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On scanning horses and digitally presenting them as art with Artec Leo

“Most people would say it’s impossible to scan a horse!” said Tove Kjellmark, a Swedish artist who has taken on the mammoth task of scanning a series of horses for an upcoming art exhibition.

“No one has done it yet,” she continued, “So, I decided I’d do it!”

An exciting new art project focused on scanning and processing 3D data from horses of all sizes.

The Concept

For Kjellmark, it is the very idea of capturing movement that inspires her art.

“I’ve been interested in scanning bodies in movement for a long time,” she said, “and these are the results that I am most happy with.”

Combining 3D scanning with this philosophy – that movement in itself is art – has led to the development of an exhibition in Stockholm slated for April 2022 titled, “The Horse, the Robot, and the Immeasurable.” The idea: to challenge the limits of measurability, examine corporeality in motion, and the interaction between a human, a horse, and a robot. The plan: to scan horses both stationary and in motion, and to create an art series from the results.

The artist has so far scanned 10 horses and is currently closing in on her final goal: To exhibit a collection of sculptures made from these horses, 3D printed as large or small sculptures either in part or in whole, and various configurations of these magnificent creatures in different forms.

Collaborating with Kjellmark was Artec 3D partner Scan 3D Innovations AB in Sweden, where CEO Teddy Larsson stepped in to help with scanning and training. “Tove’s creativity is based on combining sculptures in 2- and 3D, and her tools of choice have become Artec scanners because of their ease of use and quality,” he said. “She gets the results she needs because of this, and this is the reason our collaboration started in the first place.”

No matter how quick and seamless, scanning a horse is not a one-person job.

How to scan a horse

For successful scanning when dealing with a creature that is both large and quite often restless, several factors needed to be considered.

“We always braid the horse’s mane, so the scanning is easier,” Kjellmark said, pointing out that while the scanner could certainly have done so, capturing the fine details of the mane were not essential to this project.

Next, the natural movement of the horses, which ranges from a flick of the tail to a full rearing up on their hind legs. Here, working closely with trainers is essential. “I ask the trainers to hold the horse as still as possible,” she explained, emphasizing that for the horses to have a sense of safety around the hardware was crucial.

“The horse gets to smell the scanner a little bit because they react to everything,” Kjellmark said. “They react a little bit to flashing lights, but this wasn’t an issue with Leo, which worked really well.”

Wireless scanning with Leo makes the horse-scanning challenge that much easier.

While the initial scanning was done with Artec Eva, the flashing lights of the small but powerful 3D scanner were annoying the horses. Next up was Artec Leo, which proved to be the ideal solution. “With Leo, you don’t have the same flickering sounds, or as high a frequency of the flash,” Larsson explained. Wireless and with onboard processing, Leo enabled quick and accurate scanning of the horses from every angle.

The scanning itself can be completed as quickly as a few seconds for the horse’s head, to several minutes for its entire body. And despite the nature of the task, the process itself is exceedingly straightforward.

“I start from one side, scan around to the head, capture the front side, and then move to the other side,” Kjellmark said. “If everything goes to plan, it takes... four seconds, maybe? It’s really quick!”

As for full horses – even in the instance of huge beasts that are almost six feet (170 to 180 cm) in height, scanning can be completed in little more than a minute – “on condition that it stands still,” she laughed.

And if things don’t go according to plan – that is, if the horse moves and disrupts the scanning – maintaining tracking always proved to be seamless, which was particularly essential when dealing with an impatient horse. Even if the horse moved, the scanner was able to identify the points already captured, and then pick up from where it left off.

“It’s fantastic. The scanner is really intelligent and smart. It’s so amazing – I never thought I would be able to scan that fast!” Kjellmark said.

Tracking points allowed scanning to proceed quickly despite movement from the horse.

For her exhibition, Kjellmark wants to exhibit various sculptures of the horses in motion, in different poses, and with combinations created from various positions. This will also include at least one in its full and perfect form – this full data capture of the horse is specifically for use in motion.

“I wanted one specific individual horse to be perfect,” she said. “For this, I scanned the horse twice – one scan included everything except the head, while the head was scanned separately.”

Once the scanning is done, the data transfer and processing begin.

How to process a horse

Sharing her process, Kjellmark said she first looks at all the data in Artec Studio. “I view the scan data and see all the different frames – for example, we have 1,524 frames for just one side of the horse. Then I watch the sequence as if it were an animation. Some parts are not important, so I can remove them from the beginning.”

Continuing this process for different scans and various parts of the horse, she then aligns them.

Beyond alignment, Sharp Fusion in Artec Studio has also proved itself a dynamic tool for this project. “With Sharp Fusion, you can really see everything,” she said. “Like the softness of the fur, even if it's short, the horse’s muscles – everything.”

Applying different features of Artec Studio with the captured 3D scan data provided the results Kjellmark was looking for.

Besides Sharp Fusion, Kjellmark also runs the data through Fast Fusion. She pointed out that the ease of use of Artec Studio presented an unlikely opportunity for art: to be able to align the parts yourself, so you can create numerous models from the same scan. This has proven to be especially beneficial for the artistic use of the horse scan data.

“Two or three different things can be done with the model when it’s ready,” said Kjellmark. “First, I will print a small version of the entire horse to see it in real life – the perfect model.”

Once that’s done, the full 3D model will be sliced up, scaled up, and printed in a bigger form. At the same time, the complete model is sent to her colleagues who are working with the motion capture software Qualysis – here, they will rig the horse’s captured 3D data on the recorded motion capture data. Then, using Maya software, the motion capture data is merged with the scan data as the 3D model is laid on top of the motion capture points.

Motion capture data is combined with the 3D scan data for the final model.

Making Horses Move

This Swedish horse is well acquainted with Artec Leo.

While most 3D scanning projects rely on capturing the object as closely to the original as possible, this future exhibition differs in its creative use of the scan data. The software combination used here creates a space where the horse is free to move, rear, and run – both in real life and digitally.

The data can be either processed and set in motion, or overlapped for creating a huge, life-sized sculpture of the horse in every phase of rearing up, trotting, running, and other movements.

After being scanned, the horses were animated frame by frame and set in motion.

For now, the horses have been scanned, but the work continues as Kjellmark draws closer to her April 2022 show. And she’s still full of ideas that rely on the opportunities that 3D media allows.

Another possibility for the exhibition? To project a 3D model of a full horse in the room as a holographic image. “I have never tried that,” the ambitious artist said, “But, I’ve been considering it for years.”

For Larsson, this project is the perfect demonstration of Artec hardware and software at its best.

“The engineering within the algorithms of Artec Studio, and the powerful combination when it is well used with the hardware?” he said. “That’s the magic of Artec 3D.”