In dark cinemas, Hollywood monsters seem so real—think of King Kong from Peter Jackson’s recent film, drum-beating his broad chest. Though they romp and stomp with real humans, these creatures first came to life on the computer. Three dimensional modelers may see King Kong and other creatures on a black screen, their forms rendered only through a draping, glowing green web. Much like digital puppets, the 3-D models are animated, given digital textures and basked in computer-generated ambient lighting. These digital monsters seem to live and breathe.
Yet think of Mr. Tumnus, a pan-like creature from the film version of The Chronicles of Narnia. The ice queen freezes him into a sculpture. Some fine arts sculptors work like the ice queen, and first model their 3-D forms on the computer screen. Using Rapid Prototyping, lasers can read the digital mesh and cut from materials like resin to create real sculptures. Artists can choose to output their digital 3-D models to a grand size, like Michelangelo’s David, or shrink the same models to the size of toys.
Michael Rees, a contemporary sculptor based in New Jersey, has worked in this way since the 1990s. His sculptures often begin as digital models and end as a quirky, large-scale fusion of industrial PVC-pipe forms and organic human limbs. Recently, a sculptor-friend of mine landed a job in the studio of Michael Rees. I hope we learn more about his studio and this innovative process, which can create monsters in movie theaters and sculptures in a garden.