Dawn Morse is the co-founder of Holodeck 3D Studios, a 3D photography and printing studio.
Dawn, you had quite an exciting career with Bay Area startups before retiring and launching your 3D scanning studio, Holodeck 3D Studios, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
I was the head of Investor Relations for a number of start-up companies in Silicon Valley for various technologies (disk drives, semiconductors, and flat panel displays) and worked on several IPOs. The most notable was raising $800M in private rounds, but this one never became public due to the dot.com crash.
Discovering 3D printing was really a fluke. For five years, my husband and I were actively looking for a business to start. We wanted to retire from the Corporate world, but we didn’t want to give up the benefits of keeping up with technology, staying engaged with people and staying motivated. Like most boomers, we didn’t like the idea of being “retired” or unemployed. We wanted to be Funemployed.
We looked at several business opportunities – buying a winery, starting a laser tag center, running a small B&B. But, it wasn’t until I was on a business trip to San Francisco when I discovered 3D printing. My father, age 85 at the time, had just received a 3D scan of himself and his siblings. The 3D print was amazing. It was a perfect replica of my father … right down to the pen in his pocket! I came home with his sculpture (which, by the way, I never returned) and told my husband that this was the business we were looking for! My husband, also from start-ups in biotech, started to research 3D scanning and printing. After a lot of research, we made a trek to Berkeley to talk to the founders of Twindom. We were the second company in the U.S. to buy one of their ‘photogrammetry’ systems. A year later, we bought our second mobile system. Major improvements were made to the portability of the system. We no longer needed a 400 lb server rack and they reduced the weight of the capture system from 800 lbs to 400 lbs. So, lugging the system to events and setting up is now a breeze!
Could you explain furthermore what HoloDeck 3D Studios is and the services that you are providing?
Holodeck is the portal to the digital world. We create digital assets (via scans, photos or modeling)
- 3D photography and printing of people and pets
- 3D photo booth rental
- 2D photo conversion to 3D model (for people and pets)
- 3D scanning for objects, clothes, auto, marine, mechanical and industrial parts
- Animation and character creation
- 3D laser crystals (using a photo, our artist gives the photo a bit of a 3D accent)
- Custom printed heads for LEGO mini-figures (your head on your favorite superhero)
Now you advise others who are interested in a similar business model – how did you come to build the company and what is your advice for peers?
You need capital resources and time to build your business. 3D services in the retail world is still in its infancy. Consumers think 3D printing is easy and inexpensive. It’s not. It may represent a huge cost saving for businesses because it allows them to quickly prototype and test designs – saving them time and money. Companies have the financial resources and talent to fund a $30K scanner, designers and engineers. On the consumer side, it’s expensive to purchase a figurine or digital asset because we are using $30K scanners and $90K printers. We’re not using a $300 scanner and $400 3D PLA printer. So, people have sticker shock when they see the price of our figurine. We like to compare it to the price of a professional portrait – yet a 3D image is much cooler!
It takes time to get name recognition. We spent our first two years educating consumers on what we do. Our studio is now a tourist destination for Microsoft, Google and Amazon employees, and other Seattle techies.
When potential 3D business owners ask us about margins – we warn them that we have not seen a decline in our printing cost in three years. In fact, we have had three price increases over that time period. The last increase was 20%. This reinforces the fact that this business is still in its infancy. The equipment and material are still unreliable leading to high failure rates. The scanners are not perfect either. It still requires a human to manually touch-up 3D models before printing.
To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in launching your business?
We are proud of several recent achievements:
- At an outdoor event with 5,000 employees, we used 2 booths scanning one person a minute, then 3D printing and shipping (300) 6” full-color sculptures in 2 weeks.
- Creating a 3D model of the Steve Fossett Land Speed Record Car (almost 800 mph) from a few photos.
- Creating a snowglobe of a family in a Christmas Tree setting. The son had passed away, and this was a tribute to him.
We love what we do! We feel so fortunate to pick this new career path and are pleased that we are expanding our services. About 40% of the businesses that started about the same time as us, closed after one year.
