Sir Patrick Stewart in profile

Mon, 12 Dec 2011 11:27:00 GMT

Sculpture of Sir Patrick

Dan Hughes-McGrail shows Sir Patrick Stewart  how computer technology is transforming sculpture


DAN Hughes-McGrail is a sculptor whose research into 3D digital technology is helping to open up amazing new horizons for his art form.  It is a future that might involve the creation of 3-D, fully-moving portraits guided by Artificial Intelligence.

It seems to belong to the realm of science fiction.  So it is appropriate that one of Dan’s projects has been the creation of a digitally-sculpted portrait of the Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, actor Sir Patrick Stewart, who came to global fame in the “Star Trek” TV series and movies.

Dan, who is completing his Masters degree in 3-D digital design, created the portrait on a computer screen attached to a graphics tablet, using the latest software.  Then he was able to “print” the completed artwork using the advanced 3D printing technology installed in the new studios of the University’s School of Art, Design and Architecture.

A small 3D print of the sculpted bust of Sir Patrick – made with an additive layering process – was produced with the machine and when the actor was shown the finished item he was deeply impressed (see picture below).  The next stage is to print a full-scale version.

But the production of sculpture in this way – from computer screen to machine-made object – is only one of the possibilities being contemplated by Dan, aged 40, who varied career has included long experience as a sculptor, specialising in figurative work such as portraits.

Dan hopes to develop his interest in the possibilities of allying sculpture to digital technology, animation and the science of Artificial Intelligence – leading to the creation of “digital marionettes”, as he calls them.

It is field full of exciting possibilities – but one that can also seem disturbing.

“The representation of people in this way does produce a sort of visceral rejection response.  It can all seem a bit spooky,” says Dan.  “But I am interested in that as well.  Let’s see how far this technology takes us.  I would like to extend the idea of the portrait so that it becomes a fully-moving, functioning thing.”

Dan is completing a Masters dissertation which explores the ways in which traditional artistic skills can be extended into the digital domain.  His own background as a hand sculptor, working in media such as clay, stone and bronze, means that he has powerfully mixed emotions as he explores the possibilities of computerised artwork.

“On the one hand it’s terrifying to see a skill in which you have invested a decade of your life becoming redundant or obsolete.  But there are technical opportunities that were just not there before.  Digital art accelerates progress and you can go into huge levels of detail.  There is a loss in terms of the pleasure of the material, but you get different pleasures instead.”

As he contemplates the future of digital art, Dan is certain of one thing – the University of Huddersfield is the ideal place to carry out research in the field.  Initially, he was attracted by the reputation of lecturer Dr Ertu Unver, for his work in the field of 3-D design.  But Dan has also been impressed by the ease with which he can draw on the University’s expertise in a wide range of fields.

“There are other colleges and universities that have the technical resources, but they don’t have the attitude.  The disciplines are too divided,” he says.Sir Patrick and sculpture

“What I am doing falls between computing science and art so I need to draw on both.   Huddersfield has this culture where you can talk to people, no matter what your discipline might be.  And it is in the nature of digital work that it just collapses disciplinary boundaries.

“You get a lot of cross-fertilisation in Huddersfield and that is not necessarily available in other places.”

One of Dan’s goals now is to continue his research at PhD level – and see just how far the digital possibilities can take him.


  • See some of Dan’s artwork at...  

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