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USC Institute for Creative Technologies Helped Create 3D Portraits of President Obama Now on Display at the Smithsonian

December 2, 2014

White House Releases New Behind-the-Scenes Video Detailing Process Used to Scan a Sitting President for the First Time

The Smithsonian has put on view the first ever 3-D Presidential portraits created using technology from the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies.

A newly released White House video explains the process.

The University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) was part of a Smithsonian-lead team that created 3-D portraits of President Obama. A modified Light Stage X, a high-speed system with eight cameras and 50 LED lights that capture detailed shape and reflectance properties of a face in seconds, recorded the President’s facial features in high-resolution. The Light Stage data was processed by the ICT Graphics Lab team, and subsequently combined with additional data capture by the Smithsonian team to create a life-sized bust and life mask of the president.

The portraits, part of the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, will be on view in the Commons gallery of the Smithsonian Castle starting today through Dec. 31. They were previously displayed at the White House Maker Faire on June 18.

The White House released video shows ICT researchers, part of a Smithsonian-led team creating a 3-D presidential portrait,  on location in the White House to scan the president using their Mobile Light Stage system.

“It can be used to record, almost certainly, the highest resolution digital model that’s ever been made of a head of state,” says ICT’s Paul Debevec in the video.

The video explains that Smithsonian’s inspiration for the project came from the Lincoln life masks in the institution’s National Portrait Gallery. These masks were directly taken from Lincoln’s likeness by putting plaster on his face, with holes poked in the nostrils so he could breathe.

“Seeing that made us think what would happen if we could actually do that with a sitting president, using modern day technologies and tools to create a similarly authentic experience that connects us to history, that connects us to a moment in time and connects us to a person’s likeness,” said Gunther Waibel, director of  the Smithsonian Digitization Program.

The video documents President Obama taking part in the Light Stage scanning process, which Debevec explains involves creating different lighting conditions using 50 custom- built LED lights, eight high-resolution sports photography cameras, an additional six wider-angle cameras,  and a one-second presidential pose.

“That will give us everything we need to understand the shape of the his face and how transforms incident illumination into the images we see of him,” said Debevec. “Ten years ago is was just barely possible to think this could be done.”

The video then shows the Smithsonian team scanning the president’s body and face with a handheld structured light 3-D scanner. The White House states that the president getting his likeness scanned  – as cool as that is – is also about a  broader trend, the third industrial revolution.

“It is the combination of the digital world and the physical world that is allowing students and entrepreneurs to go from idea to prototype in the blink of an eye,” said Tom Kalil of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The video goes on to show some of the raw data taken from the scans and then shows the president viewing the 3-D bust that was created.

“This is the first bust that’s created of a head of state from objective 3-D scan data,” said Adam Metallo, of the Smithsonian’s 3D Digitization Program. “ So this isn’t an artistic likeness of the president. This is actually millions upon millions of measurements that create a 3D likeness of the president that we can now 3D print and make something that has never been done before.”

For more information visit the ICT Graphics Lab.

Read the USC News story.