Using Artec Space Spider to turn wire sculptures into interactive NFT art
Challenge: To scan a cat sculpture for digitization, animation, and turning into NFT art. The catch? Each sculpture is made up of thin, shiny, overlapping wires.
Solution: Artec Space Spider, Artec Studio
Results: Using Space Spider, two cat sculptures were successfully scanned and animated – they now reside in the world of blockchain.
To draw a cat in the air, and then to share it with the world
For Singaporean artist Victor Tan, the space around us is paper, the wire he sculpts with the pencil, and the sky above us the limit.
“It goes way back to when I was in art college,” the visually impaired artist explained. “It was a challenge, trying to find my way of drawing, so the school allowed me to explore different ways. I tried out different mediums, and wire was one of them.”
“It’s very much like using space as a medium of paper, and the wire as a medium of the pencil.”
His love for this form of art comes from the simple but steadfast nature of wire. “Wire can be very soft and very fine, yet it has the strength and power to withstand the destruction of natural forces in an outdoor environment,” he said.
“I have produced sculptures in some parts of the world like in the Chateau of Paris, where it can be so cold and covered in ice, but the steel sculpture withstands, it’s still standing, and it's still completely untarnished. Then you also have Shanghai City, where sometimes pollution can be quite bad. But it still stands, and it still shines.”
But beyond these accomplishments, Tan has always had his eye on something special, and a big step further: the digitization and animation of his work.
Entering a digital space
And when it comes to animating something physical in a digital space, 3D scanning becomes a natural next step. While Tan had heard about 3D scanning, he hadn’t heard about anyone who might be able to help him with his dream of turning a wire sculpture into an animated digital work.
“I hadn’t come across anyone who could actually digitize a sculpture,” he said. “And it was only when I learned more about the process of scanning did I realize how difficult it might be to digitize the cat sculpture.”
The challenge he refers to is one all too familiar to those in the scanning industry, where fine lines and shiny surfaces are notoriously difficult to capture; Victor’s work is made entirely of the aforementioned challenges.
Undeterred, Tan needed to make his vision a reality. This time, his work would take the form of a series of cats with a story. All street cats who have since been adopted, Tan wanted to turn these special felines into stories to be told, art to be shared and enjoyed.
“I had a very strong desire to get my work 3D scanned in the past. I think that fascinates me: To see that possibility of the sculpture entering into a different world – a cyber world. For Tan’s vision to be fully realized, the work wouldn’t stop there.
“To me the interesting part is that the wire, the sculptures, can then be animated and changed, according to the ideas that I would imagine – ideas that are probably not possible in reality, but when digitized, anything is possible.”
“I would like to see how the sculptures can move and transform, in a way that is beyond your imagination, through digital animation, a surreal style of work.”
For such a tricky task, Tan found himself in good company: with Artec Ambassadors Shonan Design.
Scanning Shiny Cats
When scanning expert Lee Siow Hoe first encountered the task, his mind was a blank. “I thought, this is probably impossible to scan,” he recalled. “It’s thin, it’s shiny, and we can’t spray it with powder because it's very difficult to wash off completely, and it’s also very complex. Because of the geometry, there are lots of turns and overlapping lines here and there, and the sculpture is semi-flexible. I knew it was a high-difficulty job with a significant possibility of not being able to accomplish it.”
Never one to turn down a challenge, Lee began to think about how to make this challenge a feasible task with good results. And to Lee, the answer was clear.
“I reached for Artec Space Spider right away,” he said. “I knew for sure that if anything could be captured, it would be with Space Spider.”
Designed for submillimeter accuracy and capturing excellent data from fine details when utmost precision is required, the Artec Space Spider was made for use in the International Space Station, but has continued to provide solutions for many here on earth. An excellent enhanced precision instrument for CAD engineers and users, Space Spider is a high-resolution blue-light technology solution when high resolution and steadfast accuracy is required.
Here, its robust nature made it an ideal – and surprisingly easy – tool for capturing the thin lines and tricky angles of the wired cats. Much to Lee’s surprise and in testament to Space Spider’s capabilities, once everything was set up, the scanning proceeded without much fuss.
With a scan time of about one hour and processing time of four hours, Lee was surprised and pleased with the results. “The final fusion result was better than I expected,” he said. “Even during scanning, default scan settings of Space Spider were sufficient to capture the scan.”
