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One of the world's most famous modern sculptures is Italian Futurist painter and sculptor Umberto Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity in Space from 1913. It is on display at Tate Modern in London, MAC USP in Saõ Paulo, MoMA in New York and Museo del Novecento in Milan. What is less known is that this sculpture was preceded by three similar sculptures: Synthesis of Human Dynamism, Speeding Muscles and Spiral Expansion of Muscles in Motion. Boccioni was tragically killed in an accident in 1916, and eleven years later his three sculptures were destroyed. Today, all that remains of them are some 30 photographs from Boccioni's own studio and three exhibitions in Paris, Milan and San Francisco. However, by carefully studying and comparing these existing photographs, very accurate 3D recreations are in fact possible. That is what this project is all about.


Using modern techniques, it is astonishing to find out how much of Boccioni’s lost sculptures can be reliably reconstructed. This is possible by consulting the surviving photographs of the sculptures, many of which reveal more detail than initially apparent. All of Boccioni's sculptures have very jagged, sharp corners and lines. Cast shadows and highlights describe well-defined shapes. Careful analysis gives excellent clues to what happens in areas hidden from view. Furthermore, studying the handful surviving sculptures and understanding Boccioni's theoretical approach significantly reduces any guesswork. Ultimately, a rough estimate reveals that more than 91% of Synthesis of Human Dynamism (below) can be accurately recreated.



The 3D software Pixologic ZBrush, widely used in the movie VFX industry, was employed to recreate the sculptures. This software allows for both additive and subtractive digital sculpting using a digital pen and tablet, with tools like the rake brush and clay build-up tool mimicking real-world counterparts. Due to the limited number of photographs, A.I. (machine learning algorithms) was not viable for this task.

First, all existing historical photographs of a Boccioni sculpture are loaded into 3D image planes to serve as reference templates. A semi-transparent clay mass is then meticulously shaped to match the contours in the photographs, ensuring all shapes, lines, and shadows align accurately. This results in a digital sculpture very close to the original.

The sculpture sizes are estimated using historical photographs, where paintings of known dimensions appear alongside the sculptures in at least six images. A vanishing point grid is used to accurately calculate the sizes (details are available in the documentary).



When finished, the digital sculpture is transferred from the digital realm to reality through 3D printing. For this exhibition two techniques were used: Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is a 3D printing process where thermoplastic filament is fed from a large coil through a moving, heated printer extruder head, and is deposited on the growing work. The other technique is CNC (Computer Numerical Control) milling of dense polystyrene. This is similar to milling machines that remove material from blocks with rotary cutters to reveal the final shape.

The recreated Boccioni sculptures were exhibited at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in London between 25 September and 22 December 2019. It enabled modern audiences to see these over 100-year-old masterpieces for the very first time. Further exhibitions are planned and will be posted under 'News'. The sculptures were also included in the 2022 documentary Formidable Boccioni.




Anders Rådén is a digital artist, designer and MRI image analyst. He lives in Uppsala, Sweden.


Matt Smith is a digital artist and designer. He lives in Liverpool, England.

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