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Artec Space Spider brings supersized mushrooms to the new Amazon HQ in Arlington, Virginia

Challenge: Having successfully submitted a proposal for Amazon’s new headquarters – an installation based on fairy rings (mushrooms that naturally form in a circle), the sculpture needed to be created, involving upsizing tiny mushrooms from an inch or two, to three to six feet high!

Solution: Artec Space Spider, Artec Studio

Result: Greeting visitors and employees, the Artec-powered fairy ring opens its circle to welcome all, with every detail of the selected fungi in its larger-than-life replica, and inspiring lights that glow in the evening.

Why Artec: When it comes to capturing fine ridges, thin lines, and astounding texture, the Artec Space Spider was just the 3D scanner for the task! Even blown up to larger-than-human proportions, all details were displayed true to life, with no feature left behind.

Amazon Giant Mushrooms

When Aurora Robson first submitted a proposal for her artwork for Amazon’s new headquarters in Washington, she had long been working with materials in all sorts of ways. “I’ve been working for over 20 years with plastic debris. And I’ve used so many different techniques in my studio,” the mixed-media artist explained.

But when it came down to her big idea for a large feature in the tech giant’s new grounds, she knew new methods would need to be explored.

“I was awarded the commission for Amazon, and my proposal was all focused on mushrooms,” she said. “The way they grow is in a ring that’s kind of subtle, and it’s always one type of mushroom in the ring.”

Amazon Giant Mushrooms

For the sculpture, it was essential to capture every pore and gill in its truest form

But it was what nature presented that led Robson to the ultimately winning idea: “Why is it only one type of mushroom? Wouldn’t it be nice if there was diversity in that ring?”

Thus the concept of a large, three-dimensional ring of a variety of mushrooms was born – and one that was open, as if inviting the individual to join them. “With enough information and data and accuracy and innovation – I wanted [the sculpture] to have all those things wrapped in so that a person could walk through the park and feel companionship in a way,” she explained.

Capturing every crevice

Finding out about different types of mushroom piqued her curiosity.

“I sort of went down this rabbit hole of exploring all the geometries of different types of mushrooms,” the artist said. “Then I started going on forays, which is what you call it when you go out with or without a mycologist to look for mushrooms.”

In the tight timeline that she had to work with, one solution that allowed quick data capture and super high accuracy presented itself. “The only way I could recreate these mushrooms at a huge scale was to get a very high-resolution 3D scanner,” Robson said. “You can’t freeze them, they just become deformed really quickly. So it was amazing to learn how to use the scanner with these different mushrooms because their geometries are so incredibly diverse – and kind of astonishing. It is just bizarre all the different shapes that they choose to take, or that they do take!”

Amazon Giant Mushrooms

Wild mushrooms ready to be scanned

During her research, Robson also discovered a type of mushroom that grows natively around Arlington, Virginia – this would go on to greatly inspire her work for the Amazon HQ. “There are about 80 species of glowing, bioluminescent mushrooms,” she explained, “and I was fascinated by this.”

As a tribute of sorts to nature’s glorious theatrics, Robson conceptualized what can now be seen in the headquarters: Fibre optic illumination in the mushroom sculptures that are motion activated.

“When you walk through the park at night, they respond to your movement. They’re all just breathing really slowly, like at the rate of a calm human breath,” Robson said.

Space Spider steps up

To bring such a detailed and dedicated plan to life, Robson needed technology to match.

“I had no previous experience with 3D scanning whatsoever, so this was like a huge, fast and furious learning curve,” said Robson. “I ended up calling Source Graphics pretty early on and getting advice from them. I called a few different vendors, and their customer service and insight was just far superior to anyone else that I was interacting with.”

Amazon Giant Mushrooms

Space Spider ensures that no details were missed

When it came down to choosing the scanner, the choice was just as clear. “It didn’t seem like there was a better fit. Initially, I was thinking of a different scanner, and then I learned about the Space Spider. And I was like, oh, that’s the one for sure.”

“The Space Spider was likely the only option for this difficult task. It provided very clear detail, while allowing for freehand movement when scanning,” said Kevin Alvarado from Source Graphics. “It was also very beneficial to capture texture along with geometry to make sure scans aligned properly.”

The Artec Space Spider, a handheld blue-light scanner with astounding accuracy and a high dedication to detail, allows Robson to capture the mushrooms with no detail left out – from surfaces to gills to nature’s tiny details.

Amazon Giant Mushrooms

Complex geometry was no match for the Artec Space Spider

“The geometry is so complex, and I didn’t want it to be smoothed over, I wanted to really show all the aspects of angles of these mushrooms as they were found in nature, without any modifications whatsoever, or any guesswork,” Robson said. “I just wanted to honor them 100%, and the Artec Space Spider allowed me to do that without any kind of compromise.”

“There’s really no other way I could have captured some of these shapes.”

Every last gill

With every last pore successfully captured and super high-resolution files ready, it was time to print the sculptures, which would be installed at towering heights far larger than their earthy origins. Some of the mushrooms were originally four centimeters high, and ended up being three feet in height. Those that were five or six inches? A towering six feet.

Amazon Giant Mushrooms

Some of these mushrooms were printed to be six feet tall!

When processing data, Robson turned first to Artec Studio where she worked with basic features such as global registration, before exporting the scan data as an STL file and importing it into Blender. There, further manipulation would take place.

“The ability to take on each frame individually was a huge lifesaver, and allowed us to identify exactly which scans were erroneous and not needed in the model,” said Alvarado. “Additionally, a lot of the minute post-processing tools helped with the cleanup of the scans. Since the mushroom’s gills were very close together it took many passes at many different angles to build a proper representation of the model. But the final result was a great 3D model of these very fine slits.”

Amazon Giant Mushrooms

Each individual mushroom is full of tiny, intricate details

Honor these mushrooms!

Another challenge for creating these giant mushrooms was sourcing the right filament for the printer out of upcycled plastic, and at the diameter needed – for such large format printing, this is not something readily available yet. Fortunately, the solution was found with REFLOW, a Netherlands-based company, where Robson would end up sourcing her 3D printing material from.

The clarity needed for the mushroom sculptures was essential for this project. “If you have a large 3D print, and the color changes halfway through even slightly, it’s really visible,” Robson said.

Amazon Giant Mushrooms

Innovative 3D printing solutions came to the rescue

“I [needed to have them] printed clear, then painted for the inside to give them a little hint of color during the day, and so they would all have different colors – to speak to the whole idea of diversity.”

And at night, the fiber optic illumination glows with very soft colors that match the paint color of the respective mushroom.

Amazon Giant Mushrooms

This inclusive fairy ring glows at night

Combining tech with eco-friendly methods

When it comes down to it, Robson’s work reminds us to not only appreciate nature and the ecosystems around us, but to take a second to be still, and to consider the quiet beauty they offer. “There’s so many different things happening in nature that are so subtle, that if you slow down and look at them, which is the idea – to quiet your mind, slow down and observe these things in nature. That is why the piece ended up being called: Shhh.”

Amazon Giant Mushrooms

Be still

“There used to be 20-foot-tall mushrooms growing on this continent, but now they’re gone. But how beautiful and miraculous is that? And most people don’t know about this,” Robson said. “And to me, that’s what art is: making things that are invisible, visible, so that people can have access to this amazing information that isn’t typically part of our kind of culture.”

“My ethos lately has been trying to soften the edges between nature and culture, so it’s been really exciting to have this new chapter where I’m working with 3D technology, and honoring nature, without using materials that do it any harm.”

Find out more about the permanent Amazon HQ exhibition and the artist’s future works here.

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