Art world’s rising star uses 3D technology to make detailed, lifelike human sculptures

Marta MatvijevMay 29, 20248 minute read

On a tree-filled site in Alabama alongside the Mississippi River, three figures stand gazing straight ahead: a woman, a man, and three children in a circle. The busts, made of bronze and measuring about three meters in height, are strikingly life-like but monumental.

Titled Black Renaissance, the trio of sculptures is permanently installed at the Freedom Monument Sculpture Park in Montgomery, Alabama. The site, which officially opened in March of this year, walks visitors through US history from enslavement to emancipation.

The creative force behind this piece is Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark, a London-based digital sculptor whose work has been drawing significant public attention. Her vision: celebrating anonymous peers in the public realm. She brings the sculptures to life through an approach that merges 3D scanning, 3D printing and traditional bronze casting.

Black Renaissance by Rayvenn D'Clark

Rayvenn D'Clark's Black Renaissance is permanently installed at the Freedom Monument Sculpture Park

“My ambition is to uncover people who aren’t typically part of the public landscape and make sure that they get the recognition they deserve,” D’Clark says. “It’s about going beyond concepts of mass communities. I’m looking at individual politics and trying to observe some uniqueness about that individual.”

Her sculptures have an uncanny ability to ignite interest. Despite being in her late twenties, she's already been featured in major mainstream publications in the US, UK, and France. Her artwork has gained traction on social media, and this is how the non-profit organization behind the Freedom Monument Sculpture Park – Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) – first saw it. This discovery would culminate in the commissioning of Black Renaissance in February 2023. This milestone was quickly followed by another major achievement: nomination for the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 which she was awarded in April 2024.

It was while digitally modeling the sculptures for the Monument to Freedom that she encountered Oqton Freeform and the 3D Systems haptic device. They’ve since become a permanent fixture in her toolkit.  

Traditional and digital sculpting, hand in hand

D’Clark first tried her hand at digital sculpting at university, while also working with traditional body casting techniques and silicone casting. On entering the industry, she realized 3D technology could help maximize her workflow.  

“I always had a general interest in 3D but I didn’t understand the tech well. After graduating and joining MTArt Agency, I began to realize that 3D technology – specifically 3D scanning and printing – was an effective mechanism for production. I could achieve hyperrealism and the level of detail digitally that I had previously achieved by hand and produce en masse. It provided greater capabilities than hand sculpting,” D’Clark says.

Traditional and digital techniques do not compete in this approach. They go hand in hand. “You always need a reference point if you’re self-generating objects digitally. My reference point has always been my ability to draw. Therefore, I am always thinking about how to build objects in real life as they have a similar dimensionality to a digital object,” she says. 

“It is important that you have a basic understanding of proportions, dimensions and scale regardless of what you’re building. Using Freeform and the haptic device simply means moving those skills into the digital realm,” she adds.

Sculpting workflows with Freeform

The starting point of D’Clark’s digital projects is a concept and a model. Then she applies a three-step workflow.

First, she scans the model. The goal is to get as much detail as possible.  Scanning is not always a perfect science, so elements of the CAD are sometimes missing. This is fixed in the next step.

Second, she uploads the scan into Freeform meticulously filling in the gaps, digitally manipulating the model until she’s happy with the finished outcome. 

This file serves as a basis for a sculpture.

From here, the process could progress in one of two ways. Either the sculpture is 3D-printed directly from the model, or the 3D model is used to create a mould for casting in bronze or other precious metals.  

Evonne with an ‘E’, a bronze portrait of D’Clark’s grandmother from 2023, was made with a 3D scanning and the latter casting approach. D'Clark scanned her grandmother’s face using her Creality Lizard handheld scanner and later sent the CAD model to a foundry.

Evonne with an 'E'

The making of Evonne with an 'E'

They began the casting process with a test print to check the feasibility of the data held within the model, and then produced a second print which was used as a basis for the lost wax method. Lost wax casting requires building a wax mould around the sacrificial 3D print which is later used to pour bronze. This method is highly effective in casting fine details in precious metals.  

“It was amazing to see. When I initially began to use 3D within my practice, I assumed I would be producing objects which were primarily 3D printed. But I soon began to realize that 3D files, both digitally produced and 3D printed, could become the basis for many other processes. It opened my mind to the plethora of other options out there,” D’Clark says. 

The National Monument to Freedom 

Using a similar approach, D’Clark used bronze for the Black Renaissance busts installed in the Freedom Monument Sculpture Park. This is when Freeform arrived on the scene.  

“The project emerged organically,” says D’Clark. “When the Equal Justice Initiative team saw a miniature, 3D-printed bust I made in mid-2022 on Instagram and contacted my agency." A few conversations and several pitches later, she signed a multimillion-pound commission, her biggest one to date.

Sculptures made using a 3D scan of a woman with a headscarf

Busts of a woman with a headscarf made with the aid of 3D scanning

A key collaborator on this project was millimetre, a design and fabrication company based in Brighton, UK. Using their expertise, D’Clark and the team worked closely to build the sculptures using Freeform. Seeing it in action blew her mind. 

“When I first saw Freeform, I fell in love with it. During an on-site session, millimetre’s 3D designer allowed me to play around with his haptic device and it was from then onward that I felt that this was the next step in my practice. It wasn’t very long until I reinvested into my practice and bought a new laptop, an Acer ConceptD 7 Ezel Pro Intel Xeo, with higher RAM and SSD capabilities and the 3D Systems haptic device,” she says.

The millimetre team scanned the models, built them in 3D and used them to create a mould. For D’Clark, who had previously only ever printed directly from the digital scan, this was a new process, but she had no concerns about the quality of the result. Her team had clarity of vision from the start of the project and great quality digital renders, which gave her confidence across the fabrication process. 

“The 3D element was so strong that we knew from month one what we were working towards, down to the style and size of the surface dimpling on the artworks. Everything was digitally fabricated,” D’Clark says. 

The moulds were produced in Europe and brought back to the UK to pour the bronze. Each sculpture was an exact copy of the 3D model. “Despite the project's large scope, everything went incredibly smoothly. But when you have such a clear vision and can execute it in 3D, the process becomes a lot easier,” she says.  

Black Renaissance busts of 3 children

Free play with Freeform  

Since acquiring a Freeform license and a haptic through OR3D, a 3D scanning specialist in the UK, D’Clark has been spending a lot of time playing around with the software. “It has really opened my mind to its creative capabilities. It has revolutionised my practice.” 

Freeform’s Clay Sculpt capabilities lend themselves well to building a high level of detail. “Creating hyper-realistic sculptures digitally requires you to attune your eyes to the technology, and tests your ability to build symmetry to objects in real life. There’s a huge amount of manipulation that has to happen particularly when modelling human faces when you’re missing data. I heavily rely on the Mesh and Clay toolbars – Construct, Sculpt, Detail, Deform, Paint, Select/Move  – and apply them as I would in real life. It feels completely natural as I understand the core elements of how it impacts the overall design of the object.”  

In the months ahead, D’Clark is working on several commissions, continuing academic research and will undertake advanced training in the haptic and Freeform in a bid to fully understand the gamut of the software’s possibilities enabling her to find new and improved ways of using it in her practice. 


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