Centre for Fine Print Research University of the West of England Centre for Fine Print Research
  British Pathe film of 1957 Robot Sculptor

Robot Sculptor 1957: Watch the British Pathé video

video: george macdonald reid's 'robot sculptor' project
source: british pathÉ video archives
date: 1957
url: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/robot-sculptor
above video: click on above image to watch the video

British Pathé have recently released historical footage from 1957 of a “Robot Sculptor” which was invented by a Mr George MacDonald Reid. The film shows how the Robot Sculptor, ably assisted by Mr Reid, could create a bust from photographs of a human subject. The subject, Danish actress Lillemore Knudsen, is seated on a rotating chair. As the chair rotates, Miss Knudsen is photographed in profile from 300 different angles. These profile images are then projected onto a screen and traced by a mechanical pointer. Each profile shape is translated via mechanism to a rotating cutter, which carves the shape into a block of plaster. The plaster block is rotated and the process continues until all of the 300 profiles have been carved to complete the sculpture.

An earlier form of mechanical sculpture, known as “Photosculpture”, predates Mr Reid’s Robot Sculptor by almost 100 years. Photosculpture was developed in the 1860s by Frenchman François Willème. In Willème’s Photosculpture, the subject was photographed by 24 cameras equally-spaced around the circumference of a circular room. The 24 photographic silhouettes were traced by a craftsman using a pantograph mechanism attached to a cutting tool. This was used to cut a series of wooden profile segments, which could later be assembled and finished by hand if required, to form a finished sculpture.

It may be observed that these two historical examples are in some ways analogous to today’s 3D scanning and rapid prototyping techniques, which can be used to capture and reproduce 3D objects. However, it should be noted that the techniques developed by Willème and Reid only enable the reproduction of items that already exist in the real world. Rapid prototyping, on the other hand, allows artists, designers and engineers to create entirely new objects by first constructing them in virtual reality using 3D modelling software, and then to realise them layer-by-layer by 3D printing.

We are grateful to Mr Graham Hulse for drawing our attention to the British Pathé film of the Robot Sculptor.




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