Every so often an article comes that pours scorn and contempt onto received history. Are you still wedded to that whole 'motion capture technology was developed by ILM and WETA within the last two decades' theory? Then read the following article from the 14 August 1922 issue of the Adelaide Register:
SCULPTURE BY CAMERA.
A BRITISH INVENTION.
Brighton ( England ) may claim a legitimate pride in its association with that wonderful new art — sculpture by photography. This new art, which is nothing a less than a revolution in one of the oldest arts in the world, is the invention of a Brightonian, Mr. Howard H. Edmunds. The Cave Man sculptor, with his flint knife and his tusk of mammoth, probably did not require a sitter. The chances are that he carved from memory. But from the days when the sculptors of ancient Egypt advanced from the reproduction of a mere type, and carved out individual portraits for the admiration of the world 6,000 years later; from the days of the matured flowering of the art in Greece and Rome; from the earliest times down to yesterday, sculpture has meant great art on the part of the sculptor and much patience on they part of the sitter. One might sit for hours before the sculptor could be satisfied with the likeness he had obtained, and it has not always followed that the likeness would be satisfactory to the sitter. It was entirely a question of the skill of the sculptor — a skill slowly acquired, dearly bought, and usually dearly to be paid for. Hence sculptors have been rare, and the number of sculptured portraits has been few.
— A “Marvellous” Process. —
An inspiration has changed all this (says The Brighton Herald for June 24). To Mr. Howard M. Edmunds, an engineer, there came, a year or more ago, the brilliant idea that portrait sculpture was possible by the aid of photography. He worked out his idea with patience and ingenuity, and the result is a process which, to those who do not know how it has been arrived at, seems little short of miraculous. One may desire to have one’s portrait preserved for future generations not by the perishable photographic process — for the permanence of photographs is a relative term — but in imperishable marble. Up to the perfecting of Mr. Edmund’s invention the only way in which this could be done was by giving a series of sittings to a sculptor. To-day if one desires this imperishable and beautiful form of portraiture in marble all one has to do is to go to the Kent Lacey Studio in Western road, sit in front of the specially arranged camera, hear a shutter click, and the thing, as far as the sitter is concerned, is done. The rest follows automatically and surely, as automatically and as surely as the photograph is developed on the sensitized plate. In the course of time, not many days, the photographer will present you with a carving of yourself in low relief on the marble or stone you have chosen. It is as actually a photograph of yourself as if it were a print of the negative. A machine and a young man who knows how to work it have done the rest. It is as if the photograph has eaten its way into the stone. The positive printed from the negative has been taken out to the workshop at Moulsecombe [sic], and has been placed on a certain machine. An electric dynamo has set the machine to work, a young man operator has guided the handle, and the sculpture has come out mechanically correct as a photograph is mechanically correct. We have seen some of the results. They are absolutely life-like.
— The Invention Described. —
The actual process by which this seeming miracle has come about is better to be understood by seeing it at work than by any description in words. The essential secret at the beginning is that not only is the camera presented at the sitter, but a projector, or magic lantern, as the children might call it, throws on to the face of the sitter a series of closely set lines. If the sitter were not in the way, these lines would be projected on to the screen behind as a set of straight parallel lines. But these lines are shown on to the face of the sitter, and, seen from a certain angle, they appear on the face as curved lines, the curves following the contours of the face. The more rounded the features, the more curved will be the lines. Every contour of the face is followed by these lines, so closely are they set. At the moment these lines are projected on the face of the subject the photograph is taken. The two things are practically simultaneous. All that the sitter knows of the operations is that a strong light is thrown on his face at the moment the photograph is taken. On the resultant negative the photograph appears as the face of the sitter crossed by this multitude of curving lines. A positive is then printed from the negative, and handed over to the operator of the carving machine. It would be impossible to explain, in an article like this, all the detail of the machine’s working. Roughly, it is this: The slab of marble, of alabaster, of ivory, whichever may be chosen, on which the portrait is to be carved, is placed in position in the machine. Above is a dial which can be made to rotate, and to move along in a straight line. Set in motion, the dial will scratch a thin line, perfectly straight, across the marble beneath it. By certain levers and handles, the operator can make the lever begin and end at any point he pleases, and he can make it sink to any depth he likes in the marble. The operator manipulates — expressing it in general terms — a pointer, which is connected with the drill. He makes the pointer follow the curved lines on the photograph. As the pointer traces the lines on the photograph, curving in and out, so the drill, progressing in its straight line, undulates up and down. Its path is that of straight hilly road. As the line on the photograph curves in, so the drill cuts deeper, as it curves out, so the drill cuts shallower.
— Fidelity Ensured. —
To put it in another way, the curves on the plan on the photograph are translated into curves in elevation cut into the marble. Having cut one fine line of these varying depths, the drill is taken to the next line, then to the next, and so on and so on, until perhaps hundreds of lines have been cut, parallel, but of varying contours. The finished result is a portrait in relief exactly corresponding to the portrait on the printed photographic plate. It is found in practice that a certain amount of polishing and a certain amount of hand carving for the hair is necessary. Otherwise the whole of the carving is done mechanically. So, if the photograph be a good one, the sculpture will also be good. The machine ensures fidelity. It does, in fact, for sculpture what the piano player does for the pianist. It does all the manual work. You, sitter or photographer, supply the design. The practical advantage of the method is that, by eliminating the necesity [sic] for a skilled sculptor, it brings the sculptured portrait, formerly possible only to the person of wealth, within the province of one of moderate means.