Going for a CAD upgrade

If you’re an experienced 3d modeler in any profession, you rely on certain tools. Being such an open source nerd, as well as just cheap, I depend on plenty of free tools.

Professional 3d modelers spend their careers keeping up with the tools that are in demand at movie or television studios which makes most of them scoff at free tools because of their simplicity or feature set.

But a key component lacking in entertainment work is dimensional and engineering accuracy. You can animate the universe in Maya and make it pretty, but good luck getting an accurate engineering visualization out of it.

And that’s something I looked for in other 3D CAD tools lately – sure the Hollywood boys an girls get all the glory on screen. But I’ve said this before since getting into 3d printing – NONE of the models usually made for the screen translate seamlessly to the printer. The demands on either are are very different.

There’s is some shared space between them in the concepts of creating profiles, polygons, extrusions and the like. But the meat an potatoes of creating something that actually works when manufactured? New ball of wax.

Dimensional accuracy, tolerances, the Shore scale of material usage, material density to weight ratios, etc. There’s so much more to worry about when turning a 3d design meant for actual use in the real world than there ever was in merely making something pretty onscreen. I take it back, but only a little – we’ve all worked for THAT director at some point. The one that things the weight of the world depends on THAT ONE PIXEL.

If only they knew.

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Form Fuse and Fabulous

The latest release from Formlabs is pretty impressive – maybe too expensive for me right now but definitely a serious thing to consider for the rest of the world.

Think about this for a second. Formlabs started on Kickstarter, made a successful if legally challenged launch, released a follow up to that product commercially as a fledgling company and has now released an SLS solution.

That stands for Selective Laser Sintering – a fancy way to get rid of the support structures and make incredibly clean prints. If you have any experience in 3d printing, you have dealt with supports, the structures that make 3d printing possible with other technologies to compensate for the annoyance of gravity.

SLS is not new, but for many serious prototyping facilities it is the only serious method to get around the laborious and sometimes destructive practice of cleaning off support structures. I typically don’t mind the process but I have become to accept it as a part of getting clean parts.

I have always hated the idea of altering my design to fit the limitations of the technology – this has always been a designer’s problem with regard to FDM or Fused Deposition Modeling, the more familiar melting plastic printing process to most of you.

But SLS technologies are the best current solution to getting clean parts with minimal cleaning out of a printer. The powders used get dusted off the parts as you pull them from SLS printers, kind of like the movie version of the archaeologist’s field work. Indiana Jones never had it so easy. And sure they have their share of issues, the relative ease of personally modifying an FDM printer (the first 2 Ultimakers are open source and famous for this ease) are likely gone.

SO think about it – a company that was crowdfunded has released a consumer model of the best possible way of getting clean 3d printed parts without tedious sanding and tweezer gymnastics other printing tech forces us to accept.

It’s a big move, and I can’t wait until I can justify the expense.

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WonderCon post mortem

Literally the worst best convention ever. Hyperbole aplenty at this year’s con, the one show where I feel like there’s enough action and an audience for what I do. And that, honestly can confuse people because I do a lot.

When you walk by my table, you usually get a glimpse of my sculpture. For three or so years, I have been using 3d printed sculptures to draw people to my table. This year printed out a digital model of a concept I painted digitally a year or so prior. It was a nice progresson, 2d, to 3d, to 3d print. Cool right?

The morning of the second day, as the rush of people grew, one of my fellow exhibitors knocked over the statue. Most of the tentacles snapped right off. I was mentally prepared for this to happen before the show, but I really thought I was going to knock it over and not someone else.

It was a proud moment for me – I was actually trying to finish a commission when it happened and that turned out pretty darn cool.

I actually felt the palpable panic of the people next to me, who were very apologetic and far more embarassed than I was. It felt strange, usually I’m the one who freaks out, throws a fit, leaves, or just throws in the towel. I guess the added pressure of having to finish a commission for an old friend took the pressure off more than added to it. The pressure to create after destruction, it’s rocket fuel.

But I knew I printed that object so fast and light that it was particularly fragile. I took the risk. But even with the shattered tentacles, the piece still drew quite a few people curious about the look – to some people it looked like a demonic Venus De Milo, broken but still beautiful and almost unimaginable any other way.

It sits shattered at the very highest point on my desk hutch. Like a trophy.

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Deadlines and pricing

I have a few options with my latest book, all of which are driven by the WonderCon Deadline this year.

I made it into the show, that’s not the problem. I wrapped up my last days on the show I was working on – they day job – and took on a freelance job which put me a full two weeks behind the much more comfortable schedule for delivering Pages of Eight 3 at WonderCon this year.

Since getting my Ultimaker 2, I’ve been trying to have a cool new printed project every year – something to have at the table that starts conversations. This year is no different, but with barely enough time to finish Pages of Eight, I might just print out some older projects instead.

I did think I would print out something else from another show I worked on. I got to build and animate a fun horror comedy creature sequence in the Sundance premiere of Snathcers from some fun UCLA alumni.

