (doe)
- Serow (goat-antelope)
- Green Sea Turtle (endangered species)
- Roe deer
- Snapping turtle
- Domestic Cat
- Iriomote Cat (endangered species)
- Malayan Tapir (endangered species)
- Howler monkey
- Rhesus monkey
Many of the primate species (chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutans and other monkeys) as well as some of the other animal species listed here are ENDANGERED. I hope to raise peoples' awareness of the fragility of our environment and the threat of extinction of species by printing a series of skulls of endangered species. Show them to your friends and family and support conservation efforts.
Here are some of the new sculptures that will be available as soon as this project is funded.
Help Me Reach My Funding Goal!
Please remember the way Kickstarter works: If we don't reach the funding goal, this project is cancelled. It's ALL or NOTHING. Kickstarter does not offer partial funding. I have intentionally set a modest funding goal because I think I can find enough support to print at least 100 of these sculptures. But I would be delighted if 1000 people wanted one of these creations! My goal is visibility and confirmation that many people will want to own one of these sculptures. Help me make it happen! Nobody can get their rewards unless the project is fully funded.
Risks and challenges
I think the major hurdles for the successful completion of this project have already been overcome. I have access to an extensive collection of
excellent skeletal specimens and have recently scanned these skulls in a GE Lightspeed 16-slice CT scanner. I have examined the CT images and they look great. Now the challenge is to immerse myself in the work of transforming the CT data into 3D models. There is the possibility that I will encounter technical software problems. Some of the CT scans may be more intricate than others. Since I have already used and tested the software on the CT data from the prototype skulls, solving technical problems should only be a matter of additional days or weeks of work, not months. I should be able to create all the rewards within the first months of 2014.
- (42 days)