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Creative Technology Feature: Ryan Kittleson's Extruded Rembrandt

Don Undeen, Senior Manager of MediaLab, Digital Media

Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ryan Kittleson, Extruded Rembrandt Rendering

Ryan Kittleson, digital rendering for Extruded Rembrandt, 2013. Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

«Ryan Kittleson is a tech-friendly artist living in Brooklyn, New York, whose 3D models have been used in animations at Disney World and Sea World, as well as the renowned display windows at Sak's Fifth Avenue. Originally a self-taught digital-graphics artist, Ryan has served on the faculty of Full Sail University teaching character modeling, and continues to provide educational resources focused on the wonders of digital sculpture through Lynda.com.»

As a member of the Met's volunteer 3D brigade, Ryan spends countless hours scouring the Museum's vast collection searching for inspiration for his work, which we are able to produce on the 3D printers generously on loan from 3D Systems. Lately, however, he has been spending time with our 2D collection, pondering ways he could translate the wide variety of mediums into his 3D digital world.

Ryan's latest creation is a unique system that maps pixel brightness to depth, creating works that look like abstract mountainscapes, until you align them just so, and the figure in the painting literally pops out at you. Using an image of Rembrandt's Self-Portrait as a starting point, Ryan then extruded the two-dimensional work into 3D based solely on image brightness. The resulting images resemble a seemingly archaic plane of spikes—except when viewed head-on.

Left: Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch, 1606–1669). Self-Portrait, 1660. Oil on canvas; 31 5/8 x 26 1/2 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.618)

I recently had the chance to catch up with Ryan, and asked him a few questions about his work with extruded images.

Don Undeen: What inspired you to make the extruded Rembrandt model?

Ryan Kittleson: In using 3D sculpting software, it's a common task to take a 2D image and use it to create a physical texture on 3D objects. I figured that the same process could be similarly applied to a painting, turning it into an fun, abstract sculpture that only revealed its content when viewed straight-on. Plus, I just like Rembrandt's art!

Don Undeen: Do you have any other ideas for projects you'd like to take on using an art museum's collection?

Ryan Kittleson: I'd definitely like to take 3D scans of sculptures and find some inventive and unexpected ways to re-mix them using other works in that medium.

Not only are these extruded images cool to look at, they're also easy to make, using any image as a starting point. In the video below, Ryan shows how to do this yourself by using the free 3D-modeling program Blender. In fact, one of the things that initially attracted Ryan to this project was the opportunity to expose people to a powerful, complex tool like Blender in an accessible and unexpected way.


Shown below are two images of the printed objects—from the side, and head-on. These pictures were taken with the Lytro light-field camera, which allows you to click on the image to focus different areas. Give it a try!

Ryan Kittleson, Extruded Rembrandt, 2013

Ryan's YouTube channel is filled with great 3D-modeling tutorials, so check it out if you want to dive deeper into this fascinating field. If you end up making your own extruded image, take a picture or share the model, and post a link in the comments below!

Department(s): Digital Media


  • Edward Shanken says:

    Interesting work and it's wonderful that the Met is supporting such artistic research. However, the claim that Kittleson uses a "unique system that maps pixel brightness to depth, creating works that look like abstract mountainscapes" is overstated. Michael Joaquin Grey, who began working with rapid prototyping around 1990, deployed a very similar approach in "Perpetual ZOOZ" (2005), which extruded a three dimensional animation from the classic film, The Wizard of Oz" and further subjected the material to various transformations, resulting in a virtual mobius strip that simultaneously loops forwards and backwards in time on either side of the spinning video object. If memory serves, at Bitforms Gallery in 2006, the video installation of Perpetual ZOOZ included a 3-D ceiling sculpture of poppy fields (digitally extruded from the film), covering the expanse of the ceiling. Perpetual ZOOZ won the LOOP award in 2009 and was more recently exhibited in NYC at Grey's solo show at PS-1 MOMA. The Met is to be congratulated on its interest in such work but has a responsibility to recognize and credit historical precursors.

    Posted: February 20, 2014, 6:02 p.m.

  • don undeen says:

    Thanks for the tip Edward, I found that work here:

    Definitely similar in look to Ryan's work, though very different in process. I would love to have seen those 3D printed poppy fields on the ceiling at Bitforms!

    We weren't trying to suggest that Ryan's work is unprecedented; we were using the term 'unique' more in the sense of 'interesting,' rather than 'singular.'

    What is particularly interesting about Ryan's approach is that he's sharing his process online, using free software. if more people make extruded images of their own, and it becomes even less 'unique,' that would be a great outcome!

    Posted: February 21, 2014, 4:25 p.m.

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About the Author

Don Undeen is the senior manager of MediaLab in the Digital Media Department.

About this Blog

The Digital Media Department leads the creation, production, presentation, and dissemination of multimedia content to support the viewing and understanding of the Met's collection and exhibitions, both within the galleries and online. This blog discusses a few of the activities of the department, and invites your questions and comments about the Museum's digital initiatives.

Above: Jim Campbell (American, born 1956). Motion and Rest #2 (detail), 2002. Light-emitting-diodes (LED) and custom electronics. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Henry Nias Foundation Inc. Gift, 2004 (2004.105). © Jim Campbell