Original title: "La sculpture numerique", by Christian Lavigne.
First published in French magazine, "Computer Arts", September 1998.
English Translation by Marie-Paule Jiccio and Robert Michael Smith
|"During the early sixties
at the Renault corporation, where I was an engineer at the time, I went
to see my supervisor to tell him that I had found a new mathematical method
for drawing curves that would replace all previous rough calculations and
other lathed shapes and models. He saw my project, looked at me, and said,
'Monsieur Bezier, if your thing worked, the Americans would already be using
it."…Over eighty-five years old, Pierre Bezier, with acutely mocking eyes,
is still laughing at his beginnings in an atmosphere of typical French reticence
that unfortunately hasn't left us. Like Monsieur Jourdain with his prose,
all of us in "computer arts" use his theory without knowing it: the famous
Bezier Curves that have permitted the emergence of computer drawing. Dear
Pierre Bezier, since then the Americans are also using your work, you are
renown worldwide, and amongst other things we owe you for the birth of what
you named, "computer assisted sculpture"
S.A.O."untitled", Pierre Bezier, 1990
Abstract Sculptures, Renault Co.,France, 1970
| By the end of the
sixties in the Renault prototyping studio, the engineers, like during the
Renaissance, became artists, drawing abstract figures on their drafting
tables, sometimes manufacturing wooden pieces simply to please the eye with
their numerically controlled milling machines. At the same time Dr. Georg
Nees, in Germany, for his thesis, produced some sculptures in wood and aluminum
by similar methods. First attempts without follow-up.
| In the seventies,
digital sculpture truly entered the art world. The German sculptor Eberhardt
Fiebig was already drawing his monumental projects with the assistance of
a computer as he still does today. Aided by IBM, the Spanish sculptor Jose-Luis
Alexanco visualized anthropomorphic figures by stacking thick disc shapes
that he realized later in resin. The researcher and French artist Yves Kodratoff
used a numerically controlled machine to carve blocks of plaster in an art
gallery according to public choice: an interactive work of art long before
this word has become fashionable. These two artists abandoned this direction.
Why? Too complicated, too difficult to put into practice at a time of punch
cards and scarce machines.
Eberhardt Fiebig, Rotulus, simulation, Allemange,
Eberhardt Fiebig, Hanging Sculpture
|It had to wait until
the conjoined emergence of micro-computing and rapid prototyping technologies
for the rebirth and blossoming of "computer sculpture". Despite an ostracism
that we will discuss later, this fusion is now revolutionizing all methods
of visualization and/or fabrication of modeled objects: art, design, architecture,
public art…the computer will be the primary tool in the sculptor's studio
of the 21st Century.
practice inscribing itself in history
the whys and hows, let's take a closer look at what this is about as your
favorite magazine, "Computer Arts", informs you here of a subject matter
that is rarely explored by the media. Since Egyptian or Chinese antiquity
certain sculptures have required simple or complex machinery to add the
dimension of time to their three-dimensional physical presence. This means
that they integrate mechanisms to create motion effects, sound effects,
lighting, etc. These are inscribed for a generally programmed duration;
from articulated statues in ancient temples to amusement park automatons,
such as "le Canard de Vaucanson" for figurative works; from the clepsydre
to kinetic art mobiles through sound sculptures for abstract works. Contrary
to accepted ideas the technical evolution involved in these creations has
not followed the progress of technology but has often preceded it. It's
impossible to list all examples here, let's simply remember that art and
technology have the same origins in all civilizations; specifically in ours
the figure of Daedalus, constructor of the Labyrinth, sums up the matter.
Eberhardt Fiebig, Sculpture Cinetique
H. Lagrange, 1969
|With a logical view
of History, therefore, an electronic sculptural art has developed in which
circuits, motors, monitors, and all sorts of do-it-yourself handiwork or
refined inventions animate the works. It is effectively a form of "Computer
Sculpture" (the subject was approached at the 1998 International Sculpture
Conference at Chicago during the Computers and Sculpture Forum program).
