Unstable: Experiments with 3D Printed Bodies in Motion

Leslie Bush


In this ongoing research by Philadelphia artist Leslie Bush, 3D scanning and printing technology is used in conjunction with dance and movement to create uniquely designed sculptures. This video outlines the process of creating these sculptures, from the scanning phase to the end product. This research is funded in part by Small But Mighty Arts and Cee Smith Media.

Introduction and Reflection

3D printing has been evolving for the past 30 years. As this and other technologies become more accessible at a consumer level, I am curious to explore how they respond to, work with/against, and converse with a body in motion. Capturing motion is particularly hard in 3D scanning and printing, where the main goal is to detect and define stable objects. When I introduce movement during scanning, I am in a sense breaking the technology. What results are partial bodies, bodies that occupy space in ways that the human eye can’t easily perceive, bodies that are in between stable states. As I continue this research I wonder about—and produce sculptures that celebrate—bodies that reside in these states, and the capacity for responsible technology design to recognize and reflect those bodies. 

The Process

To create the 3D scans, I used a Kinect for Xbox 360, an adaptor for the PC, and open source 3D scanning software designed to be compatible with the Kinect’s object detection. Dancer Emma Elsmo used improvisational movement at varying speeds—from complete stillness to moderate use of speed—while I moved the scanner around her. After the initial scans, I edited them in the 3D scanning software to make them “water tight”, which is a term used in 3D printing to determine if something is printable. Four final water tight scans are shown in the video (1:23). From there, I printed one of the scans at NextFab, a Philadelphia based makerspace. The print was done on a LulzBot Mini using the LulzBot open source software, Cura. The material used for the print was biodegradable PLA filament. The final product was roughly 2 cubic inches and took about 2.5 hours to complete (final images at 2:15).

Next Steps

Currently, this research is limited to small scale sculptures. The next phase will be fundraising efforts that allow me to print on a life-sized scale. A public exhibition will display the final sculptures.