Pixels to Metal
Metalphysic Sculpture Studio is primarily an art bronze foundry. It’s two principles, Anthony Bayne and Jay Luker established the foundry in 2001. It’s expert staff can transform a sculpture rendered in wax, clay, plaster or any other material into the permanence of bronze using the lost wax-casting process. Lost-wax casting with all of its intricacies requires skill, precision and timing. Their handling of hot molds and liquid metal is an exciting process to witness.
In preparing sculptures for casting, Metalphysic uses cutting edge digital technology to model sculptural forms from drawings and to scan maquettes that a client may bring to them.
The digital area of Metal Physic is a narrow room with a couple of computers, and a 3D scanner. Tony works in a software program called ZBrush. Nowadays an artist doesn’t have to model a sculpture in traditional plastic materials. A complex three-dimensional form can be rendered from start to finish entirely on a computer.
Anthony Bayne Modeling a sculpture in ZBrush
ZBrush by Pixologic http://www.pixologic.com/ is 3D modeling software that offers any imaginable sculpture tool in virtual form. Tony starts a project by looking at a two-dimensional rendering by an artist, in this case an octopus by artist Scott Musgrove, a Seattle based artists of fantasy creatures. He begins by drawing a basic three-dimensional shape like a cube or a sphere and anchors a point on the object. Then he extrudes the area by dragging the point.
The original concept drawing by Scott Musgrove
Tony gradually adds extrusions or chips away areas to produce the general shape of the sculpture (Figure 6). As Tony develops the form, he can alter the surface as superficially or deeply as he pleases. As the sculpture progresses he spins the model in virtual space to manipulate the entire surface. Furthermore, he adds textures by applying any of thirty 3D brushes that are bundled with the program.
ZBrush was designed with real world sculpting techniques in mind, enabling Tony to build portions of a form similar to adding clay, or chip away areas like carving stone. Brushes can be made any size or proportion, and new brushes, designed by the user, can be added to the brush menu as virtual tools.
Preview and Proofing
After quite a bit of modeling the form looks like the original drawing and additional parts from separate files have been added to complete the virtual sculpture. At this point Tony can preview the sculpture in a variety of modes to simulate how the piece will ultimately look in metal. Many other features are available that create special lighting effects that enhance textures and give the user a pretty good idea of the final surface.
The virtual sculpture can be printed to paper for hard proofing. Finally, the image is saved as an stl file for output to a 3D device.
Before the introduction of digital technology to the sculpture studio, a monumental sculpture was rendered as a “maquette”- a small preliminary model, and “pointed up” in several stages using special calipers – a labor-intensive process that required great skill on the part of the artisan. Nowadays, the sculpture can scaled to virtually any size with the software which is one of the major advantages of working digitally.
When the digital sculpture is finally complete, there are several output options to choose from. But before I go into the ultimate results of all this effort, let’s look at another option for creating sculptures. A sculptor provides a maquette, rendered in any material, clay, wax, wood, stone- anything.
Reference numbers are drawn on the figure and the object is placed on a rotating pedestal. A series of laser beams are scanned over the object that measure the varying depths of the surface detail.
Software assembles the data and renders it on screen. If the figure has undercuts or areas not visible to the laser, the on-screen image will be incomplete.The figure will be scanned again from several different angles and the new data will fill in
When the virtual model is complete Tony may send the data to a Kuka KR60 HA Art Bot, a robotic arm that carves foam, or for that matter any other carvable material including stone. This amazing machine carves with ever increasing precision and changes carving bits as the sculpture progresses. It gradually whittles away at the foam until a perfect form is complete.
Usually the foundry applies a thin coating of oil-based clay called plasteline to the surface of the carved foam and the artist refines the surface details. At this point a series of molds and positives are made using the lost wax casting process that ultimately produce a bronze sculpture.
Scott Musgrove’s octopus sculpture cast in bronze
Another output option that is currently seeing new widespread popularity is 3D printing. This process makes a solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes and fused together.
To perform a print, the machine reads the design from the .stl file and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, paper or sheet material to build the model from a series of cross sections. These layers, which correspond to the virtual cross sections from the computer model, are joined together and automatically fused to create the final form.
Although costly to produce multiples or larger sculptures, 3D printing is an efficient method for creating prototypes that can be laser scanned, sized and output to the Art Bot.