Andrew Werby, ComputerSculpture.com
The Merging of Art and 3D Technology
By Ginny Mumm
Sculptor Andrew Werby has been in on the merging of art and technology from the beginning. In the late ’70s and early ‘80s, he and several like-minded artists began the Juxtamorphic art movement, collaborating to put on art shows featuring sculpture, painting, photography, ceramics and performance art drawing on directly-captured nature for inspiration. In the 90s, Werby went digital, using early versions of Photoshop® and, later, Rhinoceros®, to combine images and objects in 2D and 3D, producing photo-collages and sculptural assemblages.
Werby has an extensive art background, studying sculpture, ceramics and bronze casting as a design major at UC Berkeley. While there, he regularly visited the anthropology, geology and paleontology departments to take molds of their specimens. These molds formed the nucleus of his mold collection, and he became interested in new ways of combining them, casting wax into the molds and manipulating them by cutting the wax castings apart, then welding them together in new configurations which he'd recast in bronze or other metals. After graduation, he set up his foundry and began creating sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, architectural hardware, and various art objects. As scanning and modeling technology advanced, Werby followed its progress eagerly, incorporating new equipment as his budget allowed.
Today, he says, the technology has finally caught up to his imagination. “It was a real ‘Eureka’ moment for me when I got my first scanner and could manipulate the CAD forms to make them larger or smaller, or flip them and reverse the patterns. Then I could really begin to meld objects in various unexpected ways.”
Werby’s studio now features a Roland LPX 3D laser scanner as well as Roland’s MDX 15 and MDX 20 scanning and milling machines and an MDX-40 milling machine, as well as several larger CNC machines he's either built himself or retrofitted. He sells his art through United Artworks, a company he founded with other artists to provide custom sculpture services. In 1998, he turned his acquired technology expertise into an online business: ComputerSculpture.com, where he offers advice and sells products to artists and others interested in computer-assisted design. He also writes a blog where he describes how the latest advances in 3D technology are being used by artists worldwide.
To design and create a sculpture, Werby begins with a natural object, such as a bone, fossil or fragment of bark. Depending upon his sculptural design and the size of the object he is working with, Werby scans it using either a Roland LPX 3D laser scanner, which allows him to generate a detailed, high-resolution 3D model of the object, or his MDX-15/20, which uses Active Piezo Sensor Scanning technology to collect 3D data from the object’s surface. After the scanners digitally capture the texture of the objects, the data files are transferred directly to CAD/CAM software where Werby can manipulate them to design the sculpture. The final data are then input into his MDX-15/20 or MDX-40 Subtractive Rapid Prototyping milling system, which carves the sculpture.
Werby often uses his machines to create positive forms of his assemblages in hard wax, then uses the positive form to make a mold from silicone rubber, into which he can cast a variety of materials. The many objects he has scanned over the years form a digitized library of surfaces which he can use to create additional molds or sculptures. “I tend to think of the surfaces as abstract units,” said Werby. “If they don’t seem to really want to hook up, I can scale or distort them to make it work. I can combine something as large as a mountain range with something as small as a trilobite’s eyeball.”
Lately Werby has been carving boxwood, which he says is the best wood for retaining detail. To simplify the carving process, he uses the optional rotating axis on his MDX-40 to carve all the sides of his sample in one milling run. He often mounts the wood on a bronze or stone base and uses another material at the top, perhaps a carved piece of vegetable ivory. “The machines allow me to use materials that can't be cast to replicate natural forms and textures,” said Werby. “The sky’s the limit. Now I can carve with the same fluidity as casting.”
The results are stunning. Werby has exhibited his work nationally and internationally, and sells his pieces to private collectors. "Natural objects have never ceased to fascinate me; they are a never-failing source of inspiration.” said Werby. “With all this 3D technology, I suddenly have vast power at my fingertips. These tools aren't just a way to do my art faster or cheaper; they make it possible to do things that have never been done before. It's really exciting to make a new kind of sculpture that couldn't be made any other way."