Rather than focusing on 3D printing, we are really focusing on creating digital assets via scanning, photogrammetry, CAD and reverse engineering.
You travel often for events and corporate client opportunities – do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?
A Common Question: Do we do naked people? We have scanned naked people, but have only 3D printed people in their underwear or lingerie. As one wife phrased the issue, “where are going to put it?” He responded “on the dining room table, we’ll just put little togas on them when friends come over”.
Pets: when we started the business we did not even consider the emotional connection people have with their pets. We scan and 3D print a number of cats and dogs who are “on the glide path”, the end is near, and so many people cry when they see the 3D print for the first time. For several, the pet has passed between the scan and when the print is delivered.”
Travel: Our mobile events have taken us to San Jose, San Diego, Portland, Denver, Chicago, Boise, and soon … Kentucky. All by driving. You have to really like your partner to put up with 2 days of 14-hour drives together, and delicious fast food restaurants. We only ran out of gas once in the middle of North Dakota and slid off the road in a snowstorm in Montana.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman entrepreneur in 3D Printing?
Nope! It may even be a benefit. Having the first 3D studios requires we educate walk-in’s about recent developments in scanning and printing. So, we are both a little bit techy (Alex, much more so) with a bit of ‘consultative’ sales for wedding clients (which I handle).
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
“Did you see this week there is a 3D printer on the International Space Station which recycles plastic to make new parts?”
Our customers are giving us new challenges on a weekly basis – we have been asked to design a 12-foot tall ventriloquist dummy (a portion of which can be 3D printed); we’re working on a bid to scan and reverse engineer turbine parts for old jet engines and we are also creating digital assets for AR, VR, and AI.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
I think I am the most impressed with developments in the medical community. 3D printing tissues, organs, etc. But, I am super impressed with the 3D printer that can recycle plastic to make new parts!
You described the strong connection we feel with physical representation – beyond the emotional value of portraiture, why is access to 3D scanning and printing technologies increasingly important?
I am hoping 3D scanning and printing will help reduce our carbon footprint. If we could only produce what we need – we could reduce our landfill, we could reduce pollution in shipping parts via land, air, and sea. Creating objects from recycled plastic is a real game changer.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?
The innovation and creativity in this field is amazing. There is so much development in this industry it’s impossible to keep up with it all! What I like about 3D printing, is you are actually creating a physical product. It’s the new Industrial Revolution.
- As a business person?
This is uncharted territory. There is so much to do and learn in this industry. We have to figure out what direction to go. I think the key is to “fail fast!” If we try something and it doesn’t work – we need to drop it and move on.
- As a woman?
A few things. I get more hugs from customers than I ever did in the corporate world. I get to express my creativity from the studio decor to our marketing material. That’s probably not the answer you were looking for! But, having a 3D studio and creating 3D figurines is an emotional purchase. We recently printed a sculpture for a mom with a 10-year-old and two 8-month-old twins. When she came to pick up the sculpture – I learned that the twins were foster children (she received them when they were two weeks old). She was only supposed to have them for two weeks. She just got word that she was going to lose them ☹ We both welled up with tears. But, she now has a beautiful memory of these little ones that blessed their home.
I often tell people our 3D prints are ‘Art.’ And what makes art so valuable is the story behind it. Each and every sculpture in our studio has a story which is priceless.
You mentioned some challenges when working with 3D software and printing processes. These are essential to your success – what do you think of the 3D industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
I think it’s just a matter of time before the software and hardware issues catch up to our imagination. Of course, I would like the software to be easier and more intuitive to use and the equipment to be more reliable, affordable.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
Exposure at a young age – teaching kids.
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? Project 660 full-color printer. My future favorite will be the HP full-color printer.
Favorite moment in your day job? Nearly every day – people tell us we have the coolest store in Kirkland – they’ve never seen anything like this before.
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? HP 560 Full Color Jet Fusion printer
Another inspiring woman you’d like us to interview? Alisa Yocum, President, STAX 3D in Phoenix AZ, and Etienne Koo, CEO and Co-founder, Twinster in Belgium