My 3D Twin

"The following is a guest review.  The review and photos do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Michael Crawford or Michael's Review of the Week, and are the opinion and work of the guest author."
Ever wonder what our very own Jeff Parker looks like? Now you get to see - in duplicate! Take it away, Mr. Parker...

OK, I usually review toys, the type that are either mass or semi-mass produced, and most regularly manufactured under the licence of an expensive intellectual property. I also favour 1/6th scale, as I find if you don’t specialise in a hobby it can end up getting messy, costly and confusing… well, for me anyway!

However, over the years I have been tempted to stray from the path of righteousness by a good few action figures, statues and props, so I’m always on the lookout for any new, innovative or unique products that come onto the market. And so it was that on the 26th June 2013, I was on my commute home, and as I do every evening, was flicking through the London Evening Standard when I came across an article that made me sit up. There on the page was a miniaturized, life-like 3D figure, but it wasn’t of a celebrity, comic book hero or movie star, it was of the journalist writing the feature. I noted the company name down, my3Dtwin, and the following day dropped them an email, explaining my interest in the new service, and arranged to go in and meet them a couple of days later in their studio at Shoreditch.

I could instantly see the potential of this product on an incredibly diverse amount of levels, both in terms of business applications and of course purely for fun. It would seem that my3Dtwin’s primary raison d’Ítre was purely to capture your likeness to keep for posterity; look upon it as a family snap, but with an impressive 3D twist for a new 21st-century generation. Indeed many of the models on show at the studio are just that, people happily posing in much the same way one would for family photo album. It offers a chance for parents to record their kids development as they grow (imagine an annual visit on your baby’s, toddler’s, child’s, teenager’s birthday… it would make a pretty unique and interesting display), and Marcin (one of the co-directors of the company and an expert in the art of architectural scanning) informed me they had already produced a figure of a pregnant woman who intended to come back for another, once her child was born.

I can also imagine a pop-up studio at places like LFCC and SDCC doing a roaring business, can’t you just see the cosplayers going mental for this kind of service (though it does open up a whole can of worms regarding IPs)?

When I first saw the feature in the paper, I viewed the product as a collector. I could easily see how cool it would be to represent yourself within your collection, jostling shoulders with Batman, Spidey and some Stormtroopers. However, at present, 1/6th scale isn’t available, but Marcin informed me it could be soon if the demand is there. However, the jumps in scale make for uncomfortable jumps in price. The price structure at the present is:

Standard 15cm= £92

Deluxe 20cm = £132

Ultra 25cm = £212

These prices include a 10% discount available until 21st September. So, it’s in a price range that makes this more of a cool gift idea or luxury extravagance you could splash out on for special occasions (yes, you could have yourselves miniaturized on top of your wedding cake if you are willing to get dressed up ahead of your big day), but thankfully it’s not in a price range that puts it out of the reach of most people, which is what makes the service so appealing!
















I was, however, told that the jump to 12”/30cm would make the cost jump to about £330, which would be hard to swallow for many (except maybe those of us who have gotten used to regularly spending a small fortune on a rare collectible figure), and if you were to go even a couple of centimeters bigger to 32cm that price would jump to around the £400 mark, such are the incremental increases!. Now if they could make the figures articulated that price might be a whole lot more appealing, but knowing how these babies are output, I would imagine that is a long way off yet!

So, just what is the process that we have to go through to see ourselves reduced down to action figure size? Well, it’s actually very quick and luckily painless. You are shown into a room that has a square marked out on the floor to stand on, there are two light-boxes on each of the four walls (eight in total) and 64 SLR cameras are arranged at carefully preset strategic positions around the walls to capture your pose at every conceivable angle (after all, the process they use is called photogrammetry). You simply take your place on the marker, find a comfortable standing position (or Vogue your ass off if you are feeling more ‘fabulous’ dahling), then just say when you are ready, then ‘SNAP’ it’s all done.

As I emerged from the room I was shown the myriad of images that had been captured to map the surface of my3Dtwin. So, that is essentially my simple ‘in a nutshell’ idiots’ guide explanation of the image capturing process as I saw it. However, it is obviously a lot more complex than that, and as Joss Whedon would say, there was a lot of ‘sciency, science’ going on in the background.

