Mommy, Where Do Ideas Come From?

We wrote up an astounding old use of technology – François Willème’s 3D scanning and modeling apparatus from 1861, over 150 years ago. What’s amazing about this technique is that it used absolutely cutting-edge technology for the time, photography, and the essence of a technique still used today in laser-line 3D scanners, or maybe even more closely related to the “bullet time” effect.

This got me thinking of how Willème could have possibly come up with the idea of taking 24 simultaneous photographs, tracing the outline in wood, and then re-assembling them radially into a 3D model. And all of this in photography’s very infancy.

But Willème was already a sculptor, and had probably seen how he could use photos to replace still models in the studio, at least to solidify proportions. And he was probably also familiar with making cameos, where the profile was often illuminated from behind and carved, often by tracing shadows. From these two, you could certainly imagine his procedure, but there’s still an admirable spark of genius at work.

Could you have had that spark without the existence of photography? Not really. Tracing shadows in the round is impractical unless you can fix them. The existence of photography enabled this idea, and countless others, to come into existence.

That’s what I think is neat about technology, and the sharing of new technological ideas. Oftentimes they are fantastic in and of themselves, like photography indubitably was. But just as often, the new idea is a seed for more new ideas that radiate outward like ripples in a pond.

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