But not what we call "Digital Sculpture", that uses more computing processes
and robotics to produce an object rather than form the constituent elements
of this object
The generic term, "Digital Sculpture", in fact covers three different activities
that can be complimentary:
1) Creation and visualization by computer of forms or constructions
in 3-dimensions, or even 4, the evolution of time.
2) Digitizing real objects and their eventual modification made possible
by computer calculations.
3) The production of physical objects by numerically controlled machines
that are used to materialize the synthetic images (Rapid Prototyping technique)
by either subtraction or addition of material, as since earliest times when
man began to "give life" to his dreams.
has also been referred to as, "InfoSculpture" (Vitkine and Coignard), "RoboSculpture"
(Lavigne - 1988), or "TeleSculpture" (Lavigne and Vitkine - 1995) since
it is now possible to create in one location and to operate a machine by
remote control for manufacture in another. The first transcontinental TeleSculpture
occurred in September 1995 during the preparations of InterSculpt, a biennial
tele-conference exhibition between Paris and Philadelphia devoted to these
| A CyberSculpture (Lavigne
- 1995) or Virtual Sculpture is a non-material digital sculpture presented
in the form of a 3D image either locally or via the Internet. When several
Virtual Sculptures are collected it is called a Virtual Gallery. On the
Web Virtual Sculptures are either seamless sequential images presenting
all angles around the object (QuickTime VR) or truly 3D objects described
in VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) code from which any view and
orientation can be chosen.
Tim Duffield, 1994
a little long, are useful to understand "the revolution of objects", in
the same manner that the importance of "new images" was grasped. It must
be said that despite the hospitality or indifference of their professional
circles, sculptors, architects and designers began to produce 3D images
of their art projects with the rise of micro-computing during the mid-eighties.
The development of programs and formats for these types of images encouraged
a vigorous growth of Virtual Sculpture, without a truly noticeable upgrading
of art instruction, nor any interest whatever from art criticism, which
is extremely reactionary in this regard.
In the beginning isolated artists formed groups in 1992.
In the USA the Computersand Sculpture Forum was founded by Bruce Beasley,
Rob Fisher and Tim Duffield.In the same year in France Ars Mathematica
was founded by Christian Lavigne andAlexandre Vitkine. Then artists went
on-line with virtual galleries of works in VRMLon the Internet. Or since
1996 in the virtual sculpture park of DAAP founded on ActiveWorld (a meta-world
where one can walk through with the appearance of an avatar and converse
with other visitors) by Derick Woodham, sculptor and professor at the
University of Cincinnati College of Art.
Today, most digital sculptors use computer tools to conceive,
visualize and present their projects that will eventually be traditionally
realized. They use various software, including "home-made" software. 3D
Studio MAX seems to be the most widespread while scientifically trained
artists willingly use Mathematica. The cost of equipment and programs still
curbs development of the discipline. It is noteworthy that many American
artists are teachers or researchers within public or private institutions
that put the necessary materials at their disposal, which is absolutely
not the case in France. Hence the concept of Ars Mathematica is to create
an International Sculpture Research and Educational Center, an interdisciplinary
location on-line in partnership with schools, laboratories and corporations.
Tim Duffield, 1994
Rob Fisher, Cybernauts,1992
|At the Center for
Creative Inquiry (Carnegie-Mellon University, Pennsylvania) Rob Fisher (USA)
works on personal or ambitious collaborative projects. To create his "Cybernauts"
he utilizes software that simulates the growth of crystals to produce complex
polyhedral forms that will then be materialized by large assemblages of
neon and lights triggered by computer.
|Reknown American sculptor,
Bruce Beasley (USA), has realized his abstract bronzes for many years thanks
to computers, doubly useful in this case. In fact, they are geometric blocks
overlapped within one another that the artist manipulates onscreen and in
which the spatial assembly would have an improbable physical balance if
the center of gravity of the entirety was not verified by computer calculation.
and landscape architect, Tim Duffield (USA), digitally designs gardens with
sculptures, fountains and various furniture, then creates realistic animation
to better inform his clients.
| Lacking space, let's
stop there. However, let's mention the singular work of Daniel-Jean Primeau
(Quebec), who models by computer the growth of his "Parasitic Trees"; trees
that absorb within their trunks various objects against which they grow,
grating, walls, forgotten tools, etc. It you have a bit of patience in sixty
years you will see the physical results of the artist's installations
In all these examples it can be said, like in industry of virtual models,
that the final intention is to realize the objects by usual techniques.
