Mission resident Dat Phan built a whole body scanner out of a gaming computer, wheel bearing, plywood, and an Xbox Kinect. He scanned his father and then printed a little replica. I spoke with Phan about the whole adventure and what he sees in the future for technologically based art.
Q: How did you become interested in whole body scanning?
A: At a previous CODAME event a group of artists from Paris called Unicorn did 3d scanning. It sounded like an interesting process. Since these guys were from France and can’t easily attend more events, I was asked to recreate it. ,
We emailed the French artists and got rough instructions on how to do 3D scanning ourselves Our first scanning event was a wedding for the manager at Geekdom.
I started doing research and thinking about how to do full-body scanning in an efficient way.The most basic method is holding the sensor by hand and walking around people, dragging the cords behind. . I found some designs on how to build a turntable that a person could stand on. I also adapted a camera slider design to shuttle the Kinect sensor up and down. I also determined what kind of computing power was needed to drive the 3D scanning and model generation.
Q: Is there something special about the computer or its configuration to do this scanning?
A: It requires a very powerful graphics card to be able to process the scan data. Most of the calculations are done on the graphics card rather than the CPU.
Q: Typically what kind of computer could be used for scanning?
A: Gaming computers. The same sort of computer that works for gaming does a good job on scanning. Gaming computers are made to churn through a lot of 3D data, the same sort of 3D data that’s involved in 3D scanning.
Q: I saw some of the scans you made at the last CODAME event in particular your dad. What other things have you scanned?
A: Just people. I really haven’t tried scanning anything else like objects yet. It would be cool to scan a piece of furniture, and then use the scan for 3D modeling. The scanned object could then be modified from the scanned mesh. Then the result could be 3D printed or cut out with a CNC machine.
Q: Have you ever reversed the process? You know placing the scanning track on the turntable and scanning something like a room?
A: No, but that would be a good way to scan a room. That’s a cool idea I haven’t thought of that. I think it would work pretty well. You would be able to get a pretty good scan of a room. The dimensions would be pretty accurate, well, close enough. I am sure within a couple inches.
Q: Have you formally studied computers?
A: I studied computer science in undergrad. I took a lot of computer graphics classes then, along with a computer gaming class. When I finished my undergraduate studies I really didn’t get a job in computers.
It wasn’t until recently that I started playing around with computer technology in order to create art. I went to Intel’s and Vice’s Creators Project festival that they had here a few years ago at Ft. Mason. That inspired me to merge computers and art; it was stuff I knew how to do and the results were novel and really profound.
Q: What sort of things did you see that created the biggest impression?
A: I saw a really great interactive installation that used graphics technology to place the viewer into the art. The piece was Chris Milk’s Treachery of Sanctuary I watched visitors interact with the installation, making it come alive with their presence.
Q: You said you did some graduate work as well. Was that in computer technology as well?
A: I went to graduate school in kinesiology at San Francisco State. I found that academia was not my thing.
Q: Why were you attracted to Kinesiology?
A: It is the study of how the body works, sports, and exercise. I really like physical activity and interpreting the physics involved. This morning I went to the rock climbing gym and biked over here. I have always been a very physical person.
Q: Do you think the study of Kinesiology somehow helps your view of 3d modeling?
A: Not directly, but it does help with how I think about art installations and how people perceive movement. It also helps me understand how people use their bodies to interact with things.
Q: Where do you see the art in technology going?
A: It will be commonplace just like other forms of art. The art we are doing reflect the technology that is available. People will play with whatever technology is out there. Like the shift from acoustic sounds to more electronic instruments and sounds in music. As more electronic music equipment and software became available, music also changed.. As more technology emerges, people will discover new ways to create novel interesting stuff
Q: Do you see electronic art going places where no previous media could go?
A: Yes, there are lots of different ways computer technology allows for lots of options for art , which were previously unavailable. For example, you could work on larger projects alone or in a very small team. You are not as limited by physical space. can be created virtually, remotely. Actually, this has been the case for some time now with video games and things like that.
