Excerpt from an article from Fabbaloo.com

Whilst 3D scanning is typically seen as a modern technology, there is evidence that it could be a lot older than you might imagine.

This idea of moving around a subject to obtain a number of different views in order to build up a 3D model is in fact not new at all. The “photo sculpture” process was invented in 1860 by French artist François Willème.

According to Wikipedia:
“A photo-sculpture is the reproduction of persons, animals, and things, in 3-dimensions by taking a series of photos in the round and using them as synchronized photo projections to create a sculpture. The process was invented and patented by French artist (painter, sculptor and photographer) François Willème in 1860.

He took a series of photographs from around a subject and used them to carve a likeness of the figure. Contemporary photo sculptures are obtained through a process of 3D scanning and 3D printing. The results are small statues that represent the portrayed entity.”

Photo-Sculpture in the 1930s

In effect the photosculpture process would record the profile edge of the subject at a series of rotational intervals. If these edge profiles were recreated in the same rotational angles, then an object could be reproduced. I suppose this is slightly similar to photogrammetry in that respect. The photosculpture process was pretty rough, as you would imagine. In the video you can see artists manually fixing up the rough sculptures before finishing them.

The Demise of Photo-Sculpture

It’s not clear when the practice of photosculptures ended, but from the video it would appear that it might have been a popular thing to do in the 1930s. The video shows a number of then-celebrities having had the process done. But that could merely be a cooked video attempting to promote the technology for commercial purposes.

Today we know that “photosculptures” should be done with advanced 3D scanning and 3D printing. There are quite a number of ways to do this, and there are often local “photographers” who have specialized equipment set up to do so.

Could photosculpture be revived? I think it could easily be done as the tools to do so are so much better today than in previous centuries. However, current tools such as photogrammetry are superior so there’s not much point in doing so.

See full Fabbaloo article.