Introduction: How to Make Your Own Family (or Anybody's) Portrait

Nothing says "I'm a proud member of American Society" quite like family portraits on your refrigerator. These portraits are often taken by angry photographers who need a new job and will often cost just too much. Why not take matters into your own hands and make it happen all on your own. Think about the expression of thrill and joy your 3rd cousin twice-removed will have when he/she gets this thoughtful card in the mail!

So here's a way that you can make a portrait for your family (or anyone at all!) using a few different tools.

Step 1: What You Will Need:


You will need some kind of photographic device. I use an Alpha NEX5R. I like it, because it's small, and produces really high quality images. You can go as high end or as low as the camera on your smartphone.


In order to process these images we'll need a commonly used device in the western world often referred to as a computer. I would recommend having at least 8gb of ram, but you can get away with less. A good quality video card comes in handy, but also not a strict requirement.


Software is the magical bits a bloops that make your computer do all sorts of fun things. For this project you'll need Autodesk's 123Dcatch, a 3D modeling software (in this example I will be using Blender, but you can use many others such as Maya, C4D, ZBrush etc) and an image manipulation software such as Photoshop or Gimp.

A Family

It can be your family, it can be you're neighbor's family, you can even rent a family if you want. It doesn't matter. You can just pick random people from the street and call them a family. The point is to feel like you belong somewhere.

*Optional* A printer

You could print your own family portraits if you want, but you can also use one of many online printing resources.

Step 2: Capturing Your Family

The first thing we need to do is to capture the likeness of each member of your family. In this case we will use 3D scanning to do so, because photos are just too flat...

The process to do this is relatively simple:

1) Position your subject in a room that is well lit, preferably with diffused light

2) take photos of your subject rotating around them about 45˚ each photo. Take photos from straight on, 45˚ above the subject and 45˚ below the subject

3) you should end with somewhere between 25-30 photos, when you have these you can process them through 123D Catch which is available on iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows stand alone and online.

For a more detailed version of this step you can also see this wonderful video Autodesk has created:

If you can't get a hold of your family because they swore to never talk to you after last thanksgiving, you can always use other people's families that they have shared on 123D Catch's Gallery. Hey it's the internet! Everything is up for grabs, even your loved ones!

Step 3: Take a Fun Trip With Your Family, Scan Things From Your Experience

Think of it as a collage. bring in not just the people, but the things around them that make those memories oh so special. Once all your files are uploaded and processed, you may proceed to download.

If you can't get your family to leave their comfort zone, you can always scan around the house or even use a service like Turbosquid to find objects that might be relevant to those who share your DNA.

Step 4: Start Bringing Your Family Into Virtual Space

Open up Blender or your preferred 3D modeling software.

You can start bringing in your "folks" into blender by following the path File-->Import-->Wavefront OBJ.

Next you should make sure your fam has a nice texture so you can recognize them! You can assign textures to objects in blender.

For more in depth blender tutorials I really enjoy using Blender Guru. Youtube is always a good source for 3D modeling tutorials and also Lynda can be a great resource.

Step 5:

Scans are not always perfect. Keep in mind that different scanning techniques produce different results in your final Object. I personally enjoy these bizarre meshes because they offer and interesting design challenge + they show the inner works of the software itself.

depending on the quality of the scans you may or may not have to clean up the meshes too much. A good scan generally comes from a well lit subject, busy backgrounds and still models. Museums are a great place to practice since usually they have near perfect lighting conditions. Practice makes perfect with 123D catch!

Now use your family as material and begin to experiment with formations, sizes or anything you want.

Step 6: Experiment Experiment Experiment

Close your eyes.

Now think about your dad.

Who is that dad?

What makes that dad, a dad?

Now open your eyes and start adding things to your scene that you feel are representative of your dad.

This idea in portraiture can be seen all the way back, deep into the history of painting.

Get weird. It's ok. Remember this is going to be competing for space against your little sister's middle school graduation photos on your grandma's fridge, so make sure it's special.

Step 7: Finishing Up

Once you're happy with your design, set a good camera angle and get ready to render!

I like rendering out my images with transparent backgrounds so i can later over impose them onto other images. for this one I have chosen and image of Mexico City's skyline at sunset. Using Photoshop, I combined this beautiful sunset with the rendered image of my family.

Step 8: Profit!

Now that you completed your portrait, why not make thousands of postcards with your image on them and send them to anyone you know. Send them to people you don't know. Send them to your congressman. Everyone should know that you have a family and that you care about them during holidays.

So mail your heart off, you family wo(man). You have accomplished one of the pillars of American life!

For more examples of portraits you can visit my site, my Tumblr, Instagram, or Facebook