Rudy Flores and Teresa Estrella: Cultural Army of Tucson

May 9, 2017 – August 27, 2017

Photo above by David Olsen

Rudy Flores and Teresa Estrella: Cultural Army of Tucson is the inaugural exhibit in The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures new Community Corner, an area dedicated to showcasing local artists working in miniature. This exhibit features more than 200 3D printed figures of community members, in the style of green plastic toy soldiers, creating a miniature Cultural Army of Tucson.

This exhibit is included with museum admission or free for museum members.

The Backstory

It all began with Flores’ interest in 3D printing technology. After investing in a 3D printer, he and Estrella experimented with the technology learning to digitally mold basic shapes. They incorporated the printed shapes into their artwork but wanted to do more with the printer. They decided to purchase a 3D scanner so they would have an array of subjects to print.

The Army Man Project grew out of an invitation from two heavy metal bands to create an album cover. Flores original intention was to manipulate the poses of plastic toy soldiers, scan and 3D print them, to be used in the image for the album cover. His young son Gabriel suggested that instead of manipulating the toy soldiers, he scan the band members and turn them into army men. Flores wasn’t sure it would be possible to capture enough detail to make the band members recognizable and to get them to stand properly as soldiers, but he and Estrella gave it a try, and to their surprise it worked beautifully!

Spurred by the excitement of this first project, Flores and Estrella started 3D scanning and printing their friends turning them into small soldiers. Since so much detail could be achieved, they asked each person they scanned to bring along a prop representing their personality, hobby or profession. When modeling, individuals were asked to strike a pose that would reveal something about their character. Word spread about what Flores and Estrella were doing and soon they were getting requests from all kinds of people who wanted to be rendered as a miniature soldier.

Rudy Flores, son Gabriel and Teresa Estrella. Photo by David Olsen.

With the enthusiasm of the community behind them, Flores and Estrella decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 and raised over $7,500 in one month to build a small army of Tucsonans. To date they have scanned over 300 people, a cross-section of the Tucson community including artists, musicians, culinary chefs, teachers, law enforcement and business people. They continue to invite members of the community to participate in their project and have been exhibiting the little figures around town. They are now considering taking the project on the road to render cultural armies in other communities.

How do they make the little army figures?

Flores and Estrella’s army figures are twice the size of traditional toy soldiers. Most figures are rendered in approximately ½” scale, (½ inch = 1 foot) standing 3 ¼” tall. Some figures are 7”, which is a little larger than 1” scale (1inch = 1 foot).

Flores scanning Gat Rot. Photo montage provided by Flores.

To create a figure, the artists use an iPad with a special lens attachment and 3D scanning software. They move slowly around the body holding the iPad in front of the person in order to capture fine detail. This process takes a few minutes. Next, Flores cleans up the digital file adding the ubiquitous toy soldier base to the image and then it is printed using the 3D printer. Similar to refining a cast metal sculpture, the 3D printed plastic piece needs to be refined once it comes out of the printer. This work is done by Estrella. Using snips, Estrella begins by removing the figure from the raft and the braces which support the overall piece and the parts of the figure suspended in air while the piece is being printed. Then Estrella uses an X-Acto blade and Dremel tool to define the details of the figure. When they are satisfied with the detailing, Estrella applies epoxy to smooth out the figure and then a coat of bright green paint to mimic the color of plastic army figures. Lastly, the finished Cultural Army Figure is packaged in a laser engraved container with the person’s name, photos and a description of their hobbies and occupation.

About the Artists

Rudy Flores has 20 years experience as a sign-maker and graphic designer. He has been a part of Tucson’s historic sign restoration which includes the Diving Girl, Tropicana, Canyon State and El Con. He enjoys spending his time making art using multiple mediums like lino-cut, illustration, digital sculpting and laser cut art. He is currently working an a project called 8-Bit Tucson, which uses an older video game style of digital blocks on a grid, to create renditions of iconic Tucson landmarks. These renditions will be produced in both paper and 3-D printed form. 

Teresa Estrella is Tucson born and raised. She is co-founder/creator of the Army Man Project, a painter, sculptor, horror movie fanatic and dog lover.

Related Programs

Visit the museum on Saturday, July 15, 2017 from 1pm–4pm to see the process in action. Flores and Estrella will be scanning museum visitors. You could be part of the Cultural Army of Tucson! This demonstration is included with museum admission, but does not include a 3D rendering for each visitor. Visitors interested in commissioning their own figure should visit The Army Man Project for pricing and details.

Dímelo

The Mini Time Museum of Miniatures invites you to participate in Dímelo: Stories of the Southwest, an Arizona Public Media project. Dímelo (“tell me”) is a micro-storytelling project driven by community submissions. By exploring identity, community and the cultural geography of Tucson, we ask you to share important moments from your life, big or small! Through sharing personal stories, Arizona Public Media is taking a community-driven look at the things that matter today to Tucsonans, across local lines.  

Reflect on the story prompt near the exhibit and write your story on the provided postcards. To share your story with us, drop the postcard in the Saguaro Mailbox, located just outside the museum. Note that Rudy Flores is also the artist of the Saguaro Mailbox!  Your story may be featured on the radio or online www.dimelostories.org   

About the Community Corner

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures’ Community Corner, opening May 9th, 2017, is an exhibit space located in our Exploring World Galley dedicated to featuring the work of talented Tucson-area miniature artisans, or artists who use miniatures as their medium. The space will host three exhibits annually. Exhibits will demonstrate the diversity of miniature artwork that is being created in our community, from traditional fine-scale craft to cutting edge artistic expression, that takes shape on a miniature scale.

Exhibit Support and Sponsors:​

This exhibit is supported in part by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, which receives support from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts.