These Two SoCal Universities Are Working to Digitize and 3D Print Mesoamerican Artifacts

Ivan Fernandez
Ivan Fernandez (a.k.a. Afroxander) is a L.A.-based freelancer whose work has appeared in GRAMMYs, FLAUNT, KCET (Artbound, Lost L.A. & Southland Sessions), L.A. Taco, LA Weekly, Coachella CAMP magazine, Remezcla, Gamecrate, Panamerika, MTV Iggy, among other publications.
These Two SoCal Universities Are Working to Digitize and 3D Print Mesoamerican Artifacts
Credit: Cal State LA Special Collections & Archives/MAW Collection

William Cunningham's voice is calm and patient over the phone. That sense of serenity will serve him well in the coming years as he helms the effort to digitize tens of thousands of artifacts, books and photographs, some nearly 3,000 years old, from USC's collections of Mesoamerica as well as those at California State University Los Angeles.

Cunningham, a digital imaging specialist at the University of Southern California Libraries Digital Library, will be responsible manning the camera and rig to capture a sprawling collection of artifacts and rare books such as recreations of Aztec codices copied directly from the original sources and a 16th-century edition of the "Cronica Mexicana" by Hernando de Alvarado Tezozómoc, a writer and direct descendant of Aztec emperors.


Cunningham's work is integral to the Cal State-USC joint project funded by a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The project could have implications for generations of academics, students, and indigenous peoples in North and Central America trying to understand the connection between the thousands of years of pre-Columbian history and colonialism in the Americas.

"It's going to be a useful pedagogical tool, and, obviously, quite a resource outside of Cal State as well to the broader community," said Mario H. Ramirez, head of special collections and archives at the University Library at CSULA. Ramirez is also a principal investigator in the project's joint-team that includes Cunningham, Azalea Camacho (also a principal investigator) along with several other researchers.

Image: Standing Male Figure of Ballplayer; Mexico, Guanajuato, Chupícuaro; late pre-classic 200 BC-1 BC. Credit: Cal State LA Special Collections & Archives/MAW Collection

"Our intent with it is to work with local K through 12 districts and work with community groups in order to really make clear the connection between the materials and history they document and a lot of the Latin American communities that reside here in Los Angeles as well," said Ramirez.

The items from CSULA's Mesoamerican and Colonial Mexico Rare Book Collection and MAW Collection and the USC Libraries' Special Collections include stone and clay figures from more than a dozen cultures that thrived before the Spanish conquest. Among the pieces are an effigy figure of the rain god Tlaloc from Teotihuacan culture in the heart of Mexico that retains much of its original earthen pigments.

There thousands of photos taken during the early 20th century of historic pre-Colombian sites and Spanish colonial architecture across Mexico and Central America before excavations, tourism and the hundreds of thousands of seekers it attracts faded much of the glory of those areas.

The digitized archives will eventually be shared freely via the Cal State digital library, the USC digital library, Calisphere and the Digital Public Library of America. The intent is to bring these collections to life for students and to those who might otherwise not get the chance to see them.

"We're hoping to do some 3D printing on campus of some of the objects," said Ramirez. "It's supposed to be a teaching collection in many ways but, obviously, many of the artifacts are very delicate so we don't want people accidentally dropping them. We're hoping to 3D print some of them so that it's feasible and students can actually handle some of them because we have a Mesoamerican Studies minor on our campus."

The photography collection also includes nearly 10,000 images printed on 35mm slides. The images are dated from the 1950s to the 1980s and feature Mesoamerican objects held in museums in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, the US, and South America. Of these, Cunningham has digitized 4,500 of them.

Cunningham uses a different camera and process to digitize physical objects such as statues and jars. He uses a Phase One XF camera with a 100-megapixel Phase One IQ3 digital back. Normally, he shoots 32 images of each item from one of three angles for a total of 96 images to create a single 3D render of an object. The 3D render is processed using Agisoft Metashape.

However, the massive number of items he needs to scan within the three-year period has forced him to experiment with other methods. He's currently testing out a method to create 3D renders with only 16 photos using either one or two camera angles depending on the shape and size of the artifact.

One of Cunningham's biggest challenges is handling the items. Many are centuries old and are very brittle or fragile. Some of the rare books that he's digitized so far, for example, have to be handled with care or the pages may break apart at the edges. Some have pages missing or have contents that have faded due to the elements. Despite this, he's found some amazing pieces of history sitting in the archives.

"There were about 10 different books," said Cunningham. "Some of them were late 19th century, early 20th century and some of them were reproductions of Aztec codices, which were written and illustrated at the time of the Spanish conquest. Those were kind of fascinating just to see if this was someone sitting there drawing pictures of Aztec rituals and ethnic daily life, and also images of the Spanish and their boats and their cannons and swords and armor coming ashore. These were done by people who were bearing witness."

🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
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🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
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In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

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Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

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Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

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Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

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A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

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Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

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A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
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Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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