Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 10 (October 2001)

One Fish, Two Fish...

A wood carver becomes schooled in the digital design process

By Karen Moltenbrey

Scott Clinton has a fish story. But unlike most people, Clinton has a unique tale to tell, and he uses digital replication software, rather than words, to exaggerate his subject.

Clinton, who hand-carves realistic-looking wooden fish as a hobby, has become hooked on the advantages of using digital scanning, 3D modeling, and CNC milling to hasten the time-consuming process of creating a sculpture. Previously, it took Clinton several days to carve the body of one fish, which he then painstakingly painted so that each piece would have its own distinct appearance. While the artisan enjoys this traditional way of working, he found it difficult to maintain an inventory of the objects, which are popular at craft fairs and among fishing enthusiasts.

This prompted the carver to seek an alternative production method that would expedite the creation process without sacrificing any of the craftsmanship. He netted the digital solution after speaking with Mark Tobias, quality manager at QC Inspection Services (Burnsville, MN), during a fishing tournament. "[Tobias] saw my carvings and thought this technology could be a great tool for reproducing my work," says Clinton.

Using a newly purchased Steinbichler Optotechnik Comet digitizer, QC Inspection Service's owner Jordan Pepin scanned an 11-inch muskie that Clinton had carved. He then aligned the numerous scans, and imported them into Raindrop Geomagic's Studio software, which automatically created a decimated surface mesh of the fish. Finally, Pepin used Geomagic Studio to create a NURBS model to export as an IGES file for rough-cutting on a CNC milling machine. "I can output the product in wood, which was a major concern for me," says Clinton.
With digital technology, artisan Scott Clinton can create hand-carved fish sculptures quickly and easily. After a fish is scanned, the file is imported into Geomagic Studio, where a polygonal mesh (top) and surface model (middle) are created. The bottom i

The most difficult aspect of the project, notes Pepin, was maintaining the original details in the surface model, especially in the area around the fins, which he accomplished by producing multiple scans of the object. "No matter what type of software you're using, you'll never get any better results than what your scan data will allow," he says. The scans, however, resulted in an extremely dense point cloud that was too large for Pepin's initial hardware system to process. "A Comet produces millions of data points that have to be processed before the file can be decimated," he adds. Once Pepin began using a dual 700mhz PC with 1gb of RAM, the processing was much smoother and faster.

Although far from the typical engineering application for which Pepin purchased Geomagic Studio, Clinton's project served as an ideal test case for the software's ability to capture complex physical objects containing organic shapes.

Pepin estimates that it took about four hours to create the digital fish model, which was QC Inspection Service's first project using Geomagic Studio. "I'm not sure how long it would have taken using other CAD software, or whether it could have been done at all because of the sculpture's complex and detailed surfaces," he says.

According to Clinton, the biggest advantage to using digital technology is the time savings. "I can now produce far more fish a day, which gives me more time to hand paint and apply finishing touches on each sculpture," he says.

Although Clinton is just beginning to explore these new digital waters, he is aware of the benefits that await him. For instance, he can use the software's cloning tool to cut his initial work in half by carving only one side of a fish and creating an exact mirror image to complete a 3D model. Also, he can easily repair inconsistencies by changing a fin, moving an eye, or smoothing a lip, or make dimensional changes for a completely new look.

"There are some old-school carvers out there who can't bring themselves to move from a chisel and knife to power tools, let alone a computer-generated 'carving,'" says Clinton. "They may not like to admit it, but computer technology has opened a whole new world for artists without affecting the quality of the art."

Key Tool: Geomagic Studio,
Raindrop Geomagic (