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Chelsea Market has long been on the to-do list of holiday tourists visiting New York, but this year, they'll find something different amongst the artisanal cocoa and homemade ornaments the mall is known for—tiny, uncanny-valley-dwelling dolls, made in their likenesses.
Last month, DOOB, a German company that specializes in 3D printing and scanning technology, opened up its first New York City pop-up inside Chelsea Market, where it offers true-to-life figurines in five different sizes. DOOB's dolls have been called "the selfies of the future." Think it's weird? I got one, and this is what it was like.
"In Germany, they're more used like collectibles," Michael Anderson, President and CEO of DOOB USA, told me of the company's dolls (which—fun fact—came about through DOOB's research on 3D-printed prosthetics). "They're much more reserved there." Americans, he says, are more likely to experiment with duckface or jumping in mid-air. One breakdancer even had a DOOB made while doing a handstand. The most popular ones, however, involve pregnant women, children, brides and grooms (used as cake toppers), and pets.
If you're wondering how pets (and, for that matter, children) sit still long enough to get scanned, the process is actually quicker than—and not unlike—your average camera photo session. Inside the DOOBlicator (the spaceship-like chamber where people '#GetDoobed'), there are 54 strategically-placed cameras, snapping photos in unison from all angles. Afterwards, the photos are transformed into a 3D file and sent to a production center in Brooklyn, where all of DOOB's U.S. orders are manufactured. The end result—a figurine, either four, six, eight, 10, or 14 inches tall—is made of a powder-based resin polymer. And in two weeks, it'll be delivered to your doorstep.
The DOOB studio in Brooklyn. Photo: Facebook
It's not hard to see the draw, especially after learning that the majority of the time, DOOBs are used as gifts—grandparents especially, Anderson says, love them. But it was the idea that people would want to purchase mini statues of themselves—and display them—that I had a hard time grasping. (A coworker called it, "the ultimate act of narcissism.") "The product is so visual and so emotional," Anderson told me. "When you hold yourself, you'll get this weird feeling, and there's this connection between you and it. Unless you have a twin, you can't know the feeling of seeing yourself in 3D."
Anderson also sees DOOBs as a way for people to get acquainted with 3D printing and scanning and to experience the potential applications for the technologies firsthand. "Everyone's excited about 3D-printing, but it's been pretty much a novelty until now. I think people will only get more comfortable with the applications." Those applications include everything from health monitoring (what's easier than a full-body scan to track fitness progress?) and customized prosthetics for amputees. He also says that digital scans of our bodies could one day be used as digital avatars in communicative tool—perhaps instead of Gchatting a friend, you'd see her digital avatar dancing across the screen. "Getting the consumer engaged is critical for people to get used to getting scanned."
A sea of DOOBs. Photo: Facebook
But that's possible-future-DOOB. Back to now-DOOB, the Chelsea Market pop-up. I made my appointment two weeks before Thanksgiving and promptly forgot about it. After all, there were planes to board and turkey to eat and all the wine my parents keep in the house to drink. But even through the haze of stuffing and champagne, I'd occasionally feel a pang of dread: I was going to have a doll version of myself made, and I would have no control over what it would look like.
The only experience I can liken the knowledge that one is about to '#GetDoobed' to is filming a high-def, wide-angle-lens video of yourself and playing it on loop in front of everyone you know for all of eternity. My impressive ability to remain in denial about unpleasant certainties meant that once the day of the appointment arrived, I was completely unprepared: I hadn't thought of what to ask the CEO when I met him—the only question about DOOB that I had since considered was simply, "Why?" Nor had I decided on an outfit.
After all, what should one wear when one's outfit and general appearance are about to be immortalized in the form of a tiny statue? The only references I had were the sorts of statues that belong in museums, and I was not about to walk out of my apartment in a toga that only covered like, one boob.
I tried on a few different looks—each one I would have happily worn on a normal day at the office, but they all lacked whatever it is that makes an outfit suitable for one's action figure alter ego. If I wore something loose, would I end up looking unnecessarily wider than I already am? If I wore pants, would my absence of a thigh gap be even further accentuated? If I wore heels, would Tiny Me just topple over? Is there an anti-VPL staffer that makes sure your underwear remains unnoticed? Would it be able to pick up my arm hair? Should I shave my arms like that one time when I was a weird and very bored 10-year-old? Oh my god, my nails are chipped and there's no time to re-paint them. What if it picks up those weird red zits that particularly pale people get on their upper arms? These are the kind of crazy-person questions you ask yourself when you're about to '#GetDoobed.'
