My Scuplture

3-D RENDERING SETS YOU IN STONE, $400-800

Note: This was an article in Wired Magazine, probably in 2001.

Is there anything more narcissistic than a self-commissioned oil portrait? Yes. A sculpture portrait, preferably one made of marble. But I don't have the kind of cash to hire an artist to chip my likeness out of a hunk of crystallized limestone. And now I don't need to - iVersion has developed a semi-automated process that spits out miniature busts and full-body statuettes made of faux marble for cheap.

I took my 3-year-old daughter to iVersion's industrial-park headquarters, fittingly located in the shadow of the most famous fake rock in the world, Disneyland's Matterhorn. Turns out iVersion is the side business of a firm that manufactures 3-D prototypes based on CAD/CAM data, and it uses much of the same software and machinery. The friendly staff sat my daughter and me in front of a couple of machines that scanned the contours of our faces and shoulders, and then let us look at the rendered 3-D images on a computer screen. Our skulls appeared collapsed in several spots. Multiple scans and data-merging operations corrected the problem.

After taking a few snapshots with a digital camera, a staff member ushered us into a large room, where a man was pouring a plastic bag full of white powder into a refrigerator-sized contraption. I looked through the observation window and saw that it was already assembling our likenesses, layer by layer. When it was finished, the busts looked like the half-baked pod people from Donald Sutherland's version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The staff member explained that the sculpture would now be shipped to China, where artists would "work around the clock" to finish the job by hand, using the digital photos for reference.

Two weeks later, the 6-inch sculpture arrived in a box. Me, holding my daughter, who is clutching a teddy bear, carved in meticulous detail. It had been lacquered with some kind of pigment to make the texture even more surreal. Nearly every hair strand is distinct. The nostrils and pupils are carved so deep you could use them to stash contraband.

My wife keeps hiding it in the closet. Everyone agrees it doesn't resemble my daughter, but a friend said it looks like me, or, more accurately, like a 70-year-old version of me. I think it looks more like an alien pretending to be me. In either case, I love it.

Mark Frauenfelder

iVersion: (888) 558 2777, www.mysculpture.com.