frickin' laser beams

I'm the first to admit that I'm a bit of a technophile. Give me gadgets, cool software and new tools to play with and I'm generally a very happy boy of tomorrow.

Mind you, I still cling to my Luddite-esque skills when it comes to jewelry making. During my apprenticing years I learned to appreciate the value of hand-filing things, hitting things with hammers and setting things on fire.

While I might kick it "olde skool" most days, any chance I get to add a bit of technical jiggery-pokery to my artistic bag of tricks is a relished opportunity.

Most recently, thanks in no small part to my involvement with a company specializing in 3D prototyping, I can now giddily add "shoot things with laser beams" to my palette of possible techniques for world domination and/or making cool stuff.

For those not geeky enough to already be drooling, the technology we're mucking about with essentially grants the quasi-mystical ability to print highly-accurate 3D models in a casting-ready thermoplastic. It's a bit like an inkjet printer, assuming that printer fires lasers layer-by-layer into a puddle of carefully placed goo.

The upshot of all of this three-dimensional goo and laser insanity is that this new technology blows the doors off what was previously possible with computer-controlled milling, precision hand carving and other "structured" art methods.

While it's definitely not a technique suitable for every project, it certainly will up the ante of what is possible in the way of crisp, iconographic detail.

kicking the tires...

Recently, I got a chance to take this new technology out for a spin. A client brought me this regrettable example of the prop-maker's art:

Minbari Ranger Badge

I swear I did not make this.

He challenged me to re-envision this "vaguely obscure" television costume piece into something that, in his words, "Sucked a little less."

After a bit of back and forth, we hit upon this design:

Vector Illustration

My concept art, based on the lumpy mess above.

So far, this is pretty typical for my artistic process.

Things took an interesting turn when I fed the same artwork into the rapid prototyping system. Instead of making compromises to the design in order to make the idea possible to produce, reality now bends to my whim and every intended detail appears:

Master Model

And this was before I knew what I was doing.

That's exactly what the prototyper outputted. The best part was that this model was ready to cast. No intermediate molding or other middle stages were required.

After casting and finishing, the final version of the badge:

Minbari Ranger Badge, Revisited

Now that's what I call crisp.

Add one tool to my arsenal, and score one for science fiction geekery.


category: studio
03 / 17 / 2008