Recreating 'The Original' in 3D

« Can you create a 3D model from a real life item? »

I regularly get questions like this one. Usually it should be a 3D model specified or adjusted for 3D printing and single use, but sometimes it's just for creating digital studio shots.

The item in this case is the The Original comb, by Curve-O. The following image is one of the few existing professional photographed studio shots.

Original professional photograph

The designer of this comb, Ludovic Beckers, asked for more freedom, more and better dynamic images and more possibilities with a digital 3D mold of The Original. This mold would then be used to create 3D product shots or high end animations for show floors or digital media, without the need for a professional photographer or film maker.

The workflow I used for this project is one I often use. Following are five steps of the complete transformation process from a real-life object to a purely digital comb, explained in detailed.

To perfectly recreate an existing item, it is tantamount to be able to physically touch it, to hold it, to get a good grip of the scale and the weight of the object and of the feel of the material.

It makes it possible to study its details, reflections, minor imperfections, angles and curves, which are all equally important to get a good result.


STEP 01: Study and photographing the comb

After taking a detailed look at the comb, photographs are taken from its main sides, in this case the front and the top. Close-up shots are taken from certain parts or angles that should be included into the 3D model.

The best pictures will be imported into MODO to be used as start base: the 3D will be built based on these.

Usually a lot of pictures are taken, but for this product only a few sides and close-ups were needed to get the job done.

To get the physical size of the comb exactly right into digital space, a vernier caliper with a precision of one tenth of a millimeter was used and the entire object was measured.

When importing the photographs into MODO, it should be made sure that their sizes are correct and the images are all lined up accordingly.

Arranging the pictures

STEP 02: Blocking out the main shapes

When everything is imported and lined up, the main shape of the comb in question is blocked out with a rough 3D shape.

I usually don't trace the pictures I took in the minutest detail, because lens curvature and perspective skew the images. That's why I tend to trust the vernier caliper above all else.

The rough shape of the comb in the image below already gives a good image of how the end result would look. Having the real item near me, I can constantly double check to see how the digital model compares. Even a small mistake in size or ratio is easily spotted that way.

Base shape comb

STEP 03: Detailing the comb

Happy with the rough shape, I start adding details like the teeth, the imprinted letters, the rough edges, the plastic mould lip, etc. This might take some time to get just right, but they all contribute to creating a realistic and lifelike comb. The worst thing that can happen is that the final renders still look too dull and flat.


STEP 04: Texturing

The most difficult thing to get right, is the look and feel of the material.

Often this is what's the big time spender, rendering different iterations of the material you want to imitate. Colour variations, reflections, roughness, bumps, ...: everything needs to be looked at in great detail, yet another reason for having the real-life object close-by.

While texturing, I try to create a neutral lighting, so colours are as accurate as possible. One problem is that neutral lighting almost never is a given, so getting the main colour just right is always a challenge and going back and forth between the real-life object and the 3D-digital image is unavoidable before rendering the final image before it pleases me.

Texture testing

STEP 05: Camera, lighting and rendering

The final step involves some directing: how do you want the light to emphasize the comb? What are important details or shapes? How dynamic should the final picture be? What feeling does one want to give to the viewer of the picture?

These questions need to be asked before rendering the picture, so one can live up to the customer’s expectation.

For this project, we opted for a dynamic and clean image, with an emphasis on the curve and the Curve-O logo.

The render's major purpose is to be printed out on a 2x3 meter surface, so it needed a huge resolution (6000x4000 pixels) and we needed space for some extra text at the side.

Below you will find the final render of the 'The Original' comb by Curve-O.



It is not always possible to let me have the real-life objects due to their size, fragility or value. Nevertheless, it is definitely the best way to make sure the object is transmitted into the digital world as realistically as possible.

Working merely with photographs of a product leads to the loss of many a detail during translation to 3D.

Hence my reticence in such cases when it comes to guaranteeing that the final 3D model will live up to the customer’s expectations.

So, the availability of a real-life object makes for 3D-models that are more real than life.