Well, hello there! My name is Katie Wolfe. I’m an archive explorer, budding drone pilot, and coffee lover. I live in Baltimore, USA (where I am obsessed with local history and oddities). When not running around the city, I am at home working to perfect my biscuit recipe and trying to keep my houseplants alive.
I currently work as a 3D Scanning Specialist at a local company that focuses on creating digital models of real-world objects through precise capture and processing. These models can be highly technical for applications in engineering and manufacturing, or more on the artistic side for movies or artwork. A typical day in the office can vary greatly. Some days, I am out in the field scanning buildings, or I am at my desk cleaning up data from a 3D scan. I have digitized objects from items as mundane as crackers and crushed soda cans, to rare cultural artifacts, like a silver wine cooler owned by George Washington and a Byzantine-era gold sculpture. I am very grateful to be working in this field and love the day-to-day problem-solving I am faced with.
If you had told me 5 years ago that I would be 3D scanning for a living, I wouldn’t have believed you. I actually went to school for Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where I also studied Art History and Ceramics.
The sculpture program at MICA is housed in an old train station that had been converted for educational use in the late 1960s. This repurposing of the space kept the historic building from being demolished. I really loved the magic of going to school in a train station. I would often sit and admire the architectural features when I was taking a break from my classes. Inside the station are hand-cut marble mosaic floors, stamped tin ceilings, and large radiators that once kept travelers warm as they waited.
But seeing as I love digging through old papers and dusting off forgotten objects, there was something else I came across that caught my attention.
Historically, my school had a strong tradition of producing accomplished figure sculptors. To oversimplify, it was a legacy of professors teaching students, who in turn, became the next generation of professors at the school. For 100 years this process went on. However, in the early 21st century, changes in the teaching philosophy to favor conceptual and installation-based artwork greatly affected what was offered to students. Slowly, figure sculpture classes were cut back and professors retired or left, but nobody took their place.
How I got started
When I studied at MICA, there was only one dedicated figure sculpture classroom. Since the 1970s, the old watchmaker’s room on the third floor of the train station had been one of the sites that housed a lot of the old teaching aids that professors had left behind. There were plaster sculptures of previous students’ works of art, guides to the ear and other anatomical parts, and maquettes that showed how to use armatures. I came across 3D scanning as a way of trying to preserve these aids for students to use in the future, as they were in danger of being thrown out.
I was super interested in the idea of taking a “digital mold” of something to create a 3D copy in a way that would not harm the original physical object. In traditional marble carving, I knew there was a way to mark points on a plaster maquette to then re-measure using a pointing machine and transfer onto a block of marble. This way, you can make a physical duplicate of your sculpture with a close likeness to the original. I wondered if there was a way to capture and record points to construct a digital 3D model.
Well, it turns out that I had stumbled upon the whole basis of modern-day 3D scanning. Whether you are 3D scanning using tools that capture points using lasers, light, or pixels, all are ways of identifying TONS of points. At my work, I am lucky to have access to a wide variety of scanners that have the capability of gathering and recording points. Some of them include: an articulating arm with a special attachment at the end that shoots out a laser (the FARO scan arm with an LLP); a spherical laser scanner that can sit on a tripod and is used to scan buildings and city streets (Leica RTC360); and a hand-held structured light scanner that strobes black and white striped patterns and measures the distortions to calculate points (Artec Leo). Thanks to computers and software, the relationships between points can be made into the simplest way to make a surface: a triangle. A final 3D model can be made up of millions of triangles (as I’m sure many of you polygon pushers out there know!).
What I do today
In my spare time, I use a technique called photogrammetry to 3D scan sculptures and buildings in Baltimore, and have inspired others to do the same. The process involves taking hundreds of photos from different angles and elevations that are then later processed into a 3D model with color. Baltimore was given the moniker “The Monumental City” in the 1800s because there are SO many monuments and public sculptures around town (a lot of which were sculpted by MICA Rinehart School of Sculpture graduates). Books have been published about them! If you are interested, Outdoor Sculpture in Baltimore: A Historical Guide to Public Art in the Monumental City by Cindy Kelly is one of my favorites on the subject.
Although there is plenty to love from Sketchfab, I appreciate how easy it is to use and share models with others. The community of makers, artists, and historians is amazing. People have jobs doing things I had no idea existed! I enjoy getting lost in the cultural heritage feeds, seeing what folks are up to around the world. I also appreciate all of the blog posts that show workflows, perspectives, and ideas. The willingness of people to share what they learned has been super helpful to me as I grow and try new things!
A big hug to those of y’all at Sketchfab making these things happen!
While I’m not on social media, I am on Sketchfab! If you have any questions/ideas or are in Baltimore and want to collaborate, shoot me a message. I am also slowly building a website.