Thursday, August 25, 2011

Digitally Enlarging the Maquette to Life-Size

Yes, I published this post in August.  I was going to send it to a friend and discovered the formatting had gone all wonky!  So I'm fixing it and re-publishing it.  The bronze is finished now and will be installed in April!  YAY!

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My life-size piece is being cast in bronze now. I can't wait to see it!! My husband and I went to Oregon for 9 days for me to work on the enlargement to make sure it was exactly the way I wanted it. My customer came out in the middle of the week to see it and make sure it was how he wanted it too. It passed both of our inspections by the end of the week! 

 The digital enlarging method ROCKS! First, the piece is scanned by a computer, then it's cut out by a 12' long 7-axis robotic arm (like the kind used in the auto industry), then clay is applied and ART happens! The scanner doesn't get into tight spots, so there was a curve that attached the testicles to the gaskins, instead of the line of separation that should've been there, but it was EASY to carve out the Styrofoam and touch up the area with additional clay. The horse's buttocks and tail created such a shadow, the scanner missed scanning the rectum completely, so I had to add that to the life-size, which again was no big deal. The enlarging place has a whole staff of people with degrees with  sculpting working on the piece along with me, my husband and even my customer (who said I was like Tom Sawyer, getting everyone to work on it, LOL!) 

 When you go from maquette to life-size, any tiny errors in the maquette will show up as large errors (the life-size in this case is 700 times bigger than the maquette). Thankfully, no errors showed up once it was enlarged except for one ear not being set quite as straight as I wanted it to be (on the maquette, it looked fine, so it really was a small error). With help from the crew (since I didn't know how to do it), I cut the Styrofoam ear off, put it at the angle I wanted, secured it with a pointed dowel rod, then squirted glue under the gap. It's a foaming kind of glue from a caulking gun, so it expands and fills gaps. It's also easy to carve or rasp off if it's in the way. The dowel was hammered farther into the foam so it would be easy to pull out, then removed. Voila! Perfect ears!! The scanner made the edges of the ears and nostrils too thick because of its inability to "see" sharp edges like that. No biggie. I carved them off with a bread knife, then built up the clay to what I wanted. 

Once the piece was fully assembled and all the finishing work done, it was cut into pieces to be sent to the foundry for casting. I worked from 8-5 for a week (and my shoulder didn't hurt much at all thanks to a cortisone shot the previous week!) It was hard work but I learned SO much!!!! And the piece is GORGEOUS! (Not just my humble opinion, either! LOL) The 12' long 7-axis robotic arm that's shown in the pictures can do a two day job in two hours! That's pretty darned amazing! You might notice in the following pictures that the edges of the hooves weren't as "crisp" as the edges of real hooves are. That was due to the way the machine cut them out. My customer fixed the hoof edges for me - I asked him to add that clay and he got it in really good shape himself before I came along and did the fine tuning.  He sure enjoyed himself, and he'll be able to point to certain parts on the bronze and be able to tell his friends that he did that!  I think that's great!  :) 

This was a FABULOUS experience for me!  I hope I get more life-size commissions so I can go through this process again!

Below you can see the robotic arm cutting out the head and neck - the horse's face is to the left and the back edge of his neck to the right. This is the same kind of Styrofoam used to insulate office buildings. It comes in 8" thick blocks.

The computer split the scan of the legs and tail in half lengthwise.  These parts are being cut out on this router table and will be glued together later.

Below is one of the master sculptors who works at the enlarging shop, working on the detailing of the mane. In the life-size, the details I put in the maquette's mane and tail weren't dynamic enough, so clay was added to make them a better size for the life-size. The sculptors there can do all the work for the original sculptor, either at their direction or without them even being there. Apparently I was unusual because I jumped right in and worked alongside them, which made sense to me - it's MY piece! My hands needed to be in every aspect of creating it!


Yeah, I'm happy with it! Awed by it, actually. It's amazing - and HUGE! Eight feet tall by 9 feet long without the cart it's mounted on at the moment.

I wish my parents were alive. It would be such a kick to be able to send this photo to them and say, "Look what I did!" :) I know they'd hang the picture on their fridge.


  1. That is AWESOME! What a great experience! Where will the final "home" be? And will it be outside or inside?

  2. Thanks Lisa! The piece will be mounted on the owner's farm in Wisconsin. It will be an outdoor setting that's being beautifully designed and landscaped to enhance the piece. It will be dedicated next June - I'll post pics of it in place then.

  3. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing the process with us!

  4. The mind boggles on creating something this size, it is stunning. I just read a post you did on the linked in group, visual artists and their advocates. I thought you put some excellent points across :)