Inside a small shop on Alhambra's Main Street, Andy Co and sister-in-law Jewelyn Co demonstrate how a 3-D scan is made. Andy picks up a scanner that looks more like an iron and cradles a laptop in his arms. Jewelyn strikes a pose — hands on hips, one knee bent — and remains still as Andy walks in a circle around her. Keeping a three-foot distance from Jewelyn, Andy points the scanner and moves it up and down the length of her body. LED lights blink all the while. The goal, Andy says, is to capture as much data as possible. Everything from the texture of Jewelyn's long, straight hair to the creases in her boots can make it into the final product.
CoKreeate specializes in an unusual type of keepsake. They make figures based on 3-D scans. It all started when Will Co, Andy's brother and Jewelyn's husband, backed a Kickstarter for a 3-D printer. (Will was not present for the interview.) He had seen that companies in Japan were using the technology to make figures of ordinary people and wanted to try something similar. The Alhambra residents decided to launch a business, despite the fact that none of them had experience with 3-D printing technology. In early 2013, they picked up their printers and started learning, with each one mastering a task that they would teach the others. "It's trial and error," says Andy.
By fall of that year, they were ready to hit up trade shows. Initially, the goal was to build a presence in the wedding industry, since 3-D printed figures could make good cake toppers. However, the next bridal show in Los Angeles was months away and they wanted to start immediately. They brought their work to Stan Lee's Comikaze, a pop culture convention in downtown Los Angeles. The response was fantastic. They caught the attention of a lot of people, including Stan Lee's assistant. This year, CoKreeate produced a 3-D portrait of the comic book icon as exclusive merchandise for the convention. "If we had never gone to Comikaze, we would not be here," says Co. "Because of Comikaze, we met a lot of people who love what we do and they've been helping us out."
CoKreate has been functioning as a mobile operation for a little over a year and it's growing. Joining the Co family are Novella Genelza, who handles marketing and graphic design, and an artist who works off-site. In mid-November, they hosted the grand opening of their first CoKreeate shop. A week later, the names of the guests who attended are still scrawled on a chalkboard inside the shop.
CoKreeate's Alhambra space is filled with a healthy collection of past work. There are figures of Andy and Will's parents and grandparents, a local fire fighter and a few artists with whom they have collaborated. One display features the various celebrities they have scanned, including Larry King and Verne Troyer. There are figures of cosplayers, like Hip Hop Trooper, who wears an '80s hip-hop style Stormtrooper costume. There is a girl dressed as Harley Quinn, the DC character, who won a costume contest at Comikaze this past year. There are also figures of Mordecai and Rigby, from the Cartoon Network series Regular Show, who are actually people in costume. Andy points to a thin line around Rigby's neck. "The line is where the helmet comes off," he says.
The scan itself only takes a few minutes. It's the work that comes work after the scan that is time-consuming. Andy fiddles with the image of Jewelyn as we talk. Even tiny details, like the outline of her kneecap covered by leggings, are apparent. Their figures can be printed in multiple sizes and are often done in full color. There is no painting involved to capture the intricacies of the model's clothing or hair color. However, the full-color, ceramic pieces that line the shelves and display cases are done off-site. The printer is too large, and the process is too messy, for the space. However, there are a variety of smaller machines here that print from spools of brightly colored plastic.
To demonstrate the process during a recent interview, they're printing out a small bust of Jewelyn in blue plastic. Andy sends the images to his sister-in-law, who takes care of the last bit of prep work before sending it to the printer. Jewelyn crops the image to include just her head, neck and shoulders and scales it down so that the finished piece will only be about one inch. She creates a code that the printer must read in order to do the job and gets a message that it will take about 40 minutes to complete. She adds that, normally, print jobs take about 10 minutes longer than the stated time. Less than an hour later, she holds the diminutive bust in her hand.
There are more than just figures at CoKreeate. During our two-hour visit, the constant, ambient hum of printers permeated the shop. They were working on snowflake ornaments for an upcoming Toys for Tots drive. Andy describes CoKreeate as an "all-in-one solution." They sell printers. They do 3-D print jobs. They'll even help turn a 2-D image into a 3-D design. The next goal for the family business is education. They want to start teaching community members the ins and outs of 3-D printing.
"We want to support our community," says Jewelyn. "We want to show people, especially kids, that 3-D printing is the way of the future."
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