Geo Week News

November 24, 2015

I Tried 3D-Printed Plastic Surgery

Face print 2

Well, kind of.

Some tech writers 3D-scan themselves and then print the results as an action figure. I tried something similar, but a bit weirder: Using MirrorMe3D’s service, I simulated plastic surgery on my own face and ordered a life-sized 3D-printed model of the results. It’s been creeping out my co-workers for weeks.

MirrorMe3D’s idea is that a 3D-printed simulation is the best way to show a person how their plastic surgery will look. In my experience, that’s been true—compared to a drawing, a photograph, or even a digital model, the 3D-printed face adds a level of realism. This is because it’s a physical thing that you can see from every angle, touch, and even pop your glasses onto.

Still, that didn’t make my first plastic surgery experience any less bizarre.

Here’s how it worked
First, you take a number of pictures of your face from different angles (it helps to have a partner or friend do this for you, unless you have very very long arms).

There are a lot of rules to follow: If you have a beard, shave it. Your hair can’t obscure your face. Roll back your shirt collar and take off your glasses. I sound like I’m describing a horrific DMV experience, and it kind of felt like one.

After my partner took the pictures, I uploaded them to the website. It chugged away, registering the model using some kind of photogrammetric engine. 20 minutes later, it spit out a 3D model of my head that I viewed in my browser using the Unity game engine.

Face GIF
Before (left) and after (right).

The truly weird part came next. I simulated plastic surgery on my own face.

The interface offers a number of simulated surgeries. I tried all of them. I raised my eyebrows. I made my lips bigger. I pulled my cheeks in, widened my eyes, and tucked in my neck under my chin. I did everything I could think of to make my face look weird, just shy of selecting one of the “ethnic changes” that the site allows (that’s a whole other article). Then I ordered a 3D print.

Face printThe Results
When I pulled my 3D print out of the box, the first thing I noticed was that the skin looked a little green. This means that the “post-surgery” version of my face looks older, or at least sicker, than I do. So much for plastic surgery as the fountain of youth, eh?

Many of my co-workers don’t know the 3D-printed face is modeled on me–and it’s really not obvious until I hold it up next to my head. It looks like a sibling’s face, or a cousin’s, but not necessarily mine. Maybe my evil twin? A robotic imposter? Either way, it definitely falls into the uncanny valley–not quite real enough to feel real, but real enough to feel creepy. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever seen the film version of the Polar Express.

The 3D technology for this kind of solution isn’t particularly complicated to use, or even expensive. I was able to create a pretty good 3D model of my face for $30, and then print a life-sized version of it for not much more. If we’re at the point where I can use 3D technology cheaply for such a niche application, I’d say it has definitely hit the mainstream.

The last question, of course, is what to do with this thing I printed off. MirrorMe3D says that people sometimes give these things away as presents, but I can’t imagine any of my loved ones want to look at my mug all day. So it sits in my office, keeping guard, wearing my glasses and freaking out my co-workers.

Face print 2

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