I asked Marcin if he could give me a quick rundown on what was actually happening, and why it’s called photogrammetry, he said, “Our custom-made 3D scanner is based on photogrammetry which extracts properties of an object from photographic images. With high quality digital cameras we are able not only to transfer precise measurements and shapes, but a very life-like colours”.

So now we know a little more about the image capturing and virtual rendering process, now it’s the nitty-gritty of the full colour 3D output, which gets even more complicated. Once your image is prepared and output ready it is placed within a virtual 3D frame of space alongside a number of other figures/models. This is to maximize the amount of figures that can be printed out in one session (and the green credentials of the process are pretty good too, but more on that later). The printer then builds up the miniature hollow figure, a fraction of a millimeter at a time. First the plastic/polymer is output, followed by the colour directly after, meaning that the process is, in effect, a dual output, rather than a full 3D model that is then coloured later (I would imagine that is one of the companies USPs).

The colour printing works essentially like a regular colour printer, but using the classic CMYK palette it is able to accurately reproduce over 390,000 tones of colour, through a mixing and blending process (though quite how they manage to quantify the exact number is beyond me). On my visit I decided to wear my regular clothing rather than anything too outlandish, but I had details like my ‘hot-rod’ designed Converse hi-tops, my ‘gas mask’ shoulder bag (as used by an infamous archaeologist), a pin badge on my lapel and jewelry on show. I was told that the process sometimes struggled with spectacles and could be a little hit and miss, so I had images captured both with and without glasses.

So that was it, my image had been captured, all I had to do now was wait for my figure to be ready for collection. I was told this was usually about a week, but could be done much quicker if the urgency of the job demanded it. I was, however, in no immediate rush, after all I had a feature/review to write!

I mentioned earlier about the green credentials of the process, which seemed pretty impressive. Obviously energy is used at all stages to capture the image and output it, but the levels used are minimal and the waste it generates is virtually non-existent! The figure itself is made of a plastic that in its raw state is a powder form, so any that is not used is simply sucked back and used on the next model.

So, even though this is not a regular ‘collectable’, and obviously each and every person’s model is as unique to them as a fingerprint, I still figured it was worth trying to break down the figure in the categories that we usually evaluate a product.

Packaging - N/A
At present the company doesn’t have an ‘official’ box for their figures, but due to their potentially fragile nature, they are generously swaddled in bubble wrap and come in a plain brown shipping carton. Not exactly glamorous, but practical for such a delicate item!

Sculpting - ***1/2
Well, there is no actual sculpting per se, at least not in the traditional sense by hand, everything you see here is generated digitally. This is obviously an emerging technology, and like every new process it is being tweaked and improved upon on a day-by-day basis, and whilst this is far from 100% perfect, it is not far off. I was actually astounded at the levels of detail that the process was able to capture and output, and it freaked my wife and kids out even more. Though it has to be said, they’re now demanding that they have their own versions done!

As far as quality goes, this is a tough call, as let’s face it, what we are looking at is a state-of-the-art reproduction of what can be achieved using this process at this… or indeed any other scale. However, as a collector of toys I can’t help but compare it to the quality of other ‘regular’ action figures, and when one does this you will notice a slight lack of definition in some of the finer details. However, the way the process captures the natural folds and creases of the clothing, and the way fabric hangs from the body, then this has the traditional sculptors beat!

Paint - Clothing ***1/2 - Face ***
Although this category is covering paint, I should really rename it ‘colour application’, as the tones are all added digitally. They are also applied simultaneously as the model is output, reproducing the colours from the 64 photographs captured earlier with amazing precision. The accuracy of the colours and indeed the tonal variances of light and shadow are incredible, but as it is transferring them from a hi-res digital image directly to the printer I guess that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

However, this doesn’t quite manage a full score, which is down to the lack of clarity/crispness on the finished ‘output’ figure. The reason being, it has a slight soft focus feel to it. This is an aspect that will improve as the company fine-tunes the process they use, and to be fair looks more than adequate to the naked eye. However, when you scrutinize it with a magnifying glass or blow it up using macro-photography it becomes more of an issue!

