Technology is transforming the way sculpture, architectural elements and many other once-hand-carved items can be created or cloned. Scanners, computer-aided design software and automated milling devices are assisting sculptors and in some cases replacing them, creating detailed pieces from slabs of marble and reverse-engineering complex forms.
The result is the seemingly oxymoronic concept of mass customization, in which infinite copies of infinite variations are possible as long as there is stone to quarry.
But the harnessing of these granite-grinding Xerox machines, able to duplicate just about any sculpture, may also blur the line between what is authentic and what is not. Is such a sculpture art, or merely a computer-aided copy?
In March, for example, using data generated during a monthlong scan of Michelangelo’s David by researchers from Stanford University and the University of Washington, Gentle Giant Studios, a special-effects firm in Burbank, Calif., turned out a small replica of the 17-foot tall statue.
While reasonably faithful copies of David have been created using plaster casts, the 15-inch replica is the most perfect scale model ever created of the masterpiece. Made with permission from Italian officials, it could potentially seed an army of near-identical twins. (A Stanford University Web site says the researchers will indeed sell copies of the model eventually, although Marc Levoy, a computer science professor who oversaw the scanning project, said there were no plans to do so.)
Studio Roc’s goal is not to upset the art world, but to attract architects and contractors who want custom-carved fixtures turned out faster, at a lower price and with more precision than if they were done by an artisan. Mr. Chang, a former architect who describes his company as “on the leading edge of the stone industry,” said, “We just felt it was about time someone really put their head to it and pulled together the three or four or five technologies to make this area of construction up to date.”