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Apr. 1, 2014 10:15 am

The new ‘selfie’: 3D photography with ShapeShot from Direct Dimensions

As Direct Dimensions slowly improved the technology for taking accurate 3D scans of actors' faces and bodies, a new use for 3D scanning technology revealed itself: the automated 3D-photo booth, something the company calls ShapeShot.

Dolls and busts of people's faces, all 3D printed from digital files taken with ShapeShot.

“We’ve been taking photographs of ourselves for a hundred years. Why wouldn’t we do that in 3D?”

To the mind of Michael Raphael, a man who pioneered 3D scanning technology, three-dimensional images of the faces of friends and families — and the products that can be printed in 3D from them — is the next step for his Owings Mills-based company, Direct Dimensions.

Since the mid-1990s, Raphael’s firm has been taking 3D scans and compiling the digital data of buildings, automobile parts, pieces of art and Hollywood actors for a variety of uses, as Technical.ly Baltimore reported last week. As Direct Dimensions slowly improved the technology for taking accurate 3D scans of actors’ faces and bodies, a new use for 3D scanning technology revealed itself: the automated 3D-photo booth, something the company calls ShapeShot.

“ShapeShot came out of that — scanning people’s faces,” Raphael said. “[We] realized there’s entertainment value in seeing that.”

That there is, as Direct Dimensions demonstrated in late 2013 at Bmore3D, the city’s first 3D printing and scanning pop-up shop.

While ShapeShot requires a bit more space than photo booths seen in malls and on boardwalks, the technology isn’t nearly as advanced as the lasers and 3D-scanning devices Direct Dimensions employs most of the time.

  • The booth uses store-bought digital cameras positioned in several places around the chair where a person sits.
  • All cameras go off at once, and “you’re effectively, immediately in 3D and very dimensionally accurate,” Raphael said.
ShapeShot

The ShapeShot 3D-photo booth.

At first, Direct Dimensions had no plans to do anything beyond making the digital files of peoples’ faces available on a native app.

Download the ShapeShot app for iOS or Android.

In the last year, however, the company has begun working on tools to make the digital files ready for 3D printing, somewhat different territory for a company that performs plenty of 3D-scanning projects but doesn’t own any 3D printers itself.

SHAPESHOToffice

ShapeShot’s office within Direct Dimensions.

Direct Dimensions synced its online database of ShapeShot digital portraits with the online 3D-printing marketplace Shapeways. The database is private, and only people who have had their photos taken with ShapeShot can access their online files. With the click of a button, they can affix their digital likenesses to products such as ceramic mugs or order 3D-printed busts of their heads — for which Raphael has appropriated the term “selfie,” generally used to mean a self-portrait taken by camera phone — and have them shipped directly from Shapeways.

Raphael admits the uses for ShapeShot now are a bit “pedestrian,” but he thinks there’s greater potential for the technology, which is funded and owned by Direct Dimensions but operates separately from the company’s main operations as its own startup.

“I honestly believe that there is a gigantic potential with that concept,” he said. “We will wish we knew what we looked like accurately 20 years ago.”

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Andrew Zaleski

Andrew Zaleski is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia and the former lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. Before moving to Philadelphia in June 2014, he was a contributing writer to Baltimore City Paper and a Tech Check commentator for WYPR 88.1 FM, Baltimore city’s National Public Radio affiliate. He has written for The Atlantic, Outside, Richmond magazine, Washington City Paper, Baltimore magazine, Baltimore Style magazine, Next City, Grist.org, The Atlantic Cities, and elsewhere.

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