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modern technology

Obama's 3D-printed presidential bust makes history

We've come a long way from the days of marble and plaster; the Smithsonian has created the first 3D bust of a president using scanners, LED lights, and high definition cameras.

This cutting edge project was inspired by a very old-school piece of art: The life mask of President Abraham Lincoln, which was made by covering Lincoln's face with plaster and poking two holes so he could breathe through his nose. For President Obama's 3D bust, he just had to sit still for a few moments, as 50 custom-made LED lights flashed and eight HD and six wide-angle cameras captured his face. Then, he was scanned by two handheld devices, and once the final rendering was made, it came to life through a 3D printer.

"This isn't an artistic likeness of the president," says Adam Metallo, 3D digitization program officer at the Smithsonian. "This is actually millions upon millions of measurements that create a 3D likeness of the president that we can now 3D print and make something that's never been done before." --Catherine Garcia