The Replicants Are Coming: An Artist Creates Creepy 3-D Printed Faces

Art student Lorna Barnshaw combines human faces with an imperfect assortment of technology to create surreal replicants.

3-D printing her own face is all in a day’s work for Lorna Barnshaw, a recent graduate from the Winchester School of Art in the UK—even if the results are creepy and slightly moldy looking. Her project–named replicants in honor of Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner–consists of three 3-D facial studies created using a mash-up of computer applications and printing methods.


“The replicants are distorted, some more than others, by the flaws in the technology used,” Barnshaw tells us. “I wanted to play with digital’s ability to copy reality–to put reality through a digital filter and back into material existence.” During production Barnshaw left her ghostly faces to print overnight, a process that took about six hours. “I recorded one printing with a total of 909 layers,” she says. “The best part was watching the remnants being brushed away revealing the fragile, uncured replicants within.” Barnshaw’s replicants blew the £500 budget for the 22-year-old’s graduation degree show, and took four months to design and create. For the final exhibition she stuck her 3-D heads inside metal rings that rolled and pivoted across the gallery space.

All the random holes, weird colors, and mangled replicant surfaces were created by unique weaknesses in the software and hardware combinations Barnshaw chose. A 3-D scanner created the most structurally accurate facial sculpture with a few structural inaccuracies due to slight movements during production. “The face is so defined it makes it the most surreal,” says Barnshaw. “Like a death mask.” She used 123D Catch–an AutoDesk software program that stitches 40 photos together and works best with patterned backgrounds–for her second, and favorite, replicant. “With the two (faces) on altering sides full of contortion and fragmentation there’s still a strong recognition of the human face,” she says. “It’s just damn right bizarre and I love that.”

Barnshaw created the final sculpture using a 360-degree headspin video on Cubify’s website. It reminds her of Francis Bacon’s work. “There is no real human face shape, just geometric forms, a large amount of background, two mouths and a hugely pixelated texture,” she says.

Barnshaw found one pervasive flaw during the software design stage: the program’s inability to comprehend hair or the back of a head. However the replicants got really freaky when she translated the digital renderings into structurally sound objects using programs including Cinema 4D, Blender, Zedit, and Zbrush.“The digital objects had so many facets and points it was almost impossible to add thickness (to the physical objects) without adding any distortion,” Barnshaw says. “I had to try countless file types and combinations to make sure the object and texture fitted together.”

Barnshaw’s replicants aren’t as human-like as Ridley Scott’s bioengineered beings from the ’80s, and she couldn’t mass clone her replicants anytime soon, even if she wanted to. “The software changes drastically at the slightest condition change in background, lighting, and angles. I could keep on repeating the process endlessly and the replicant would be entirely different every time,” she says. She’s already hidden her first batch of creepy 3-D self-portraits in a cupboard.

“They’re a little bit unnerving to have on the mantelpiece.”


[Images courtesy of Lorna Barnshaw]

About the author

Iona, an editorial intern at Fast Company, is into Crossfit, snark, maintaining her Scottish accent, and writing on her design blog. She's a Syracuse grad, All-American field hockey player, temporary U.S.