3D With a Vengeance

DIRT Inc.: Dinosaur Investigation & Recovery Team

Dirt to Digital

Increasing accessibility to digital media technologies has led many scientists to broaden their wheelhouses in an attempt to bring the benefits of digitization to their disciplines. I am a product of this paradigm. I experienced a very palpable clicking sensation when I first began applying digital graphic technologies like Photoshop and Illustrator to the art of scientific fossil illustration. I had been preparing fossils for years, which is the technical term for removing rock, consolidating cracks, and stabilizing fossils for storage or exhibit. I had even spent a number of summers in the badlands of Wyoming and Utah hunting and excavating dinosaurs. Once I turned a field map of dinosaur skeletons into my first digital line drawing, it was clear to me that getting fossils and the data they represent into a digital medium was the frontier I was really called to be a cowboy on.

The next great leap on this path happened with the advent of the Maker Movement, which is the wave of innovation that brought digital manufacturing and reverse engineering technologies to a level of much greater accessibility. Free and Open Source software titles not just for two dimensional graphics, but even for three dimensional modeling softwares were becoming more available and the communities that supported these titles were reaching sigificant sizes. Perhaps the biggest player in the design software market, Autodesk, released a suite of free applications including a photogrammetry title called 123D Catch. I now was able to use photography to capture the data I needed to make three dimensional models. I could put fossils in computers, finally!

Also at this time, I had access to a 3D printer (I now have 3 3D printers in my home). This meant that not only could I put fossils into computers, but I could get them back out again, produced in plastic. I could even manipulate the fossils (their digital models anyway) before bringing them back out again as 3D prints. The missing pieces could be filled in by a mirror-imaged print of the corresponding piece from the other side of the skeleton. Pieces that were themselves symmetrical could be scaled to replace slightly smaller or slightly larger pieces of identical shape, like vertebrae or phalanges.

For the most part, it is such work that keeps me busy beyond a full time schedule. My fossil preparation laboratory is currently full of the Tyrannosaurus parts I have been contracted to work on and the fossil molds I keep curated there. I occassionally find time for small fossil related projects for new clients, but it will probably require a few months of lead time to schedule projects of significant scale. I also do not wish to directly compete with anyone currently contracting DIRT Inc. so if approached with a large scale paleontological project, I would refer such an inquiry to Triebold Paleontology rather than bidding for the job myself.

If you have a fossil you need identified, prepared, or excavated, do not let any of the caveats above deter you from sending me a photograph or other inquiry. I am always happy to see what you have and give you my honest professional opinion. Maybe the Dinosaur Investigation and Recovery Team is the help you are looking for.