But a very recent tendency of digital sculpture envisages only the production
of immaterial works presented on the Internet and/or in "Virtual Reality",
Robert Michael Smith, Urchanticede, Virtual Sculpture,
Robert Michael Smith, Sun worms, Virtual Sculpture,
teacher of computer visualization at Pratt Institute of New York, Robert
Michael Smith (USA) is involved more and more with the creation of abstract
sculptures in VRML, works of great symbolic force.
(USA), abstract artist of musical elegance, is the founder of "Virtual Sculpture
Park" of DAAP that one can visit on ActiveWorld. Besides his own sculptures
one can see the works of his students, his friends and fellow artists, like
the famous "Virtual Caves of Lascaux" created by Ben Britton (USA). Derrick
Woodham will be in charge of the on-line section of the InterSculpt'99 Exhibition,
since DAAP is also a place for direct dialogue.
Derrick Woodham, Twister, 1996
During the last International Sculpture Conference at Chicago
an American foundry presented the possibility to enlarge a traditional sculpture,
modeled manually, by the use of a 3D digitizing system followed by the milling
of styrofoam at the required scale. The old question regarding spatial pointing
(pantograph), that so excited the imagination of artists and engineers of
the Renaissance, is definitely resolved. The procedure will be standardized
and no doubt help the most reticent of traditional sculptors, devoted to
sensual contact with materials, to integrate new technologies into their
Derrick Woodham, Geocolumm, 1994
Lavigne, Hierographic Primordiale, 1998
|It is thanks to a French
team that we possess the first artistic works by 3D digitizing essentially
used for public conservation. From the beginning of the 90's sculptors Roland
and Benoit Coignard, archeological restoration specialists, worked with
the Mensi Company on the development of a 3D scanner capable of analyzing
the geometry of large pieces. This "optical mold", as they call it, has
the enormous advantage of not touching the original piece. With the obtained
data files one can simulate restorations, try virtual assemblies of scattered
fragments, establish an archive, recreate the original piece at a different
| At about the same
time in the United States the American artist, Dan Collins, used Cyberware
systems to develop anamorphic or metamorphic 3D scans of his face, his body
or other models not overly concerned about recognition in the final work.
After working with the digitizer to obtain 3D models the artist uses them
for milling in plastic or materialized by other rapid prototyping processes
that we will cover at the end. Since 1995 Dan Collins has been a co-founder
and co-director of PRISM at the University of Arizona, an interdisciplinary
research laboratory for the modeling and production of three-dimensional
objects for art, engineering, medicine, geology, etc. A good example from
which France could take inspiration…even though since 1988 we have proposed
this kind of innovative crossbreeding location.
Alexandre Vitkine, D125-6, 1985
From the beginning of "computer assisted sculpture" we have
seen the preoccupation to visualize and also to fabricate the dreamt object
exactly has been present. In the 70's numerically controlled milling and
lathes developed. In the 80's a combination of computerized cutting machines
appeared: laser cutters, water-jet cutters, plasma cutters…very few artists
were persistent enough to gain access to these machines reserved for the
advanced technology industry. I was one of those and since then I have not
stopped utilizing all types of new technologies for my works inspired simultaneously
by poetry, mythology and mathematics. As it is not my intention to talk
too much about my work I direct the reader to my Web site.
| Amongst the pioneers Alexandre Vitkine (France)
and Masaki Fujihata (Japan) must be cited. Alexandre Vitkine is today a
young man of 88 years who, since the 60's, has produced electronic images
with televisions and oscilloscopes in the fashion of Professor Tournesol.
He is in particular the inventor of the Sonoscope that transforms sound
into images. From 2D he went naturally to 3D and creates small wooden sculptures
designed and manufactured with his own personal programs.
