A couple of weeks ago, the nice folks at Sample and Hold asked me if I'd like to drop into their east London studio to get my head 3D scanned. Not long after, my daughter's school shut for a professional development day, so I took the opportunity to bring us both down to Dalston for a 3D scanning adventure.

What followed was the most cyberpunk experience of my life, straight out of a William Gibson Sprawl novel. The Sample and Hold studio is at the bottom of a vibrant market where hand-lettered signs offer cheap money-wiring to Ghana and Nigeria amid stalls with huge displays of fresh fish on ice, dotted with more stalls selling astoundingly off-model cheap toy knockoffs -- Dora the Explorer toys that look like they cast from molds sculpted by someone who was working from a description conveyed over a crackling phone-conversation, Transformer robots that turn into random kitchen appliances and stylized skulls, logoed tees whose Disney characters look like they spent a turn in a toaster oven.

At the bottom of the market, we found a big, rotting warehouse building with a (loud, excellent) Jamaican record store on the ground floor. Ed from Sample and Hold led us up the dim, worn stairwell where there a telltale wisp of smoke spoke of one of the artist's studios where Friday night was starting early. Ed's studio was a spacious concrete box with blackout curtains and cheap desks. Half the room was taken up with a gigantic "scanning" array: a cluster of DSLRs on stands, arranged in a rough, careful sphere around an adjustable stool on a handmade wooden turntable. Next to each DSLR was a large white LED panel, all wired to a laptop on a stand.

Ed and his partner sat us each on the stool and clicked the laptop, causing all the cameras and all the light-panels to fire at once. They shot several exposures, before switching to a more traditional laser-based scanner to do the tops of our heads. Within minutes, we had a low-rez render, stitched together in software from the DSLR exposures. The Sample and Hold folks explained that a full render would take a couple of hours for the giant tower PC under one of the desks to run. They showed us around the studio, letting us see the art pieces they made, and the museum pieces they'd copied for the British Museum to lend out to sister institutions around the world.

It was an exciting look at one of the futures of 3D scanning: stitching together bitmaps and inferring the 3D spaces they described.

Last night I got the first render of my head from them. It's just a hi-rez 3D model, without the bitmap skin that the DSLRs captured (that's coming later). I've popped it up on Thingiverse under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (it joins the earlier scan that I had done at the BotCave in Brooklyn, using a much lower-tech, more cumbersome laser scanner -- cool to see how much the technology has progressed!). Have at it!

Cory Doctorow's head



  1. This 3-D stuff is very interesting and neat. In a way, it may satisfy the average human being’s urge to replicate oneself and therefore have a living image of oneself to admire and worship like an actual fetish object of one’s psyche.. The human ego is indeed a voracious beast. My personal dream would be to have infinite 3-D models of IN and Out burgers made, so I would never go hungrywhile driving home from work. Nice article, Cory!

  2. Horrifying.  This is how the villain makes his latex Cory Doctorow mask, to be peeled off after framing you for murder with a mwa-ha-ha.

  3. “It looks just like you.”

    “It will look better once it has some color.”

    “No, I mean it looks just like you.  Right now.”

    You seen the people in Japan making miniatures of people?

  4. Then why does it look like the 3-D printed head of Benito Mussolini wearing the lunar Appenines for a hat?

    1. I think it looks a fair bit like Cory sans-glasses. If you think about it for a moment, glasses do modify the visage quite a lot.

      Just look at Adam Savage. With glasses on he looks like a studious and perceptive mythbuster. Without glasses he looks like some kind of mackerel crossed with an ape.

      Glasses are immediately added to the mental model when a first impression is made.

  5. This is pretty easy to do.  All you need is a Kinect from an XBOX 360 and some free software (look on Make type sites).  A swivel chair helps.

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