Q: What are the new frontiers that you see technological art approaching?
A: Virtual reality is a very active space. The technology for it has improved a lot in recent years, making it more friendly and feasible compared to back in the 90s when I first heard about VR. Head mounted displays and input interfaces have changed a lot. I don’t know how widespread it would be with cost, access etc, but I can imagine people creating powerfully immersive experiences in that realm. With the way VR immerses people, I bet there will be some pleasantly disturbing, jarring experiences, akin to roller coasters. In a more practical sense, I think tech art will add to our everyday experiences in more subtle ways.
Q: How would our lives be enriched?
A: For example, if you are doing a workout rather than just looking at a basic LCD screen with beats per minute you could have a computer voice coach and guide you, relaying your stats in a fun, engaging way. The same info could be shown on a heads up display, such as Google glass, in an attractive animated graph.
Q: What did your dad think when he saw the 3d print of the scan you made?
A: He was really amazed by it. When I gave him the 3d print of himself he was speechless. I think he was thinking of everything that happened between the scan and a recreation of him on a miniature scale. Then he wanted to know how much a 3d printer would cost.
Q: What did your mom have to say about all this?
A: She thinks it is interesting but she’s not really interested or tech savvy.
Q: How about your sister?
A: My sister thought it was creepy. She just finished her PhD in genetics. Having a 3d representation of someone put her off. Probably because of the Uncanny Valley Effect, which is the idea that when something artificial becomes more similar in look and movement to an actual human the weirder it looks. The more realistic the object becomes the more unnatural it seems. For instance it is easy to handle a dancing stick figure. But the more realistic the figure is, the creepier it becomes, on a primal level.
Q: What does your younger sister think of the 3d print of your dad?
A: She thinks it is cool, fun and an interesting technology. She is a gymnastics coach and is studying to be a physical therapy aid.
Q: It’s interesting your family seems to have two tracks one in science and the other very physical and you are right in the middle.
A: Actually my entire family is very active physically. We all played sports both sisters did gymnastics. My brother is an electrical engineer but we played a lot of sports together like basketball and hockey. I’m the oldest we all grew up in San Jose and I have lived on the west coast my whole life.
Q: So what is your next scanning project?
A: I am mostly making the scanning process more refined and coming up with a good delivery system. You know an easy way to show people scans and have it on line so people could easily see it. After the scan there is some clean up work so I want to smooth out the workflow.
Q: How much clean up work did your dad’s scan require?
A: Really the cleanup work was pretty quick. The scan itself took a couple of minutes. That scan was pretty low resolution. The system is capable of higher resolution but that would take more time. There is some exciting new technology now that uses an array of 90 cameras. Then the scan is instantaneously and then some fancy software to create a high resolution model. That hardware and software package is cost prohibitive. CODAME is a non-profit group, a small nonprofit group; a rotational scan with a Kinect is the most cost effective for us.
Q: Are other members of CODAME eager to use what you have developed?
A: We will be using it on a more frequent basis as the workflow is smoothed out. We did a wedding. Perhaps we will do scanning at corporate events as well.
Q: Where do most of the CODAME members live?
A: Most of them live in San Francisco. Pretty much all over the city. Some also live in the east bay and along the peninsula. Bruno Fonzi and Jordan Grey started it. They were producing electronic dance after parties during programming conventions. They decided to make it a repeatable production Later they expanded to other areas of technology, including 3d printing, fashion, video games and dancing. A lot of the events combine dancing with digital projection art. There are about 10 regularly active members of the group who help coordinate events. There are many more artists who solely contribute art..
Q: Where is the hotbed for technical art? Is there any particular place where more is happening?
A: I really don’t know enough to say internationally but in the U.S. the San Francisco Bay Area seems to be the most active… Of course there is a lot going on with computer graphics on the academic side and in-house at private companies.