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As a musical and cultural icon of nearly five decades, David Bowie’s passing in early January was deeply felt by the artists and fans he left behind. To celebrate his life, music and influence, Lady Gaga dedicated her portion of this year’s 58th Grammy Awards to his legacy in a mesmerizing, technology-riddled performance that highlighted various phases of Bowie’s textured career. 

As a frequent contributor to a variety of merchandising, animation, costume- and set-design needs, 3D Systems’ Gentle Giant Studios in Burbank is known in the entertainment industry for our on-demand parts expertise and talented artistic specialists. Due to the high involvement of technology in the tribute, 3D Systems was contacted by Intel, Lady Gaga’s partner for the event, for help 3D-scanning and -printing critical show elements.

The team at Gentle Giant 3D scanned Lady Gaga in a choreographed series of expressions that were then passed off to her team to serve as accurate 3D templates of the singer’s facial measurements. Because these scans were to be used as a living canvas for real-time visual effects, our experts optimized the scan data for geometry, texture, lighting and tracking. These considerations made it easier for Lady Gaga’s artists to find grip with their digital makeup and flawlessly incorporate the instantaneous costume changes into the show.

In addition to supporting these visual effects, the team also relied on 3D printing to enable interactive digital effects on stage. The orb-like rings Lady Gaga wore onstage were custom printed to the fit of Lady Gaga’s finger in our Burbank office on a 3D Systems ProX 950 production Stereolithography printer. Functioning as a decorative housing, the rings were then outfitted with Intel Curie technology, enabling Lady Gaga to have real-time control of the stage’s visual effects.

Beyond delivering a high-quality product, turnaround time was critical to the success of this job. Although tight deadlines are the norm in entertainment, it’s almost impossible to meet them when you have to tool or hand-sculpt for traditional manufacturing processes. Fortunately for all involved, the digital workflows enabled by additive manufacturing allowed us to race the clock and come out singing. In a mere 48-hours, we were able to scan and print Lady Gaga’s head for the tribute’s visual effects as well as create the personalized sizing for over a dozen bespoke Curie rings.

We are honored to have played a part in bringing these innovations to the stage, and are delighted that our technology and talent could help push the boundaries of creativity and expression.