The Art of 3D Sculpting Endangered Animal Skulls

by Abdul Rehman on November 15, 2013

Additive Printing Animal SkullsNovel and innovative ideas look different and out of place in the beginning but once they become common, the same ideas appears to be brilliant.

Perhaps Dr. Scott Camazine’s idea of creating 3D models of animal skulls falls into the same category.

His printed sculptures clearly demonstrate not only his love for nature but also the immense complexity and accuracy which additive printing can bring to art.

Started as a kickstarter project, this seemingly eccentric idea may become widespread fashion in the years to come.

The Background – From Nature to Art to 3D Printing

Our story begins with a child, who was inspired by both nature and art. To satisfy his curiosity about nature, he used to collect remains of dead animals and plants. In a summer arts camp, he learnt the technique of lost wax casting. It was at that time that the child started to preserve his collected plants and animal remains by casting them in wax in a way that would bring out their inherent beauty. This was the childhood of Dr. Scott Camazine. He writes in his Kickstarter project description:

“For me, these pursuits were a perfect marriage of my curiosity about nature and my interest in the visual arts … I wanted to find a way to display their intricate beauty.”

As he grew older, he became a doctor who dealt with CT scans every day. It was then, that he got the idea of 3D printing animal skulls. He knew the intricacy and detail with which CT scanning picks up skeletal data and was also well aware of the unparalleled accuracy allowed by 3D printing. So, he combined CT scanning of animal skulls with 3D printing to achieve beautiful and intricate sculptures of the skulls.

Finally, to share his creations with the rest of the world, he started a Kickstarter Project with an initial funding goal of $2000 and promised numerous rewards from necklaces to large steel models of animals to everyone who donates to this cause. Today, he sits in his room feeling satisfied because his original goal has been well exceeded. A bronze casted fish skeleton, on his wall, reminds him of his childhood days when he used to go about collecting animal skeletons.

The Process – 3D Sculpting Animal Skulls

So, how does Dr. Scott make such complex and beautiful structures? He first carries out a CT scan of an animal skull; then he transfers the CT scan data to the computer to make three dimensional virtual models and finally, after some modifications to the virtual model, he uses a 3D printer to bring these sculptures to reality. While describing the process, he writes on his website:

“The process of converting a CT scan to a 3D printed object involves a series of steps… (1) A CT scan consists of a series of two dimensional x-ray slices… (2) Using special software these slices can be “stacked” together to create a 3D reconstruction… (3) This 3D version of the CT scan can be converted into a digital file that can be printed by high-tech 3D printers in plastic, stainless steel, silver, bronze, brass and other substances”

This 3D Sculpting Process is detailed below:

  • CT Scan of the Skull: Firstly, an animal skull is passed through a CT scanner. This device produces numerous images from the object which are actually two dimensional X-Ray slices at different levels of the object. In the hospital, a radiologist uses these slices to diagnose a disease in the body. However, Scott Camazine uses all these slices to recreate a three dimensional model of the skull in the computer.
  • Making and Refining a 3D Model: Using several computer programs, Dr. Camazine then creates a 3D virtual model from the CT scan images. Then, he refines these models by thickening the very thin layers and finally sends them to a 3D printer.
  • 3D Printing the Model: Finally, the virtual three dimensional image is sent to a 3D printer which prints out the exact skull in a material of choice and voila! A 3D printed animal skull sculpture is created. Dr. Scott uses acrylic plastic, sterling silver and stainless steel to print his models. The process of printing stainless steel models is detailed in the Shapeways YouTube Channel.

Some of his Beautiful Sculptures

Up to now, Dr. Scott has created skull sculptures of many species of animals. His goal is to make such 3D printed sculptures of almost every animal species that exists, including humans. Some of his sculptures are shown below. These sculptures clearly demonstrate how beautiful the marriage of art and additive printing really is!

Caiman Alligator Stainless Steel Skull

Caiman Alligator Bronzed Skull

Spider Monkey Stainless Steel Skull

Spider Monkey Stainless Steel Skull

Black Bear Skull Pendant

Black Bear Skull Pendant

Vertebra Stainless Steel Pendant

Vertebra Stainless Steel Pendant

Motivation for Sculpting Animal Skulls

Why is Scott Camazine sculpting animal skulls? Well, there are several reasons. Firstly, it enables him to combine nature, art and science, the very things that have inspired him throughout his life, into a single project. Secondly, he considers his sculptures a tribute to the dead animals. He writes:

“Each of my sculptures is in effect a ‘memento mori’ or remembrance of the death of the individual and of the species.”

Through Kickstarter, he wants to popularise his idea and give his skull sculptures to as many people as he can.

Benefits of the Project

The future of fashion and art may not be what we expect but if 3D printing has anything to say about it, it will definitely be very beautiful.

This project serves far more purposes than just providing new items for wearing as jewellery or new kinds of decoration pieces. Dr. Camazine says that he’ll distribute his computer models of the animal skulls as free downloadable resource files for students, biologists and artists. Moreover, a portion of the funding on kickstarter, as well as a portion of the money obtained from the selling of endangered species skulls on his website will be spent on the preservation of the animals of those same endangered species. His website clearly states:

“I want you to know that when you buy one of my Endangered Species Sculptures or Jewellery Pieces, you are helping conserve these animals.”

Final Thoughts – Art in the Era of 3D Printing

As additive printing is becoming common, everything from Electronics to Medicine to art to Fashion is undergoing a revolution. As demonstrated by Dr. Camazine’s beautiful sculptures and Jewellery items, 3D printing allows novel and innovative ideas to shine in art and fashion. The future of fashion and art may not be what we expect but if 3D printing has anything to say about it, it will definitely be very beautiful!

Please see our follow up post about Scott’s Exciting New Skulls Project.

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