MAKAWAO — Like many parents, Erin and Erik Luckau like to keep visual reminders of their four sons with them at work. But instead of framed photos, the Luckaus have something different — 3D-printed figurines of their boys playing a game of chicken fight.
The figurines are a product of 3D Aloha Studios, the new business that the Luckaus opened in Makawao in April and the first of what they hope will be several 3D-photo studios in Hawaii.
“Nowadays people take so many photographs on their phone, they don’t really look at them,” said Erik Luckau, a 1988 Baldwin High School graduate. “But with this on your desk or on your kitchen cabinet, you can really see it.”
The Luckaus got a firsthand experience with the technology while on a business trip to Seattle in August 2016. Erin Luckau and the boys were walking around Seattle when they came across a store that did 3D printing. She decided to take the boys in for a photo.
“I’m so glad we did it, because now I’ve done it every year, and it’s fun to see them growing,” she said. “I thought this was a really fun, innovative, cool, modern way to capture a memory.”
Since that trip to Seattle, Erin Luckau “couldn’t get it out of my head” and started making some calls. The Luckaus took a trip to Berkeley to meet the inventors behind the technology, learned more about the 3D printing process and decided to go into business.
Last year they purchased their first 3D scanner, a circular apparatus that consists of several towers equipped with 90 cameras that capture subjects from all angles. Although the Luckaus lived in Oregon, they had always liked the mission of the Ark Encounter, a theme park in Williamson, Ky., that features a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark as described in the Bible. They proposed setting up the scanner at the park so visitors could purchase and print 3D figurines of themselves. They would own the business and handle maintenance of the scanner; the park would operate it.
For the Luckaus, however, the goal had always been to move back home to Maui, where Erik Luckau grew up. After getting married in 2004 and having their first child, they left their jobs in Washington, D.C., and moved to Oregon in 2015. Last May they finally moved back to Maui, and in April they opened 3D Aloha Studios in Makawao, just across the street from Casanova Italian Restaurant.
While the process of creating the figurines takes time, the photography portion is quick. Customers step into the center of the 3D scanner, the Luckaus snap some photos and then a computer spends eight hours pulling the 2D images together into a single 3D image. It takes three to four hours to then print the figurines out of sandstone polymer.
“It’s real lightweight, but it’s durable,” Erik Luckau said. “That’s why we fell in love with it. Because the idea’s great, but you don’t want a crumbly product that fades.”
A close look at the figurines at 3D Aloha Studios reveals details as intricate as tattoos on a man’s arm, the patterns and wrinkles on a pair of dark shirts and even a slight gap in the smile of one of the Luckau boys who had lost a tooth.
“We like to say that this is the future of photography,” Erik Luckau said, explaining that the 3D figurines can capture body language and people’s relationship to each other “at a deeper level than anything’s possible before.”
Local orders are printed in Honolulu and shipped to the customer. The figurines can also be printed at a facility closest to the customer, including on the Mainland or abroad. Depending on how many orders the Luckaus have, it can take two to three weeks to arrive at the customer’s doorstep.
“If you don’t want one of yourself, there’s probably someone who wants one of you,” Erin Luckau said. “Kids get their picture taken, the grandparents want it.”
The new business is a change of pace for the Luckaus. Erik Luckau was an attorney for The AES Corp., a global electrical power company, while Erin Luckau worked as a curatorial assistant at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In Oregon, they also ran a gourmet cheese-and-wine shop. While both said they loved their former jobs, the trade-offs of living on Maui and getting more time with their kids — now ages 5, 7, 9 and 11 — are worth it.
“After we got our careers, our life just got centered around the idea that you only have your kids for so long,” Erik Luckau said. “And if you’re busy during those 10 years, you never get that back. So the same reason we moved to Maui, the same reason we home-school, is the same reason we do this business — because we want to help other people capture the memories of their kids while they can.”
Erin Luckau said they also “want to show our kids what it’s like being an entrepreneur.”
The new business also fulfills Erin Luckau’s dreams of working in an art gallery. 3D Aloha Studios also features local artists, including gyotaku, or fish printing pieces by Makawao artist Brian Heustis of Maui Fish Printing; oil paintings by Kihei artist and former Canadian windsurfing champion Bill Sanders; and photography by Lara Fortier.
The Luckaus hope to eventually expand their business to other locations, including Lahaina, Wailea and Waikiki, depending on how business goes.
3D Aloha Studios offers figurines of 5, 7 and 9 inches. Up to four people can be in the photo; babies or small pets that can be held in a person’s arms are not counted. Large items such as a surfboard or bigger pets do count. Prices range from $125 for a 5-inch statue of one person to $995 for a 9-inch statue of four people. Kamaaina discount is 10 percent.
Erik Luckau explained that they don’t get the discount that comes with ordering in bulk; it’s like printing 100 shirts but each one with a custom design. He said they’re working on getting the prices down, but pointed out that private photography sessions can also cost hundreds of dollars.
“The industry is evolving, and I do imagine prices will go down over time,” he said.
For more information, visit 3daloha.com or call 866-2330. The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at email@example.com.