The area it’s most noticeable is on the fine detailing of the face around the eyes and mouth, and the area it excels in is the general look and feel of the clothing. The process has a slightly ‘fuzzy’ finish, not dissimilar to a light flocking, meaning the fabric areas take on a spookily realistic look. I spoke with Marcin Piosik, one of the co-founders of My3Dtwin and he informed me that the quality of finish will obviously improve in time, and that every visitor to the studio will have their virtual ‘model’ kept in their archive for the foreseeable future (unless expressly asked to destroy it), meaning that not only could you have another printed out in the event of a breakage, but also you could have an upgrade to an even better quality reproduction done in a year or two down the line when the process has been further enhanced. I also enquired about colour fastness and was shown the figures that have been in the studios front window display, in direct sunlight for a couple of months, and they looked to be as vibrant as the day they were first produced. However, as a precaution I would advise keeping them out of direct sunlight if you want to keep the colours rich!

So this category ends with a worthy high score, but there is still room for improvement!

Articulation - N/A
This is a solid, single piece output, though worth pointing out it’s hollow. Maybe at some juncture in the future a little articulation might be incorporated, but for now it’s not so much an ‘action figure’, but more of a toy soldier! 

Outfit - N/A
All part of the sculpting and colouring process. However, as far as the representation of the clothing goes this is pretty amazing!

Fun Factor - ***
I guess this category is very much up to the individual, and it depends on who you get done and why you decide to get a model made. If you want to dress up in a favourite Cosplay outfit or generally goof about with friends, then this is a great way of recording a moment of your life, just for laughs! However, you may want to capture the 3D image of a child, an elderly relative, record a graduation or a wedding to look back on for years to come, all these things can obviously be done, and the sentimental value of these objects could become immeasurable. You can even have a pet transformed to a miniature 3D figure if that takes your fancy.

However, what you end up with is more of a keepsake for displaying rather than a plaything, but the fact it is of yourself, or someone you know, makes it quite the talking point!

Value - ***
When something is claimed to be a world first, how does one compare and evaluate its price? Exactly! All I can do is give my thoughts on its perceived value.

I received the 20cm-sized figure, which would usually cost  £132, so if I was buying a similar scaled toy of an unarticulated figure, off the shelf in my local Toys ‘R’ Us I would quite frankly be appalled if it was that price. However, that is obviously not a fair comparison. What you are paying for here is the unique, bespoke nature of the service on offer. At present the price of outputting these figures is costly, but when you factor in the time spent at the studio capturing the image, creating the 3D virtual model and preparing it for output, that manufacturing cost actually starts to seem more than reasonable.

And let me tell you, the moment you open up your figure and see it for the first time, the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up… it’s spookily life-like!  Kind of like looking at yourself in the third person from a hovering helicopter… if that makes any sense! And it made me realize, I’d love to have the rest of my family to stand alongside it!

Overall - ***1/2
Much like some of the other categories above, this is a tough cookie to judge because of the one-of-a-kind nature of the service on offer. Luckily for them the two companies that came together to create my3Dtwin, namely the 3D-printing firm Cadventure  and scanning company Levavo have an exceptional and unique proposition on their hands, and one that has captured the zeitgeist judging by the amount of press it has generated in such a short time.

I was hugely impressed by the quality of the product that was placed in my hands at the end of the experience, and I’m sure that as the company grows that experience will become even slicker and the product even more crisp, concise and life-like. The price is certainly not cheap, but neither is it excessive, and as the technology becomes more widely available and the manufacturing process quicker and more economical it would be good to see the prices get even more competitive, making it more of a realistic proposition for families to get multiple members done, or even multiples of one person to gift to family and friends.

So, my overall score is close to perfect, but when scrutinizing the figures one can see that there is room for improvement in terms of the clarity, definition and fine accuracy of the colour application, which does have just a hint of soft focus! This is obviously accentuated in the photography I carried out using a macro lens, but when you hold the figure in your hands or view it displayed on a shelf, the life-like appearance is astounding!

Where to Buy -
Well, unless Levavo and Cadventure decide to franchise out their new business, your only port of call for now is their London based, Shoreditch studio (though they did inform me they have developed a pop-up studio for rapid deployment in the future). You can contact them on their website to make an appointment. I can certainly recommend it, and hope that they do manage to create pop-up studios in every major city on the planet, it’s a no brainer as far as I’m concerned!

For anyone wanting to contact the two parent companies about the more technical aspects, you can call Levavo on +44 (0)207 247 0545 or Cadventure on +44 (0)207 436 9004.

Think small!

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This product was provided for the review by the manufacturer. Photos and text by Jeff Parker

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