Though it's rather embarrassing to admit, I found myself fixating on parts of my body I hadn't paid attention to in, well, ever—all because of a doll that was slowly creeping its way into the most neurotic corners of my subconscious. With no knowledge of what the technology could and couldn't pick up, I began to worry about things like, say, knuckle hairs: would they be visible? My awkwardly blonde eyebrows: would they be conspicuously Not On Fleek?
I also considered the parts of my body that I definitely, absolutely did not want to immortalized—y'know, the parts you look for first when someone shows you a picture they've just taken of you; the ones you visualize as better versions of themselves at the gym; the ones that have the power to either make or ruin a perfectly normal day, depending on how they appear in a certain outfit.
But I think my worst fear about the whole pre-process was the thought of finally getting the DOOB, and looking at a tiny, 3D version of myself and realizing that I'd been worrying about the wrong body parts all along, and that there was a whole new, more urgent laundry list of things I needed to improve, and that this one doll would forever be a haunting reminder of them.
To ease the pressure from such a harrowing outfit-choosing experience, I left the decision to coworkers. "Something with lots of layers!" was one suggestion, though that was already off the table due to reasons previously mentioned. "Something super crazy!" was tempting, though I was going to be a) walking through the city b) conducting an interview with a fancy business dude, and c) returning to our office building afterwards.
I settled on "something with different textures," and picked out a purple crushed velvet mock turtleneck t-shirt from Forever 21, dark brown brow definer to ease my blonde-person anxiety, purplish lipstick, diamond-print semi-opaque tights, a black trumpet skirt, also from Forever 21 (oh god, this is how I'm going to be remembered), vampy heeled booties from Topshop (let the record show I shop at not just one but two fast-fashion megaliths), and whatever remained of my green metallic nail polish. I also brought—but luckily forgot to wear—a beret, as I assume fashion history will be unkind to those who wore them within like, a year.
I arrived at Chelsea Market a few minutes late, as my in-apartment fashion show went a bit over schedule, and the moment I spotted the spaceship-like 'DOOBlicator' I despised everything I was wearing.
Somehow not an actual spaceship.
After some chatter (which I unsuccessfully used to delay the actual DOOB-ing), I was told to step inside said spaceship. Instead, I froze. "But what am I supposed to do?"
The answer: "Anything you want!"
The woman operating the cameras must have seen something in my expression that pleaded "just tell me what the fuck to do and I'll do it," because she took me around to a private back area where there was a full-length mirror. "Some people like to practice posing first and make sure everything looks right." Furthering my anxiety, by this point a growing crowd of curious bystanders had come to watch. "A lot of women just put one hand on a hip," she offered.
Once inside the spaceship, she helped adjust my posture and clothing, and then told me the most welcome news I'd heard all day: I'd get to approve the photos before they converted them into 3D. "Most people just end up choosing the first one," she said.
Clearly I'm very comfortable with what's happening.
A moment later, 54 cameras flashed, and I immediately booked it out of the spaceship. She showed me the photos and asked if I wanted to try again. Since nothing was horribly wrong with my face, I said, "Nope!" And that was it. Physically speaking, quite easy. Mentally, less so.
About a week later, my expedited DOOB arrived at the Racked office in a package emblazoned with "FRAGILE." Because I had not recently ordered a large shipment of Christmas ornaments, I knew what it was.
Once again, very comfortable with what is occurring.
What followed was a probably-too-loud-for-the-setting scream, followed by me immediately putting it back into its box. After all the time spent worrying about how I would appear in doll form, it was too much to look at. Although at the time, when the DOOB CEO talked about the "emotional experience" of holding a DOOB I was silently thinking something like, okay, whatever, he was right: It was weird.
I did allow coworkers to hold it, however, and those who did were mesmerized. Besides laughing, they said things like, "Well, your hips aren't really that big" or, "I'm not sure that looks like your face."
Here it (she?) is, in all its (her?) glory:
When I surprised my roommate by putting it in her bedroom, I received the following response, a response that was also shared by all my other friends, my boyfriend, and basically everyone I Snapchatted a picture of it to:
But amidst the teasing, there was a shocking conclusion to be made from this, one that goes against the common knowledge employed in every Millennial trend piece: Everyone my age found the use of this futuristic technology at least some degree of terrifying.
I decided that out of anyone, if my parents thought my DOOB was weird, then it probably really was. When I came home for Christmas break, I showed it to my mom:
Naturally, she loved it. Afterwards, she even said, proving Mr. Anderson's point and practically justifying DOOB's entire raison d'etre, "Your Grandma would love this," but not before admitting, "You do look a bit heavier, though."
Bonus DOOB, fancified.
· Holiday 2014 [Racked NY]