Grant Diffendaffer

Design. Make. Educate.

I have been hard at work polishing my skills with 3D capture and re-construction. This has been a part of my regular creative process for several years now, but beyond showing off my resulting 3D prints every year at Maker Faire, I haven’t done anything to publish or publicize my models. I decided it’s time to change that. These are too much fun to keep to myself and I think, too beautiful as well.

I’m grateful to the original artists’ skill and inspiration and hope I can do them justice by offering my best possible effort at capturing them accurately and portraying them respectfully. I’m glad that museums allow the public to photograph the work and hope to maintain that privilege. These models will vary somewhat in quality as I always just do the best with the time and conditions that I have. Likewise, my photography, equipment, software, skills and technique are improving over time and my newer models reflect that.

Asian Art Museum, San Francisco by diffdaff on Sketchfab

Technically speaking, these models are fairly high resolution. Recently, I have computed models up to about 70 million polygons. Sharing them online requires decimating them to a fraction of that size. Some of these models were created with lower resolution photos from an older Canon 40D, others were created with much higher quality images from my Sony A7ii. Some have been decimated (the polygon mesh has been reduced to a lower quality for the sake of bandwidth), others have been shared in their full resolution. My aim is always to create archival quality models–a bar I don’t often achieve during my casual museum visits. In any case, towards that end, I will be sharing the highest resolution files possible–typically in the range of 3 million polygons each. If you aren’t used to thinking in 3D, this is roughly equivalent to counting the pixels in a 2D image. Roughly.

I’ll publish more here about technique as time goes on, but for now am focused on simply getting the captures online.

I hope you enjoy these models from my visits to the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. This is the first time for me to share them publicly. I’m in the midst of preparing many more from the past few years, so stay tuned, and don’t forget your VR goggles.

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If you missed it at the Smithsonian you might still get another chance to see it in person. For now, check out the Capitol Theater by Five Ton Crane, and the entire downstairs of the Smithsonian Show in high fidelity Virtual Reality.

Capitol Theater by Five Ton Crane

If you have followed me closely you know that I’m a big advocate for and user of photogrammetry. I love it in part for it’s utility in 3D printing and digital fabrication. I also appreciate it for the chance to view hi-res photo-textured 3D models on screen–and in VR.

Word is that Linden Lab used 3000 photos just to capture and re-create Duane Flatmo’s beautiful Tin Pan Dragon–with a resulting mesh of 1 billion polygons.

Tin Pan Dragon by Duane Flatmo

Incredibly high resolution is what it takes to give virtual visitors a 180 frame per second free-roaming tour of the exhibit. Combining photogrammetry with laser scan data and access to the original floor plans (also digital studio wizardry)–puts reality online.

Get a preview from Curator Nora Atkinson, who recently gave this TED talk about why she brought Burning Man to the museum:

View it yourself on Sansar–available on VR and desktop, and compatible with PC, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive.

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I bumped into Thomas Sanladerer at Maker Faire. I didn’t have a chance to chat with him but I can always tune in to hear him talk on YouTube. This excellent intro to desktop filament-style printing is typical of his dense but to-the-point information delivery. It’s top notch stuff and a great resource for anyone learning about 3D printing.

Check it out :

See more here:

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Come out to Maker Faire 2018 for the best and freshest maker goodness and see what has become of the original Maker Faire after over 10 years in action. I’ll be there with Steadcraft, where you can see my latest designs–wearables inspired by vintage fashion and crafted with a hybrid of digital and manual techniques.

Design by Grant Diffendaffer for Steadcraft. Machine embroidered, finished with bronze buttons prototyped by 3D printing and molded from metal clay

Get Tickets to Maker Faire Today!

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In my last post, I discussed some of the inspirations involved in the Capitol Theater. We are fortunate in this era that despite the loss of many great movie houses of old, that others still are being restored to their former glory. The Fox Theater Oakland has been of great inspiration since it was restored to the tune of 86 million dollars. Originally to be called the Bagdhad Theater, the Fox Oakland features middle-eastern influences. Another splendid Fox theater, in Atlanta, was originally designed as a Shriner’s temple and features a mix of North-African and Spanish Style. The Fox Spokane was also beneficiary of a multi-million dollar restoration for its ocean-themed deco grandeur. I was lucky to receive a tour of the theater recently and was stunned into snap-happiness. I hope you enjoy my snaps:


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In my stories about the Capitol Theater, I mentioned the theater-seat end-caps that I designed and which were fabricated from laser cut steel. The mobile deco theater, which was inspired by the great movie palaces of the 1920’s, reflects many of the design choices made by architects of the great Fox Theater chain. Some of these imaginative masterpieces have been restored today to their former glory. Deco was a diverse and sometimes contradictory mix of influences and could be seen to incorporate both sparse modern geometry and lavish ornamental tradition sometimes lifted directly from Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cultures. Prime examples of the latter are the Fox Oakland, and The Fox Atlanta. A full and honest critique of these design choices would have to take into account the arguments of Orientalism, and cultural colonialism. Is this just culture candy? What is the difference between an homage and a rip-off? Considering these choices and responsibilities with respect to the Capitol Theater was an interesting personal journey, and it was important to me to stay on the side of homage. I think that is the intention of the Capitol Theater generally, as a playful through-the-looking-glass view back at these historical treasures.

My original inspiration for the end-caps was from the Fox Theater in Spokane, another masterpiece of the era which eschewed fetischization of foreign cultural influences to a degree (not entirely) for a blend of natural (ocean) imagery and strict geometric forms.

Here is a shot of the Spokane Fox Theater seat end-cap:

Spokane Fox Theater seats

While the Capitol Theater features a facade that is largely streamline and geometric, the interior is inspired in many ways by Indian architecture and culture, in particular the scalloped arches found throughout Mughal design across Northern India. This theater’s proscenium arch can be seen in the Red Fort in Delhi for example. I was lucky to pick up this project from Clif Florio, who gave me the idea of a sun, moon, and stars theme. I added to that the arch curves, which the Capitol Theater features in several places, most prominently in the proscenium arch. In addition to layering them at the bottom of my design, I also carried them into the rooflines of the moon chair and the parapets of the sun chair–both ways in which the curve appears in traditional architecture. I’ve always been inspired by the desert, and in addition to having traveled the deserts of Rajasthan in Northern India, I am a lover of the desert of Southern Utah. The star chair includes the iconic profile of Factory Butte in the San Rafael Desert of Southern Utah.

Capitol Theater Seat End-Caps. Design by Grant Diffendaffer. Capitol Theater by Five Ton Crane

Capitol Theater. By Five Ton Crane. Theater seat end-cap design by Grant Diffendaffer. Photo Copyright Grant Diffendaffer


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Capitol Theater. What a looker. I couldn’t stop snapping shots. I’ve updated the gallery from my last post with a bunch more images. Hurry and glom a seat–the curtain is about to go up!

Capitol Theater by Five Ton Crane

It’s a challenge to credit a big job like this–please be patient as I document and attribute. I retain photo copyright but give permission to publish with the following attribution: “Capitol Theater: Five Ton Crane (or properly credited individual artist); Photography: Grant Diffendaffer.” Thank you.

Over 60 artists contributed to this project. Kudos to all. If there was something subversive about this show I’d have to say that one element is the exhibition of a collaborative work of art that makes no particular effort to call attention to the individual artists. There are no little number stickers with a matching placard on the wall. The answers you are looking for come out of the art itself. That became apparent to me looking at this display of film reels, which happened to be in a glass museum case outside of the theater.

Film reels

Extra special thanks goes to Lead Artists Bree Hylkema and Sean Orlando, Lead Fabricators Jay Kravitz, Clifford Florio and Stephanie Shipman, who put in hours daily for the 10 (short ?!?) weeks it took to build this. Multiple artists helmed major individual projects. To name a few of those: Mural painting and gold leaf–Tania Seabock; Marquis paintings of Crocodile and Swan–Imogen Speer; Concession Stand–Derrick Gomez; Candy–Mike Woolsen and Katie Keech; Movie Directore–Allen White; Choreography and Dance–Jody Power; Poster Design; Jay Kravitz and Becca Henry, Dashboard; Michael Sturtz; Hood Ornament–Jo Slota… It might not be possible to de-construct art like this by simply listing constituent elements and tying them to names, but there are names behind its construction and they all deserve to be in the Smithsonian.

The artists, as they have identified themselves:

Capitol Theater Crew List

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I’m fresh back from Washington D.C., where I attended several days of festivities for the opening of “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.” An incredible time was had by all. If you read my last post, you know that my creative colleagues in Five Ton Crane debuted our latest work there. It’s called the Capitol Theater. It was commissioned for the event and built from scratch (not a modified vehicle), in just ten short weeks. If I may say so myself, it’s beautiful.

As a team, we made everything right down to the black and white movies. I myself designed the decorative steel end-caps on the end of each row of theater seats. I also laid much of the tile floor and contributed with a few carpentry odds and ends. The seats are my pride and joy though–drafted in Rhino and laser cut from 1/8″ steel.

Enjoy the photos. If you can make it to D.C. by September, I highly recommend the show. It is free to visit and extends into the surrounding neighborhoods, helping make it the largest ever show put on by the museum. The museum itself is beautiful too, and has the distinction of being the first building in the country built for the purpose of art exhibition.

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