Using technology to share cultural treasures – part one

Recently, the art duo of Nora al Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles guerrilla-scanned an Egyptian cultural treasure, the 3,300 year old bust of Nefertiti, wife of pharaoh Akhenaten.  This artifact has been housed in Germany for the past hundred-odd years.  Berlin museum authorities have stated the bust is too fragile to even loan to Egypt, but were willing to have it briefly placed atop a nude bronze sculpture for that most worthy cultural event, the Venice Biennale.

So, I got my hands on the scan (available here), which has such nuanced detail that it is like gazing upon the real thing.  Recently the IMRC got a Lulzbot TAZ extruder 3D printer. I’ve never been a fan of extruder technology, but I’ve been seeing such fine detail coming off this machine, I had to give it a try.  What better way than to make a copy of Nefertiti?

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3D rendering of the bust of Nefertiti
The original scan. Source: Nora al-Badri/Jan Nikolai Nelles via hyperallergic.com

I’d hoped to do the print in white PLA, but unfortunately I couldn’t locate the reel of 3mm filament.  After a little agonizing, I decided to try it in the luminous blue filament instead.  Being a sort of slightly translucent gray blue, I thought it might be the next best substitute for white. If it didn’t work, I could always paint it white.

On its highest setting, the Lulzbot lays down really thin layers of PLA, so thin you’d almost think it wasn’t printing.  I had to watch it very carefully to assure myself it was still laying down PLA.  If you’re unfamiliar with extruder printing, the sort of diamond grid you’re seeing is called an infill.  It’s basically the internal supports that allow the piece to be mostly hollow without collapsing. The reason we’re seeing it here is because the luminous blue filament is semi-transparent.  On an opaque filament, that’s not something you’d ever notice once the print is finished.

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As you can see, she came out pretty well.  One of the things I don’t love about extruder printing is all the ridged layers, but as you can see they’re quite fine layers, and it’s pretty tolerable.  While the infill creates a sort of fishnet effect that almost makes her look like some sort of alien, I don’t really like it, as it limits my ability to look at the fine details.  I’ll probably paint it, and update this post to show the results…  However, luminous blue does GLOW BLUE IN THE DARK.  Glowing blue Nefertiti is really, really cool, but my Pink Floyd days are largely behind me, so…

Stay tuned…

UPDATE: 3/4/16

I couldn’t take the fishnet look anymore, and I painted Nefertiti! The matte painted look makes it so much easier to pick out details on her.  I used basic craft-store $1 acrylic white paint.  Acrylic paint sticks really well to PLA, so it’s a good choice for this kind of thing.

If you’re using PLA to reproduce an artifact that was made from stone, unless it was very shiny stone, you probably want to coat it with some type of paint to reduce the sort of prismatic shiny effect you get from extruded PLA.

Though you can still see some ridges that give away Nefertiti’s extruded origins, from a short distance away she passes for a little plaster replica, which is great.  I think if I had done a full-scale bust, she would have looked even quite realistic.  Now I just need to get my hands on some more high quality artifact scans!!

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