3D models of humans are incredibly useful for designing wearable products, ergonomic studies, and in-situ renders. The best-looking human scans we’ve used are from 3DScanStore by Ten24, and they’re surprisingly affordable. (warning: frank human nudity ahead.)

How We Use To Do It

It’s almost impossible to design a pair of wraparound sunglasses without a realistic human head as a starting point. Traditionally we did that kind of thing using carefully sculpted anatomical mannequin heads, then trying out the models on our own faces or those of human models. That kind of thing works well if you’re sculpting a design out of urethane foam, RenShape, or plasticine, but it works less well when the bulk of the design work is digital.

25 years ago Rapid Prototyping (or the vulgar “3D Printing”) made things a lot easier, but never quite as fluid or intuitive as the purely-analog sculpt. We could import 2D photos and sketches into our CAD apps for visual reference, build our digital model, then spit out a prototype overnight. Once in the physical realm, we were then free to drop the resulting model onto that old mannequin head or try it on for size. Wash, rinse, repeat. The process is tedious and disjointed, but workable.


Now, We’ve Got Heads on Sticks

In recent years I’ve been using an entirely different method. When designing a wearable product–especially a head-mounted one like sunglasses, headphones, or a VR headset–I use a battery of 3D scanned heads. This completes the cycle, bringing the entire design process into the digital realm, greatly reducing the number of prototypes built for a given project. Yes, we still need physical prototypes, but we make fewer dumb mistakes when designing to a realistic human baseline.

Decent scans used to be hard to come by. No longer.

These days I use 3DScanStore. Not only can I get fully detailed photometric scans of human faces, bodies, hands, and clothing, but even fully re-topologized animation-ready meshes. Drop them into MODO and I’m ready to rock.

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For Instance

Right now, for example, I’m working on a bunch of animations for a handheld VR controller. I needed to show a human hand interacting with the controller, pressing buttons, using thumbsticks, and demonstrating various capacitive touch zones. I used a scan from 3DScanStore as a starting point for the rigged hand, scaling it as necessary to get to the 50th percentile hand size I needed to show.

I’m also working on a new MODO rendering training series that will bring the Fiat S76 “Beast of Turin” series into its final rendered glory. To make the final renders more believable, I’ll be using a scanned human face for the driver. Oh, and there’s that SolidWorks 2016 automotive surfacing tutorial I’m working on, too. I’ll be dropping a scanned racing driver into the seat for the final imagery.

Insane Detail

These scans are insanely detailed. 170 RAW DSLR images shot at 1/10,000th of a second exposure with a 1/100th of a second sync tolerance per camera. Up to 15,000 x 15,000 pixel texture resolution. In the right hands, this data can create be stunningly realistic.

And there’s variety. Office worker, racecar driver, patriotic-yet-somewhat-out-of-shape-boxer, karate guy, weirdly enthusiastic bodybuilder, and, of course, all manner of naked people. ‘Tis a wonder to behold.

We expect to see more and more photometry making its way into the product design and engineering space. This is just one of many perfect use-cases. We can’t wait to see what’s next!


Adam O'Hern is an industrial designer, designing products ranging from laptops to power tools, classroom toys to bathroom fixtures, and pro audio gear to guitar tuners. In 2008 he founded cadjunkie.com, and in 2010 co-founded EvD Media with Josh Mings of SolidSmack.com, and the two collaborate on the EngineerVsDesigner.com podcast.