04302011 from Sophie Kahn on Vimeo.

A beautiful series of portraits, created on 3D scanner, looks simultaneously like a digital fragmentation of the face and one of the eerie reconstructions of human faces, as if produced centuries from now. It’s the work of artist Sophie Kahn, on exhibit now at an event in Reno, Nevada. The artist writes:

38 New Yorkers whose portraits I made, using a 3d laser scanner. The result is an identity parade of textured 3d scans of their faces, rotating in and out of the light. The glitchy, fragmented look of these scans results from my misuse of the high-end 3d laser scanner, which was never designed to capture the body.

Via that wonderful herald of indie game journalism, Kill Screen Magazine:
3D heads on display at digital art fest, Colonel Kurtz’s hut

Previously: Projector and Camera, A Little Closer: New, Magical Mapping Tools, 3D Scanning, and More

Sophie writes in comments to explain more about the process and her artistic motivations:

For those of you asking about the question of scanner design: I’ve been using laser scanners of all varieties in my artwork for about ten years now, including LIDAR and structured light. Handheld laser scanners are indeed inferior for capturing the body (as opposed to structured light, which is designed to work in an instant). This particular device I use takes about 3-4 minutes to scan the face, and in that time, when the subject moves or breathes, the scanner ‘sweeps’ come in at different spatial locations, so you get a kind of cubist effect. You also get other errors like occlusion and loss of resolution. I intentionally misuse the scanner further to get a very specific aesthetic effect.
It is possible to correct this data, fill holes etc (and I do this when I am scanning professionally, for sculptors etc.) And of course there are other ways to improve facial scanning, eg by mounting a magnetic locator to the head. But I am not interested in making perfect scans. The bottom line is that for me, the fragmentation and ‘gaps’ that occur are much more poetic and aesthetically interesting than a perfect reproduction of the face. I also spend a lot of time on the sculptural side of the work, 3d printing and casting the scans, and you can see that work on my website.

http://www.sophiekahn.net/

  • fred

    howcome a highend 3d laser scanner is not designed for capturing faces? “fragmented look of these scans results from my misuse ” means she just doesn’t how to operate it ?

    • miki

      my guess would be that the scanner is slow and the subjects moved (or he moved it) while the scan was in progress.

    • Dom

      It’s because the scanner is meant to scan objects like a toy, or a sea shell. Not living things. Living things move which cause imperfections in the scan. You can scan the face and than repair the mistakes most likely, but that wasn’t her goal.

    • nikita

      been using a 3d laser scanner in the mid nineties which had no problem with scanning body parts …

    • http://twitter.com/abadona Igor Molochevski

      The whole idea behind the “look” is conceptual. It artistic representation of the fragmentation of the modern “self” , while being reference to victorian fascination with death (death masks). She knows how to operate scanners. I have seen here doing these scans. I am not sure for this particular works here, but last year she used to work with handheld scanner, that allowed some degree of “glitching” . Normaly after the scans you would join the geometries make sure that they do not result in errors. Her workflow is different. She would expose these errors, making them references of the cultural and historical significance.

  • Jon

    I love it when “art” is “using technology with no idea what I’m doing”, oh whatever..

  • SkyRon™

    Just stunning, brilliant!

    (and they wouldn’t even need to ‘be’ New Yorkers!)

  • http://twitter.com/abadona Igor Molochevski

    Love her work, she used to teach at Pratt!

  • Sophie

    Thanks so much Igor and SkyRon!

    For those of you asking about the question of scanner design: I’ve been using laser scanners of all varieties in my artwork for about ten years now, including LIDAR and structured light. Handheld laser scanners are indeed inferior for capturing the body (as opposed to structured light, which is designed to work in an instant). This particular device I use takes about 3-4 minutes to scan the face, and in that time, when the subject moves or breathes, the scanner ‘sweeps’ come in at different spatial locations, so you get a kind of cubist effect. You also get other errors like occlusion and loss of resolution. I intentionally misuse the scanner further to get a very specific aesthetic effect.
    It is possible to correct this data, fill holes etc (and I do this when I am scanning professionally, for sculptors etc.) And of course there are other ways to improve facial scanning, eg by mounting a magnetic locator to the head. But I am not interested in making perfect scans. The bottom line is that for me, the fragmentation and ‘gaps’ that occur are much more poetic and aesthetically interesting than a perfect reproduction of the face. I also spend a lot of time on the sculptural side of the work, 3d printing and casting the scans, and you can see that work on my website.

    I hope this helps –

    -Sophie, http://www.sophiekahn.net

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Thanks, Sophie. That is indeed enlightening! Sorry I failed to include more detail the first time around, but it’s useful to have it now – adding your quote!

  • fred

    now the framented faces are created by the scanner not by the artist. the artist only makes a choice out of the (random) created images . why not make perfect scans first and then add this fragmented look later . then it would be “artistic representation of the fragmentation of the modern “self” ” . instead of a gallery about the misuse of a laser scanner. (which still looks great )

    • Sophie

      Fred, I do also heavily sculpt and manipulate the scan data, both in the digital stages (Rhino, Maya, Netfabb, Rapidform etc) and in the analogue stages when I am creating a ceramic or bronze sculpture. But I am also very interested in using error as a generative process. Interestingly enough, your comment is the same criticism that was leveled at photographers about 100 years ago: that their work was invalid because it was partially random, and all they were doing was ‘editing’ the world, not personally creating every single square inch of their work.

      I don’t think that what I am doing is very different from a photographer who points the camera at a scene – but isn’t in 100% control of what the camera will capture – or a painter like Gerhard Richter, who made a series of paintings where he dragged a piece of wood across a canvas smeared with paint, never knowing exactly what the result would be. You could also look at generative art for many other artists who experiment with (edited) randomness. Marius Watz has talked about ‘co-creating’ with machines. Every artistic medium resists our efforts towards perfection to some extent, and that’s what makes our lives as artists interesting. The idea of contingency is a big one in contemporary art right now, and personally I find it exciting that I can point the scanner at someone, but I will never know exactly how it’s going to turn out. That’s where the surprise and the magic lies, at least for me.

      Again, I hope this sheds more light on my process.