Today we have a cool guest post from one of our talented Featured Designers, Kent Trammel. He recently submitted his Ticketeer design to the 3D Printable Kids Toys Design Contest, and it just happened to be his very first 3D print. Here he explains a little about the inspiration behind the character and how he brought his design to life.
My First 3D Print
By Kent Trammel
3D printing has been a fascination for me since high school where my technology education instructor demonstrated the primitive printing of a chess rook. At the time I was just starting to teach myself 3D modeling and the idea of holding in-hand the models I was making in the computer was astonishing. Fast forward ten years and I can finally say that I’ve successfully designed and printed for the first time!
As my wife and I began to discuss starting a family soon – being the 3D artist that I am – I immediately thought, “Hey, I could design and print custom toys for my kids!” How many parents can say that, right? Coincidentally I was told that Pinshape was hosting a toy design contest and thought it would be the perfect introduction to the process.
Toys have been around forever so coming up with a unique toy idea proved to be a tall order. I figured a hero type character is always good for kids, but I wanted something other than a super hero. How about a real-world hero? A policeman! But my only personal experiences with cops haven’t involved them saving my life in an epic way, or stopping a crisis. So far they’ve only written me tickets…And that’s how the concept emerged.
The next step was scouring the internet for stylistic inspiration. That’s when I gravitated to the exaggerated proportions from things like Pixar’s “The Incredibles” and “Team Fortress 2”. Those characters are so extreme and entertaining. Their body shapes alone can tell a story. For me the “Ticketeer’s” story needed to read like this: “I’m a cop, and that’s a big deal. Even bigger than my hulking upper body. With this ticket, you will remember that justice was served today.”
I began sculpting the character using Blender and its “dynamic topology” feature. It allowed me to freely conceptualize my shapes without being constrained by the base mesh’s topology. The first stage was about roughing out the essential forms. Once the general structure was in place, I jumped over to Zbrush to run the Zremesher tool, which takes the often bloated density of the sculpture geometry and optimizes it. Then it was back to Blender to sculpt the finer details and establish a pose.
Prepping for Print
After completing the 3D model it was time to prep for printing. Prepping turned out to be a challenge. With complex characters featuring clothing and accessories, it’s often easiest to build everything in separate pieces like I did with the Ticketeer. But printing requires that everything be combined into a single, “watertight” piece. To achieve this I exported all my pieces over to Zbrush. There I used DynaMesh at the highest resolution (2048) which functions as if you’re encasing all your pieces into a new, watertight shell. Higher resolutions deliver more accurate results. Note that the same thing can be done just as well in Blender using the Remesh modifier with the octree depth set to 10 and “remove disconnected pieces” disabled – something I discovered later. But the new shell has an extremely high poly count, so running the Decimation Master (or Decimate modifier in Blender) maintains the shell’s detail while drastically decreasing the poly count.
At this point I reached out to my friend and colleague, Jonathan Williamson, who owns a Form1+ printer. He saw my model and recommended that I cut him in half at the base of the vest. This way the much larger upper body could be printed as a hollow shell and the legs could be printed solid. This helped to: A) significantly lower material consumption and B) make the legs bottom heavy so it could stand. He also recommended that I use Blender’s rigid body simulation system to test whether or not it could stand on its own. With that test passed, I exported as .STL and checked printability with Netfabb Basic, following Pinshape’s “Design Preparation for Upload” page. Then I uploaded my entry into the contest.
Jonathan went ahead and launched a test print of the design. At 50 microns of layer thickness, the Ticketeer finished printing in about 8 hours. I asked him to describe the process:
“Once Kent finished preparing the STL files he passed them off to me for the actual printing process. Since I was printing on a Form1+ I did all the preparation through Preform, Formlabs printing software for the Form1. Preform does a great job of generating support material, even for very complex models.
To generate the supports I spent a bit of time carefully orientating the model in such a way to allow the smallest details to print well. After orientating I let Preform generate the support material automatically. Then I sent it off to print!
After printing, all the support material had to be removed. This is a tedious process on complex models, but an x-acto knife and flush cutters do a great job. The main thing to be careful of is to not damage the actual surface too much while cutting off the supports. However, even with the most careful of hands, some post-sanding is still needed. The supports tend to leave little knobs and divots on the surface. These are pretty simple to sand off, though, with a high grit sandpaper.”
I am thoroughly impressed by Jonathan’s print. It’s really amazing how the details held up. The sensation of holding a printed version of my digital character is just as cool as I thought it’d be! I think I’m addicted already.
Now it’s your turn! Tell us about your first 3D print. What were the most important tips and tricks you learned in your first experience? What do you know now that you wish you’d have known then?