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We the Builders prints 3D bust of George Washington

February 6, 2014

Click the photo to see more photos of We the Builders’ the step-by-step process.

In November of last year, there was a bit of a fuss raised about moving a bust of George Washington 1/5th of a mile, from the Washington Monument down the street to the Walter’s Art Museum. Granted, moving a 3,000 pound portrait bust that has been resting in the same place for 179 years does deserve some recognition, but in Todd Blatt’s mind, it was an opportunity.

Blatt, a mechanical engineer and maker, teamed up with five friends (David Fine, Matthew Griffin, Amy Hurst, Ryan Kittleson, and Marty McGuire) at the ArtBytes Hackathon hosted by The Walters Art Museum on January 24-26. Together they formed We The Builders, a crowdsourced 3D printing project that will print a 1:1 replica of Giuseppe Ceracchi’s  portrait bust of George Washington, four cubic inches at a time.

“Everyone keeps printing small things,” says Blatt. “Everyone knows you can print a bunch of small things to make something bigger.” He references Cosmo Wenman, an artist who has been creating museum-quality replicas of sculptures by himself. “The downside [to doing that work] is you need lots of time, or lots of printers. And there are tons of printers out there.  I’ve seen projects where a person does it all himself, but I have never seen a crowdsourced version.”

By crowdsourcing, Blatt is able to compress the time of production, while encouraging multiple people to take ownership of the work. It’s why they chose to play on “We The People” when choosing their team name. “We are the builders: you and me and everyone else who helped.”

The day before the opening of the Hackathon, the Ceracchi sculpture was scanned courtesy of Direct Dimensions out of Owings Mills, a company that has nearly two decades of experience scanning large and small-scale objects for reverse engineering; their ShapeShot photobooths can be found in the MakerBot retail store in New York City. During the Hackathon, Blatt and Kittleson sliced the model into 110 four-inch cubes for download from the We the Builders website. “If we made them too big then we would push out smaller printers,” Blatt confesses. Many desktop 3D printers have a build envelope that’s less than five cubic inches. “Too small and there would be too many to print.”

The process for downloading a print is rather straightforward. Go to the We The Builders website, get involved by logging in with your Google account, and select a button that allows you to download a file to print. The file can be downloaded as an STL, a file format easily read by most 3D printers. In full disclosure, I’ve printed one. Initially set to print at a resolution of .15mm, the file was scheduled to take 21 hours to print. Blatt set me straight.”I’ve been printing at .3mm because at this scale, I don’t think .2 vs .3 will matter.” Less than four hours later, my first successful print was complete. From there all I needed to do was upload a photo of my completed piece through the website, and include measurements—in millimeters. Once approved, the part will get shipped to Owings Mills, with shipping costs to be reimbursed by Tinkerine Studio, a company that Blatt is also affiliated with.

Next Monday, Blatt hopes to have all the parts in place so that he can glue them together. Each part has been marked with an X, Y, and Z coordinate for easier assembly. Once all the parts are together, the final product will go to New York for exhibit in the 3D Print Show, a convention that begins February 12. At the time we spoke, about 40 pieces have been marked as done, or confirmed as printed. About another 30 had been downloaded for printing. The numbers have left Blatt champing at the bit. He’s been observing the uploads to the website. “I’m seeing tons of different colors come in, and it’s exciting to imagine the fully assembled sculpture.” In the mean time, for parts he has received, he has already taken the time to glue some pieces together. “This thing is going to be massive!” He concluded. “I wish I had another week.”