For Lee, the project goes beyond the everyday, and his particular enthusiasm for this work comes in a few forms. Firstly, the challenge.
“It’s challenging to scan such a wire sculpture, because of the nature of the object. I cannot destroy or change the shininess of the original sculpture, so luckily we have the option of AESUB vanishing spray, which after four hours disappears – so we get back the original sculpture.”
A few points here and there could easily be a tiny but important detail, so all the data had to be kept and handled exactly as it was captured.
Because of the 0.5mm thinness of the wire, there’s also very little data per scan despite its complexity. Being able to check the data on Artec Studio as he scanned was essential, and thanks to Space Spider, possible without having to use any targets or markers.
Miao Miao the Wire Cat has plenty of fine lines, sharp edges, and tricky spaces
“It was interesting to see if I could do it or not,” Lee shared. “I did my best to capture as much data as possible, and we ended up with raw data of 100 million points.” This posed an additional challenge – with every single point significant in the complex cat sculpture, working with large amounts of data wasn’t as simple as reducing the number of points, as is often done in these cases. A few points here and there could easily be a tiny but important detail of the cat’s eye, its tail, or a cheeky whisker – so all the data had to be kept and handled exactly as it was captured.
The physical object needed special care, too. As the sculptures are semi flexible, care needed to be taken when scanning, and everything had to be done in stages, section by section.
“It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to scan. Top three!” laughed Lee. “But because it’s something new, and something very challenging, it pushes the frontier of 3D scanning in terms of how fine we can capture.”
Animated NFT Kittens
Once the cats had been successfully scanned, processed, and presented in stunningly crisp 3D, they had longer ways to go yet.
“Basically, we wanted to digitize the sculpture,” said Tan. “And I had a certain idea that the digitized sculpture would then be animated in a way that would be so subtle, and so alive, that you’d want to approach it.”
From the 3D scan, the team was then able to animate the 3D wired cats in an interesting way – and the next stage of their increasingly exciting digital lives was next. “We minted the animations as NFTs on Opensea.io as well,” Michael Chua, Director of Collective Perspectives Pte Ltd said, adding that he was happy about how details of the final work turned out.
“Beyond scanning, digitizing, and animating the sculptures, the next step is where we convert it into an NFT to be based on blockchain,” said Lee. “A lot of people have been using 2D art on NFT, but this is a sculpture – not only a sculpture but a wire sculpture and one that’s now animated, so it’ll probably be the first in the world.”
“I think this is where we can add value to Victor’s art form,” he continued. “Now living in a digital world, I think a new generation will be able to access this art – it provides more accessibility.”
Chua, a key collaborator on the project, believes that the work done here is the beginning of an exciting and unlimited future.
“The future of galleries is virtual galleries,” he said, pointing to the accessibility of galleries you can access digitally. “Imagine, I can collect Victor’s art, and you can come and visit, and see my collection.”
At present, Marble the cat has been sold to a private collector, while both cats were last year featured in virtual gallery NFT99 held by Metaverse Generation Club – an NFT and Metaverse space leader.
Wire Cats have their moment to shine in the NFT99 virtual gallery
Beyond the potential of digital art and the explosion of NFTs in today’s society, the 3D scanning’s role in digitization can hardly be ignored – on the contrary, it can deepen the owner’s interaction with art, while adding to the story. “What we are capturing is the process, rather than just the artwork itself,” Chua said. “This means that the story behind each artwork can be digitized, including how Victor actually came up with the art.”
While we are often only focused on the end result, Chua pointed out, there’s a lot more to art than that. “This expression is an important product of how Victor comes up with the idea, how he does the work, how he digitizes it, how he moves it, and eventually, the interactivity of it,” he said. “The possibilities are endless once you digitize it.”
For Lee and the team at Shonan Design, the contribution to the future of art is something to be celebrated. “Digitizing and animating art into this format – in this way it's contributing to the arts, and to culture,” he said. “I think this is something positive, to be able to digitize artwork and share it around.”
And the journey of these cats is far from over. “The Wired Cats will be going on a global tour soon,” said Chua. “And, we are working with Victor to create more impressions of cats all over the world.”