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USC Team Joins Historic Effort To Create 3D Portrait Of President Obama

LOS ANGELES ( — Researchers with USC have teamed up with the White House to take a 3D portrait of President Obama in what is being billed as the highest resolution digital model of a head of state.

The University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) was part of a Smithsonian-led team that created the portrait using a high-speed system with eight cameras and 50 LED lights on a modified "Light Stage" that captured detailed shape and facial properties in seconds, according to researchers.

The Light Stage data was processed by the ICT Graphics Lab team, and subsequently combined with additional data capture by the Smithsonian team to create a life-sized bust and "life mask" of the president.

While researchers have undertaken similar efforts in the past, officials say this is the first time the video detailing process has been used to scan a sitting president.

Gunter Waibel, Director, Smithsonian Digitization Program Office, said the inspiration for the project came from two composite "life masks" made of Abraham Lincoln's face made during Lincoln's visit to Chicago in the early spring of 1860 and what's commonly believed to be the last photograph taken of Lincoln in early April 1865.

"They're called life masks because these were directly taken from [Lincoln's] likeness," said Waibel. "Seeing that made us think what could ever happen if we could do that with a sitting president."

Perhaps fittingly, photos from the USC's research website show the Light Stage set up beneath a portrait of Lincoln in the State Dining Room of the White House.

The Obama portraits, which are part of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery collection, will be on display at the Smithsonian Castle in Washington through Dec. 31. They were previously displayed at the White House Maker Faire on June 18.

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