Hopefully, they can sell the series and I might get to work on it again, but I like having something at the table which represents a broader swath of what I do. Printing out the Snatcher creature itself would be a fun way to show that.

I might even be able to print it out life size – the actual creature was barely a foot long. Crouching over a skull – that might be pretty cool looking. Though I’d need almost as many weeks to print and paint it as I have for Pages of Eight. And I can’t sell the Snatcher, really. I have no rights to its design. A lot of work for a showpiece.

SO when I make up my mind, the show will have ended already, HAHA.

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Chunky Man Bun and other fads

I get that people have dramatically cooled on open source software – just like they have cooled to 3d printing, Furby’s and Cabbage Patch Kids. BTW, the title of this post was just me picking on someone who walked into the coffee shop. I can be so superficial. But deep down I’m REALLY shallow. Smirk.

But people still have enormous appetites for certain things – stuff that’s past it’s heyday and prime. Some of us don’t let go. There are things I know I’ve grown out of so to speak – I don’t avidly do anything popular culture oriented (ok, I was a Twitter fiend for a year, tops). I haven’t had cable television for at least seven years. Stopped collecting comics twenty years ago, and don’t have Netflix.

But I am usually always aware somehow of trends – you can’t avoid them with Twitter, Instagram and other apps these days. I still get email detailing trends, whether that’s spam or not is up to the filters.

I had a discussion with a friend the other day where we were talking about the shrinking market of independent comics. A market that was already small, driven by its own creators and given very little credence in the other popular arts. It’s such an easy predictor of some people’s behavior – if it gets popular they jump on board.

So maybe the glow of The Walking Dead has worn off to the point where no one is mining independent titles for another prognostication of creative and financial success. Saga, anyone? No?

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3d printing world shrinking?

I attended the annual 2015 3d Printing World show on my Saturday lunch break and instantly recognized two things. The show overall was smaller and less well attended than last year, and DLP had a much greater presence. But that might have just been me being grumpy about working on a Saturday.

Given my history with Makerbot, part of me wanted to take all mynfailed extruders to their table and stand there like and angry brown Ralph Nader warning people of their futures. But I have said before I WANT them to get it right. And to their credit they actually had working machines on the floor this time.

I feel like this should be called “the show that ZBrush built” because it seemed to be the only thing that gathered enough mass on the show floor. It was really the only exhibitor that has the resources and clout the show to command attention because of its roots in the process of 3d printing. That, and a loudspeaker and big projection screens.

image

I am actually surprised still how long it has taken for some people to realize that 3d printing has zero future without the ability to either synthesize or expertly manipulate shapes.

Software for building anything you want has come further in my lifetime than most apps I can remember and I would argue that vehemently. The earliest modellers I used could scarcely handle basic primitives let alone multi resolution million plus polygon modles WITH texturing.

That actually has as much to do with hardware really so to be fair being able to make anything digitally still doesn’t mean being able to print it. But oncw you get to the level where you understand 3d modeling deeply enough to target digital AND physical media, you’ve got a winning combo.

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Small, Medium and Large Ultimakers

If you follow the news about Ultimaker you will know that they have released a line of 3d printers based on the Ultimaker 2 formula.

If you know my background and my experience with Ultimaker, you will understand this is good news. And that it is bad news for Makerbot which hasn’t released anything but some new materials you can get jammed in your smart extruder.

Yes, that’s me being bitter.

I fully intend to replace my now completely consistently and annoyingly failing Makerbot Mini. I have had enough. I recently suggested that Makerbot re-conceive the materials and user policies used in building the smart extruder in their recent online survey.

Gulanee-outside-sml

I would be willing to pay for a premium smart extruder which allows everything I have consistently asked the company to do. Make it user serviceable, make it from better materials, and make it easier to manage settings and regulate it’s temperature better.

Makerbot did a great job defining goals and specs which made sense to consumers and almost none of the ones important to me were ready at release or were disappointing when seen in action. The built in camera is not very good or useful, the reliability is woeful, the build quality gets progressively worse until the extruder fails entirely, and customer service has either no interest or ability to respond with customer history at hand and instead goes through robotic standard replies and suggestions.

But back to Ultimaker – I saw that they are using the 2 ft tall Gulanee model at their booth at CES which makes me divinely happy she has found a good home. If you see this model, you should know that I was up and running, printing tests and getting work done in under an hour – and that’s me taking what I thought was a LONG time to get acquainted with the printer.

This is also close to the first full year I have been on this 3d printing adventure and want to congratulate Ultimaker for thinking, acting and delivering on the promises of 3d printing.

Conversely I want to encourage Makerbot to consider some of the things I suggested. I truly did enjoy the Makerbot experience when it first arrived and I finished my first model.

Visit  #72024 at CES if you get a chance and say hello!

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Making the Steampunk XWing, Part 1

First of all, this project has some odd roots. I had never drawn anything remotely “steampunk” or much of anything very retro in style ever but noticed it’s rapidly growing popularity.

So the original concept for this was just an exercise in concept art. Beware, serious concept artist hopefuls – doing fan art like this is one of those things professionals tell you to stear clear of because you look like a fanboy.

