Tech brings art up close and personal

Vancouver, British Columbia
Photo of a painting
Verus Art's reproduction of Van Gogh's Iris

Fine art hangs in galleries worldwide, yet not everyone gets to see originals by artists like Monet or Tom Thomson.

And time's ticking because despite conservation efforts, those artworks gradually degrade. But, what if near-exact reproductions were available to preserve the masterpieces, reach broader audiences, be examined hands-on, and even displayed at home?

Paul Lindahl, CEO of Vancouver-based Arius Technology Inc., has the answer: Verus Art®. Under that name, Arius Technology and its international partners are transforming art reproduction through 3D laser scanning and elevated printing, resulting in touchable 3D prints with precise colours and textured surfaces that capture the artist's original brushstrokes.

Arius Technology had already manufactured a made-in-Canada 3D optical scanner, but needed follow-up engineering to further commercialize their products for the art reproduction market. Seeking guidance about support programs for those next R&D steps, Lindahl reached out through his LinkedIn network to Erik Kaas, an Innovation Advisor with the Government of Canada's Concierge service, a program delivered by the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).

Art to the power of 3D

“I met Paul to discuss Arius Technology's opportunities and challenges,” said Kaas. Lindahl explained that the foundational 3D-scanning technology was developed at the NRC and used to safely scan the Mona Lisa. His team had upgraded the 3D scanner to a mobile, less-expensive version.

Photo of a man speaking at a conference
Paul Lindahl, CEO and co-founder of Arius Technology, speaking at the National Gallery of Canada's fall 2016 launch of its Verus Art collection. The collection is available for purchase, with a portion of proceeds supporting gallery outreach and education programs. Classes in remote communities could benefit from the touring collection as students in places like Iqaluit, Whitehorse or Sydney get a chance to see and touch reproductions of masterpieces.

Now, he needed software and hardware engineers to develop a robotics system to control that scanner, safety measures to protect paintings, and specialized software to compensate for glossy reflections and prepare 3D printing files. Based on their discussions, Kaas narrowed nearly 60 government programs down to the 3 best suited to Arius Technology: NRC's EUREKA (with IRAP funding), Western Innovation Initiative (WINN), and the Build in Canada Innovation Program.

“Concierge frees entrepreneurs to focus on business priorities, instead of keeping on top of changing programs,” said Paul Lindahl, CEO of Arius Technology.

With EUREKA shortlisted, Kaas referred the company to Mehrzad Movassaghi, an Industrial Technology Advisor with NRC IRAP, which delivers EUREKA. Movassaghi guided Lindahl through the process, conducted technical analysis, gained an in-depth understanding of the project's scope, recognized the global potential and offered him guidance and advice.

“Both Erik and Mehrzad lived the tech life before working for the government and know what it takes to move from concept to reality in business,” added Lindahl. “EUREKA was a perfect fit, like a hand in a glove, for where we were as a business and what we wanted to do.”

Federal support accelerates growth

Evaluators agreed and awarded Arius Technology up to $460K in NRC IRAP funding for their EUREKA labelled project in 2015. Lindahl's team took just eight months to complete the R&D. By fall 2015, the National Gallery of Canada welcomed Arius Technology to scan Van Gogh's Iris painting.

After that feat, Lindahl received funding for a second EUREKA labelled project: a commercial scanner capable of faster scanning and software processing, and improved quality for replicas. “Our technical success and program assessments legitimized Arius Technology. That gave private investors the comfort level they needed.” adds Lindahl. Now, the company has secured more private capital, quadrupled its employees, and reproduced a dozen Canadian and European paintings.

“Concierge frees entrepreneurs to focus on business priorities, instead of keeping on top of changing programs.”

At first glance, even art curators find Verus Art prints indistinguishable from original masterpieces. They are the results of a truly international collaboration effort: Canon-owned Océ produces the 3D prints in the Netherlands, while manufacturer Larson-Juhl frames and ships them from the United States. And at home, Canada benefits from job growth and technology to preserve Canadian art through reproductions that are accessible to Canadians, including those with impaired vision or who live in remote communities.

Partner museums like the National Gallery of Canada gain copyright of digital scans and royalties from print sales, and use touchable 3D prints for educational and accessibility programs. Art aficionados can even purchase the prints.

Thanks to the Concierge program, Arius Technology completed its prototype faster, which helped convince partners and investors of the technology's viability. Recognizing Lindahl's demanding schedule, Kaas had tracked calls for proposals for the remaining two recommended programs, and notified Lindahl in time for WINN's deadline.

Subsequently, Lindahl leveraged the NRC IRAP support and also received $2.75M in WINN commercialization funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada. Arius Technology matched those funds corporately to expand sales, add museum partnerships globally and start scanning contemporary art.

So, thanks to a LinkedIn connection with the Government of Canada's Concierge program, how art is preserved has advanced, and more people worldwide will have the opportunity to see artworks up close, touch them, and even personally own them.

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