Using 3D Laser Scanning to Honor "American Sniper" Chris Kyle

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One of Hollywood’s biggest box-office winners this past winter was "American Sniper," which tells the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who, with 160 confirmed kills, is recognized as America’s most successful sniper. The movie, released in December, was an immediate hit. To date, it has grossed over $472 million worldwide and was nominated for six Oscars at the 2015 Academy Awards.

Kyle, portrayed in the Clint Eastwood-directed movie by actor Bradley Cooper, served four tours of duty in Iraq and survived multiple injuries, including three gunshot wounds and six IED attacks. In 2009, Kyle was honorably discharged from the Navy. Four years later, in 2013, he and a friend were shot and killed by a fellow veteran at a shooting range in Texas. The two victims had been trying to help former Marine Eddie Ray Routh cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Routh was recently convicted in their shooting deaths.

Among the awards Kyle received during his service were two Silver Star Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, five Bronze Star Medals, and one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.

Prior to the film, NVision, Inc. had the privilege of being able to honor Kyle in yet another way: by assisting in the creation of a life-size statue of the soldier.

It began several years ago, before production started on the Eastwood film, when we volunteered our 3D laser-scanning services to Sarasota, FL sculptor Greg Marra, who was, at the time, in the process of creating a life-size sculpture of Kyle. Marra had originally planned to create a "generic" statue for the Navy SEAL Foundation but immediately decided to sculpt Kyle upon hearing of the soldier’s death.

Marra’s intent was to pay tribute not only to Kyle’s service, but to the service and sacrifice made by all members of the military. As part of the sculpture project, Marra had contacted NVision to ask if we could help him create an exact replica of the rifle that Kyle used while in the military. We were more than happy to volunteer our services to help Marra create this tribute to a fallen American hero.

After Kyle’s widow Taya granted NVision permission to use her husband’s rifle for the project, our company technicians went to work scanning the gun and collecting all the essential data on the rifle’s geometry; its precise shape and size, its contours, each marking on it–every dimension necessary to create an exact duplicate of the weapon.

The gun scanned by NVision is a .300 Winchester Magnum (or ".300 Win Mag"), Kyle’s preferred sniper rifle and the one he used for the majority of his kills. In a 2013 interview with Shooting Illustrated, he proclaimed the manual bolt-action rifle as his sniper weapon of choice, stating that it delivered superior accuracy over standard-issue rifles. In his autobiography he also credits the cartridge for having superb accuracy and stopping power.

Our engineers needed to scan not only Kyle’s .300 Win Mag but its stock, scope, bipod and AI 5rd magazine as well. The gun was equipped with a Nightforce NXS 8-32×56 Scope (overall length: 15.9"), an Accuracy International AICS 2.0 folding stock, and a Harris 6-9" swivel bipod.

The NVision technicians utilized our own HandHeld 3D laser scanner, which is both accurate and fast–able to obtain dimensions from objects of almost any size and shape while capturing 60,000 measurements per second.

For my part, I can only say that it was a profoundly moving experience to be touching and holding the very rifle that had saved so many American lives in Iraq. The weapon used by Kyle is a valuable personal and historical artifact, and we made sure it was treated with the utmost care while it was in our possession.

The scanning of the rifle took only about two hours. When it was finished, we had captured all the intricate details of the gun’s geometry. A 3D computer model was then created and used to make a replica of the gun to be placed with Marra’s statue of Kyle. The clay statue was cast in bronze at a North Texas Foundry.

Subsequently NVision scanned the entire bronze statue so that a digital version of it could be archived and replicated in the future. As with the gun, the scanning included every minute detail of the entire sculpture, including Kyle’s neatly-manicured beard, well-worn clothes and cap, and side holster.

After the scanning was completed, I had the privilege of speaking with Kyle’s widow and she thanked us for our participation in the statue project. Now, with the extraordinary success of "American Sniper," I hope she realizes the appreciation and gratitude this country holds for the services rendered by her late husband and all his fellow service members.

Note: The permanent location of the statue is still in discussion and will ultimately be determined by Kyle’s family.

To see a video on the scanning of Kyle’s rifle, go to

Steve Kersen is the President of NVision, Inc (Coppell, TX). He was one of the founders of the company in 1990 and has helped guide NVision to its current position as the leader in non-contact optical measurement technology and services.

A 1.334Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE