Captured Dimensions and its 3D People-Scanning Bring Out the Almost Real You

Inside a nondescript, hard-to-find office in Richardson, a man named Jordan Williams takes many forms. There's a full-color, miniature bust of him on the edge of a desk. On the wall a few feet from the front door hangs a hi-res picture of Williams holding said bust. And last but not least, he stands inside the entrance, in the flesh. As the president of Captured Dimensions, a 3D scanning and printing company, it's completely normal for Williams to find little plastic figurines of himself, his wife and his newborn daughter all over his office. "My personal favorite [project] so far has been scanning my daughter," Williams says. "It has a lot of personal significance for me. In 20 years, she'll be all grown up, and we'll be able to look at not just the 3D print but all the digital stuff. I'm hoping to scan her about once a month so I can do a 3D growth chart. I don't think that's ever been done."

Williams, a Texas native, started Captured Dimensions back in August or September of 2012 (he can't quite remember) by testing out the technology available for 3D scanning and printing. In October 2012, Williams committed himself to the full-time development of the business and refinement of the process, and by March he started taking on clients. After being in business for less than a year, the company is already storing hundreds of thousands of images in 3D format (similar to what an awards show viewer might see via E! Entertainment's GlamCam 360). For Williams, who's been obsessed with technology from a young age, especially the ever-evolving world of 3D printing, this company is a dream come true. And he's helping others realize their dreams, too.

Some of his first paying customers were professional artists. "They spend so much effort and put so much blood, sweat and tears into making some amazing sculpture," Williams says. "They spend months on it, and then it's one of a kind. There's a huge need for that community to be able to capture what they've done and share it with people in a different way. All of those folks have had people out there ask, 'Is there any way I can buy a smaller version?' It's been possible for about 20 years, but it was really, really expensive." That's where Captured Dimensions comes in. What was once only available to industry execs is now a reality for almost everyone.

So how does it all work? The first step is to take whatever or whomever wants to be scanned and place that object or person on the center stage of Captured Dimensions' bright white, 360-degree photo studio, surrounded by photo equipment and several hundred meters of cables. Once situated, Jesse Crawford, Captured Dimensions' resident photographer and manager, fires 64 Canon T3Is at once, capturing a super hi-res, 3D image of the subject. From there, Graeme Williams, the company's 3D modeler (and Jordan's younger brother), manipulates the image digitally to render the best possible 3D image, vital for 3D printing. The final image doesn't come straight from the photo studio but from scripted software programs and delicate digital hand work. Certain textures, like hair, need tweaking before they're ready for printing.

The final step for many clients is to print their images. The guys send the 3D render information to a printing device loaded with the material of choice, and the printer slowly squirts out layer after layer, building a 3D model that will harden over time. The printer at Captured Dimensions, a MakerBot Replicator 2, looks like a glue gun on steroids, carefully placing melted, corn-based plastic where it's needed without wasting any material. There are different styles to choose from, and it all comes down to personal preference. Some clients choose models made of plastic, which are super lightweight. The models come out completely white, and some people keep them that way. Others choose a painted finish, like silver metal or bronze. Those options can be done in-house. But there's also the full-color and quite heavier Sandstone option, which Captured Dimensions contracts out to several industry partners who use the 3DSystems line of printers. Sandstone is a material made of powder, a binding agent and coloring agents, giving the models the feel of real, nature-made sandstone.

Even though the printing layers can be seen upon close inspection, the results are pretty incredible. Williams is already in talks with museums and universities about harnessing the company's skills for digital preservation. But Williams wanted to be sure he was on to something great. Sure, the entire premise sounds cool, but would everyday people think so? He set up a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) to get some honest feedback from potential customers. "I wasn't expecting it to hit front page," Williams says. "We'd had a lot of private success, but I really wanted to get some feedback from some people we hadn't directly interacted with. Just to see, does the world think this is cool? Does anybody think this is interesting? Is there anything not awesome about it? I definitely got some negative feedback, 'cause you always will from Reddit. But that was good. You need critiques just as much as compliments."

The verdict? "It's been weird as a result. I've been waiting to approach local media, 'cause I wanted to be sure we'd be ready to handle a big rush of people. But now with the Reddit thing, we've had a lot of inquires from all over the country and the world. But it's kind of the inverse of normal business growth. I'm talking about really big opportunities with people and big plans before Dallas even knows we exist." Williams is talking about an incoming flood of collaboration offers from video game and movie studios -- stuff he can't talk about just quite yet. These new projects stem from the mega high-quality, 3D scans that Captured Dimensions can create. From them, video gaming companies can create digital heroes and villains that look much more realistic than what's out there now. When game makers start with a digital rendering and try to make it realistic, it can look just "off" enough to be creepy, Williams says. But if you start with an image of the real thing, you end up with super realistic characters that can be ready to go in a couple of weeks.

In a way, capturing and preserving photo images and digital models, as opposed to the 3D prints, are what excites the guys the most. Williams urges anyone who may not be ready to order a 3D print for any reason to still come in for a 30-minute photo session. "We've done pregnancy pictures, kids and all that," Williams say. "There's a lot to [3D scanning and printing] that can be pretty meaningful and have some long-standing value." Just like digital photography has enabled people to capture and preserve perfect, vibrant images forever, 3D scanning does the same thing but from every angle. And Captured Dimensions will store that data on its massive servers (16 drive bays total) for as long as a customer wants, giving people time to save up for a print or wait until the technology advances. "It's improving so much," Williams says. "I feel like, in five to 10 years, you won't be able to tell it's not real."

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Jane R. LeBlanc
Contact: Jane R. LeBlanc