Ian Lopez, the founder of Auckland-based 3D scanning company Smallworlds, talks creating human replica models and operating in an emerging market.

What does your business do?

The main thing Smallworlds is doing at the moment is 3D scanning services, capturing a subject three dimensionally. We use equipment that captures the subject in 3D from every angle and creates a realistic model. I've been testing this technology for the past year and officially launched the business in November last year. Currently, the printing is being done by our partners at a company called Shapeways, based in the US, but in the future I'd like to get that done locally.

What sparked the idea?


I first started experimenting with 3D scanning back when I was a teacher, teaching 3D animation and modelling. It was something I was really excited about and I first started testing it out on my daughter who was six years old at the time.

I got a miniature printed of her and it was mind-blowing to see a small model of her six year old self. From there I decided to keep experimenting, I got some new equipment and started doing more scans of her until she was 10, so that I had this progression of her growing up, and not just in photos - in three dimensional form. To me it was incredible, and I thought this was something people could connect with and that it would be a great chance to bring a unique way of capturing memories and events to people, and to make it accessible to everybody.

Our clients are mostly families, who want to get their children done or things done for an event. We've had great feedback from people seeing these miniatures, especially if it's of themselves, because they're quite realistic.

What's your current focus?

I'm working on expanding my client base. I'd love to get involved with community groups and get these services out to schools and more events.

Big picture, I want to get into multimedia content as 3D scanning is an amazing tool for film, games and television. It can be used for architectural visualisation as we can capture any real-world object realistically and utilise that in a 3D or interactive context, which could then be used for training, gaming or entertainment purposes.

For a basic individual scan we charge $30 and then the cost of printing varies depending on the subject. For example an eight year-old boy would cost less to print compared to an adult, due to the amount of materials used. The average one is about 14 centimetres in height and generally costs between $35 and $50.

Sophia Lopez with her Smallworlds miniature.
Sophia Lopez with her Smallworlds miniature.

What does the 3D market currently look like in New Zealand?


We're not facing a lot of competition. The industry is very small at the moment. There are a few companies that are doing gaming development but in terms of scanning there's very little in this country at this point. Smallworlds is the only company doing it in Auckland. There's a firm in Wellington doing great work but the key difference between them and we're doing is that we use a portable setup, so rather than a customer coming into our studio, we can go out to events, live shows, parties, exhibitions, houses, workplaces, or wherever suits.

Big picture, I want to get into multimedia content as 3D scanning is an amazing tool for film, games and television.

What's been the most challenging thing running this type of business?

It's been practice, in some cases. If I'm working with new technologies, in a lot of cases, there's not a lot of documentation available for that so there was a lot of technical troubleshooting initially. At the beginning there were quite a few challenges to overcome.

What advice do you give to those thinking of a starting their own business?

Plan what you are going to do and practice the services you are wanting to offer. The key thing is to get started; people spend a lot of time thinking about a business and contemplating it, but actually getting it into motion is important.

It's been really valuable, for me personally, is spending time getting familiar with social media platforms, in particular working with Facebook and Instagram. Half of the clients coming through to me are coming through social media.