By CHRISTOPHER WOODARD Staff Reporter A Westlake Village company that says it has hit upon a cheaper, faster solution for creating three-dimensional computer images is about to make its national debut. Synthonics Technologies Inc. is putting the finishing touches on a new multimedia CD-ROM that will allow home computer users to take a virtual tour of the Smithsonian Institution’s 16 museums. The CD-ROM, which is scheduled to go on sale in the Smithsonian museums and over the Internet in early October, will allow users to inspect more than 600 rare artifacts, from Eli Whitney’s cotton gin to an Egyptian mummy. For Synthonics, the CD-ROM represents a chance to show off its Rapid Virtual Reality technology, the company’s patented process for turning digital photographs into accurate, 3-D images, which company officials say can be produced at a fraction of the time and expense of current methods. F. Michael Budd, the company’s president and chief executive, said the technology differs from current systems in that it allows objects be viewed in vivid 3-D, but also to be manipulated by the viewer. With the click of a mouse, for example, a viewer can take apart Whitney’s cotton gin piece by piece to see how it works, or take an Egyptian mummy out of its sarcophagus, spin it around and zoom in to see the fine detail of its burial garment. “This will allow people to do things they’ve never done before with pieces of our history,” he said. “This has movies, animation, voiceovers, everything to make education fun.” Mike Carrigan, a spokesman for the Smithsonian, said the CD-ROM will help the institution fulfil its mission to bring the museum’s artifacts to the public. “It’s now possible for museums like the Smithsonian to dramatically increase access to and allow interaction with all of the artifacts included in its collection,” he said. Budd and Charles S. Palm, a former aerospace engineer who patented the process, hope the deal with a prestigious institution like the Smithsonian will give the company the visibility it needs to land a partnership with a major software company. “We knew we needed a top-level forum to show off our product,” said Budd. “This could open lots of other doors.” Budd said the company is in talks with several software makers, but he declined to name them or say whether a deal is forthcoming. Palm, the company’s chief technology officer, said it can take days or weeks to create a 3-D image using traditional means. However, anyone who can operate in a PC can create 3-D images in a few hours with the company’s software, which uses photographs to automatically build a “wire frame” model of an object and then applies the photographic details as a surface skin. Because the images require smaller data files, they easily can be transmitted over the Internet. Company officials hope the technology will open up an entirely new approach to electronic commerce, in which people can inspect and manipulate merchandise in 3-D before deciding to buy. The company has also entered into a partnership with a firm called Acuscope to create 3-D models of patients that doctors and plastic surgeons can use to map out treatment plans. Palm predicted that with the explosion of ever-faster PCs, the demand for new graphics tools will skyrocket. “We’ll be living in a 3-D world in our computers just like we live in a 3-D world in real life,” he said. Synthonics is a public company, traded over the counter under the ticker symbol SNNT. It’s stock has been trading at about $.60 a share.