New Leawood firm will make personal 3-D figurines

06/26/2014 4:50 PM

06/27/2014 11:54 AM

Photographs have long captured our milestones. Home movies added sound and movement.

Now a cutting edge technology provides a 3-D keepsake — personal miniature figurines.

Leawood’s new Lifeform Studio will use 3-D photography and a 3-D printer to create the figures they dub “lifeforms.”

Customers can have mini-me versions of themselves, say, in their wedding or prom dresses, soccer uniform, holding a guitar in their rock band costume or just in a favorite outfit to note how they looked at a certain point in their lives — all in meticulous detail from facial stubble to tattoos to shoestrings.

Owners Mason and Lisa Menninger plan a Saturday opening for Lifeform Studio in Park Place at 11535 Ash St., with a grand opening later this summer.

Lisa, a clinical pathologist, was longing for a creative outlet and considered turning a basement space into an art studio. Her husband, Mason, had worked at NASA, most notably on the repair mission of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1993, as well as several virtual environment projects. He also has spent more than a decade on various 3-D simulation and 3-D modeling projects.

He designed Lifeform as a project that would combine the couple’s creative interests. They put together a business plan and began scouting locations.

“We needed something a little bit upscale. This is kind of a luxury item, not something that people need,” Lisa Menninger said. “Moms might want an image of their kids in their sports uniforms. One guy wanted to be a superhero figurine. This is something special to capture the moment.”

Lifeform subjects will step into the studio, where they will be surrounded by 101 cameras. The 101 images then are sent to a computer, where a 3-D model is constructed. Then artists from the Kansas City Art Institute may do slight tweaks, perhaps a color correction, before sending the images to the 3-D printer.

It takes several hours for the image to be laid out on a fine powder, then color binds the individual layers to strengthen the 3-D figure. It is gently excavated from the print bed and depowdered before it is dipped in a strengthening agent and left to dry for about 30 minutes.

Prices will be about $300 for a figurine of about 5 to 7 inches. It will be ready about a week after the photo session.

The Menningers said they currently have few competitors. They’ve found one company in Germany and another in Texas that are similar.

“The technologies have just now converged — high-resolution, full-color 3-D printing and quick and accurate full-body scanning,” Mason Menninger said. “Up until recently, the scanning technology required people to stand very still while people waved lasers or flashing lights over them. This is almost instant, like taking a photograph.”

To reach Joyce Smith, call 816-234-4692 or send email to jsmith@kcstar.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at JoyceKC.

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