Masaki Fujihata, Sculptures nanoscopiques, 1998
Masaki Fujihata, Forbidden Fruits, 1990
as his name indicates, is a mountain of imagination. He began his work in
video and digital visualization and soon became interested in objects and
interactive installations. He was probably one of the first to use stereolithography.
He also realized the smallest sculptures in the world with the manufacturing
techniques for integrated circuits. If you don't have an electron microscope
it's needless to try to see these works that are between 10µ and 100µ.
|The 90's will remain
in the history of arts and techniques as decisive years for rapid prototyping
and new materials, with all due respect to the uninformed fascinated only
by the virtual aspect of NT (the problem is that these uninformed have responsibilities
in all types of institutions). Systematically promoting aloofness through
the bias of the numerical universe is not a sign of good mental health.
How is cyberspace relative within our society? Wouldn't the modern force
of hypnotic nature be better used to cure the innermost pain of our frustrations,
failures and absentmindedness? What economic truth is behind the seduction
Masaki Fujihata, Forbidden Fruits, 1990
Masaki Fujihata, Sculptures microscopiques, 1998
|The return to the real is one of
the goals for the 21st Century. Reality does not conflict with virtuality:
it is the complementary aspects of a similar space of life. For those who
imagine objects then desire to hold them in their hand, there is coming
the age of 3D printers. Various processes are now available, the principle
is always to cut up a digital object - STL format- into fine slices that
will be materialized and stacked up.
* Stereolithography: a laser sweeps the surface of a liquid resin that
polymerizes while passing across.
* LOM Process: paper sheets are laser cut and fused one on top of the
* FDM Process: A plastic thread in fusion draws the outline of the object
to be realized, level by level, like the ancient technique of colombin.
*Frittage powder: layers of plastic powder conglomerated by fusion effected
by a passing laser ray are added one to the other.
Afterwards the artist, designer, is free to make a mold or a lost wax
to cast a piece in metal.
|Stewart Dickson (USA) who works in special effects
for Disney Studios is also a specialist of mathematical surfaces. In particular
he has realized entirely by stereolithography a series of sculptures inspired
by minimal surfaces.
|Arghyro Paouri (France-Greece), computer visualization
specialist at INRIA, produces animations on the classic theme of metamorphosis
and chooses moments of these transformations for materializing the corresponding
real objects by stereolithography.
Arghyro Paouri, Metadata,1996-97
Michael Rees, Aonaline, 1997
|Michael Rees (USA), after years of classical
sculpture declares, " It is a conversion experience, my practice of manual
sculpture is accomplished; the Rapid Prototyping technologies bring an incomparable
freedom and poetry". He creates strange biomorphic forms and is interested
by the question of color in these new processes.
|Keith Brown (UK) creates animations with complex
abstract shapes from which he sometimes gets a physical object with the
LOM system. He has founded a group for artistic research, FAST-UK, dedicated
to digital sculpture - encouraged in England by the CALM Project (government
Keith Brown, Continuity of form, 1997-98
Keith Brown, Time form, 1996-97
|For reasons of accessibility, of cost and also
of mentality, that I have already evoked, digital sculpture is still out
of reach for most. However, there is an exponential growth in the number
of artists, architects, designers who are interested in it. The cost of
equipment and materials is decreasing. Technological support is always possible.
In France places such as AFPA, CREATE (Central School), CRITT Water Jet,
CIRTES, Lycee Diderot Paris; companies such as Autodesk, Canon, Charlyrobot,
Chateauroux-Fonderies, Laser Decoup, Laser Industries, NEC; an organization
such as the French Association of Rapid Prototyping; etc…have brought their
support to artistic projects. The (French) Senate even received the InterSculpt'97
Conference. But it is time to move at a faster pace like in USA and England.
|We were the first, will we be the last? Answer
at the next InterSculpt in October 1999, where we invite all readers of
Computer Arts. Whatever it is, the 21st Century will be the one of digital
sculpture real and virtual
Christian Lavigne, May/June 1998 firstname.lastname@example.org
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