The Army Man Project: 3D Transformations of Tucsonans Into Toys

June 8, 2016

by Kai Parmenter

A small sampling of figures from various stages of the Army Man Project.

A small sampling of figures from various stages of the Army Man Project.

Downtown has long served as a nexus of artistry in Tucson, whether it be painters, photographers or something a bit more contemporary. The Army Man Project, created by Rudy Flores and Teresa Estrella, utilizes elements of the aforementioned mediums, while placing a new spin on each: the duo create three-dimensional figures, or “army men”, from digital scans of people.

Aided by recent advances in 3D scanning and printing technology, Flores and Estrella produce wonderfully detailed models that retain the nuance and characteristics of the person each figure is based on, showcasing little details like clothing, instruments and more. But how did it all begin?

“We had no real intention,” says Flores. “We just wanted to scan people and manipulate the figures and make creatures.” Their first project centered on designing an album cover for a collaborative project between two metal bands, Destroyer of Light, out of Austin, Texas, and the Tucson-based Godhunter.

Artists Rudy Flores and Teresa Estrella in their studio.

Artists Rudy Flores and Teresa Estrella in their studio.


“Then my son, who was twelve at the time, he had this idea to turn some of these bands we were working with into army men figures,” notes Flores. “So we ended up scanning them and making figures, and sure enough it worked out.” The amount of detail present on their first batch of army men surprised Flores and Estrella, prompting a new initiative: “Our goal is to make everything [and] everyone look like they’re in the middle of doing something,” says Flores.

The response to Flores and Estrella’s figures online has been overwhelmingly positive. The duo began inviting local artists, musicians and business owners to participate. “People said, ‘how do I get those made?’ We decided to hit up the community, people that we know…people that you tend to run into all the time,” says Flores, who notes that their location also benefitted the project, citing the connections between Downtown, music and the arts.

Flores and Estrella then opened up the project to the community at large, including a successful Kickstarter campaign that led to the creation of ninety more figures. Now anyone can have his or her own figure made.

But how do Flores and Estrella actually make the figures? “We’ll do a scan,” says Flores, displaying an iPad with special lens attachment and software. The process involves slowly moving the iPad laterally around the body of the person being scanned, allowing the software to capture everything from poise and figure to minute details like clothing and props.

Members from renown metal band Mastodon stopped by for scans while on tour last fall.

Members from renown metal band Mastodon stopped by for scans while on tour last fall.

“They take about a minute each,” says Flores, “And then we take those files and clean them up, and get our print ready…once they’re done, Teresa will get them, clean them up, epoxy and paint them, and then we do the packaging. We’ll take photos of the person and laser cut it into a cardboard backer.” Flores and Estrella do everything in-house, and the final result is highly impressive.

According to Flores, the figures based off people who’d been invited to participate early in the project will be part of an upcoming exhibit at Club Congress’s annual HOCO Fest, to be held in September. “Once we’re done with the exhibit, then people will start receiving their figures,” says Flores. “We’ll end up making two. One will be for the exhibit, [which] we plan on auctioning off, and the other one will go to the participant.” Everyone else who orders a scan will receive his or her figure as soon as it’s ready.

So why go to all the trouble? “You meet so many different people,” says Estrella, “Also because it’s just another art form to us. It helps us get creative.”

“Having a background as an artist, I’ve actually been fueled by so many of these people,” says Flores. “We bring them down here and they inspire me…I’ve actually learned new trades because of these people.” To date, almost three hundred people have participated in the Army Man Project.

To learn more about the Army Man Project, or to have your own figure made, visit their website here.