Well screw that advice – I’m a 15 year working veteran in visual effects and I don’t think any of us would be here without Star Wars so “cut me some slack there ok bro?”

The original concept is still the most favorited thing I have ever posted online and judging by the number of people who have tumblr’d, re-grammed and otherwise copied and pasted it to various sites … you get the picture.

So the first part of this blog documenting the project is all about the concept.

XWing-12-13-11-SML

I did several Star Wars related steam/retro designs and the others were interesting as well in that I didn’t really know what I wanted out of these pieces other than to play with the retro and steampunk design tropes.

The T.I.E Fighter I did, actually, I preferred over the X-Wing because it seemed a little more flamboyant.

TIE Fighter 12-16-11 SML

But since the X-Wing resonated with so many more people, I think it was a clear choice for the build. Ordinarily, I tend to rail against fan art of any kind. Truth be told, I don’t really find doing fan art does much more than hinder your true artistic development but these days, it seems no one will take you the least bit seriously as an artist UNLESS you do it. Completely backwards, but I have had a really long career NOT doing fan art so I think an occasional piece is merited.

I didn’t design any of these things with 3d printing in mind – which I think is the takeaway from this project. Although it helps to have a vertical process in 3d printing – going from concept to final with the 3d pinted result in mind – it’s not a deal breaker.

Even though I never thought about even OWNING a 3d printer when I drew these images in 2011, I didn’t even consider making them in CGI back then. But the entire process can still be considered to be vertical in that I will be completing all areas of the production.

So in making your own 3d printed objects from old concepts keep this in mind – it’s very likely that you did not design something with 3d printing in mind. But you must consider the basic physics of the design WHEN you want to print something.

Both the retro designs had something in common in that they are still largely based on the basic designs of real world, kit bashed, old school visual effects models. The original design topologies of the two fighter craft are recognizable almost anywhere in the world and they make sense to world immediately in that they are mechanical, solid, and constructed from real materials.

Next time, I’ll go over the CGI design process.

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Gearing, working parts and 3d printing

I have only ever done a tiny bit of CAD. I had an old copy of TurboCAD for Windows which I barely used, but definitely should have kept using considering the project I have started this month.

I have as much experience calculating differentials as I do hang gliding, but it became absolutely necessary to at least configure the gearing mechanism required for the latest 3d printing project.

gearing

The first version of the mechanism showed me that I was thinking much to linearly and I eventually switched to something more complicated but definitely more elegant.

Essentially, the gearing mechanism rotates two planes away from each other – it operates a bit like a scissors.

gearing01
This is the first operational mechanism I have designed specifically for a 3d printing project and I am considering going to one or more of the open source CAD applications that are available. At least one of them however, is listed by Chrome as a piece of Malware – FreeCAD.

That’s sad – it looked pretty impressive. But I am sure I will settle on a CAD solution, but since I have learned well how to model at scale with fairly high precision, I might not need CAD immediately.

I think the more important issue is how CAD just isn’t as important in consumer level 3d printing – that it’s practically a non issue to many users who are remixing other models, projects etc. Why learn CAD, there are so many free 3d models of reasonably high quality you should be able to kitbash anything you want, right?

You could probably never run out of free things to print online. But just like I remember people using the first dot matrix printers to print out ascii versions of pictures, I think were still very much in that stage of 3d printing. There are definitely the differences between those times and now – some people are truly pushing the envelope but that entry level FFM user is still trying to wrap their head around making these things work reliably at all.

But like I said before, just being a decent 3d modeler is a huge advantage to 3d printing users. It’s pretty much the skeleton key to synthesizing any shape and therefore anything you want to print.

I’ll post more as this project develops.
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Headed to the bank. Sort of.

I literally spent the last week looking around my desk – not even my whole apartment – for thing I needed that could 3d print.

I came up with two things – a pencil and brush holder and a piggy bank. Since so much of my work is digital I don’t do a terribly good job of organizing my pencils and brushes.

Printed VERY clean, will make the next one larger and maybe modular #3dprinting #ultimaker #protopasta

A photo posted by Jesse Mesa Toves (@zeustoves) on

I do an even worse job of organizing loose change.

I spent some time in a previous post talking about the idea that 3d printing has different (not always better) economies of scale when compared to just going out and shopping or re-using something around the house.

In fact, if I am guilty of anything in this most recent exercise, it’s of particularly conspicuous consumption. But I have spent a lifetime designing so many things for other people, I should get a chance to do them for myself.

The largest single object to date that I have 3d printed is this piggy bank. I had originally thought it should be smaller but considering it kind of looks like a hand grenade, I changed my mind. It might be a good idea to print some ears as it is still sort of menacing in a way.

Almost there, will print the screw cap tonight. #3dprinting #ultimaker #protopasta

A photo posted by Jesse Mesa Toves (@zeustoves) on

The next big project might be settled – moving parts. Sound effects – I am sure the nerd rage regarding its design will cause overload. Hopefully it will be done by Christmas.

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