The 3D printing revolution is well upon us, as evidenced by the growing number of 3D-printing-related projects that will be on display at this year’s Maker Faire New York, taking place September 29 and 30 at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. Maker Sean Charlesworth recently earned his master’s in Digital Imaging and Design, and chose to do a particularly complicated 3D print for his thesis project. He learned so much from the project, he’s bringing it to the Faire to share his knowledge. Meet the Octopod Underwater Salvage Vehicle.
1. Tell us about the Octopod model you’re bringing to Maker Faire. What inspired the design?
While working on my degree, I was planning a digital underwater scene for a lighting exercise and wanted to include some objects. I’m a hard-surface modeler and didn’t feel comfortable tackling creatures so I decided to make some kind of craft but didn’t want a typical submarine, etc. I’m a big fan of the Nautilus sub from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea because it had an animal-like look while remaining really mechanical. Using that as inspiration I came up with the Octopod and tried to design it to be as practical as possible while being fantastical. The underwater scene never did materialize, but I ended up using the idea for my thesis.
2. The Octopod is a complex model to 3D print. How long did it take from concept to creation and what was the hardest aspect?
I was working full-time and working on this for my thesis, so I would come home from work, eat, and then get on the computer. Pretty much every weekend was spent all day on the computer. I did that for about six months, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done. My wife, Kate, kept me fed and sane, and I owe her big.
Overall the biggest challenge was designing everything to fit together and work mechanically. Since my background is in modeling for the entertainment industry I was using Cinema 4D and Maya, which are probably not the best choice when designing something so mechanical. I knew CAD would probably be a better choice but wanted to stick with what I know and also didn’t have the time to learn something new. This made things more challenging but was a valid workflow since so many different industries are using 3D printing now.
Out of all the mechanical bits to work out, the tentacles were by far the hardest and required the most test prints. I knew the tentacles had to really come alive or the model would be a flop. I rejected traditional joints for various reasons and ended up printing a flexible core with rubber-like material and fusing plastic knuckles to it for detail. I modeled a small shaft down the center and inserted brass armature wires afterward so the tentacles could be posed dramatically. It took about four versions to get it right.
3. You printed the model pieces on a Objet Connex500 3D printer. Where did you access this machine and what was it like working with this high-end printer?
I was extremely lucky to have access to the Objet Connex500 through the New York University Advanced Media Studio while I was in school. It’s a great place with a laser cutter, 3D scanner, ZCorp ZPrinter 650, and the Objet. The staff at the AMS lab were awesome and provided a ton of one-on-one help. I was able to talk out how to approach stuff like the tentacles and multi-material printing. I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off without that kind of support, and I think this kind of service needs to be developed more for consumer-level printing.
Working with the Objet was a good experience. There are definitely some quirks in the software during setup and certain design guidelines you have to adhere to when using multiple materials, but nothing too crazy. The biggest difficulty was removing the waxy support material from parts. Typically, a water jet is used to get most of the support off but I also had to use a lye solution and ultrasonic cleaners to remove the rest. Time consuming and a real pain, but worth it in the end.
4. What 3D printer do you have at home? How long have you had it and what’s your favorite thing about it? Is it the first 3D printer you’ve owned?
My first printer was the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic MK7 I bought last fall. It’s been fun to work with and helped me to understand how models need to be processed for printing, whether it was on the MakerBot or a high-end printer. Some people love pimping their machines to print faster, finer, at different temps, etc. Some people just want it to work so they can make and print stuff. I fall somewhere in between. I have done some mods to my MakerBot to improve function, but ultimately I like making stuff. I really enjoyed building the MakerBot and sad to see they are no longer offering kits.
5. What are your thoughts on the home manufacturing/3D printer revolution taking place now?
It’s awesome. I made my nieces treasure boxes on the MakerBot and they loved them. That’s just cool and exciting, and I think in a few years they will have their own EZ-Bake-Printer and print out their own toys. I also think they’ll be able to go to toy manufacturer websites and order custom toys. I think it will also let people build stuff that they never thought they were capable of. Even with my mechanical skill set, I never would have built the Octopod from scratch as a traditional model. It seemed too intimidating to me, but building in the digital realm felt doable. Was it easier or faster than building it for real? I don’t know, but it worked for me and is a great alternative. But I love that it ultimately exists in the real world and was still assembled by hand.
6. How did you hear about Maker Faire, and why did you decide to share your project there?
I’ve been a MAKE magazine subscriber from the beginning so was well aware of Maker Faire and have attended the previous NYC Faires. I have been asked so many questions about 3D printing and the Octopod that I figured more people would like to see it. I like teaching and sharing knowledge.
7. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
I’ll be 40 this year and I still buy Lego on a regular basis, which my wife kindly let’s me display in the living room. It amazes me how much Star Wars has permeated my life. I vividly remember watching the behind-the-scenes documentary on The Empire Strikes Back and was absolutely fascinated. Back then there were no DVD extras or Discovery channel specials, and you didn’t get to see that kind of stuff. I really wanted to be a “monster mask maker” but had no idea where to start or what to do. I built models and would design ridiculously detailed Dungeons & Dragons castles, where I figured out how the whole place would be heated and designed secret passage mechanisms. I recall calculating how many bathrooms the castle should have to accommodate my army. I would spend more time doing that than actually playing D&D. My Mom and Dad were constantly renovating our house, and we fixed our own cars so I learned how to use tools and fix things. I ended up getting a film degree but kind of hated production but liked using and fixing the equipment, so I got into education where I would train students, and eventually I moved onto repairing equipment.
One of my favorite books is From Star Wars to Indiana Jones: The Best of the Lucasfilm Archives. I have spent many hours flipping through it and admiring the amazing props built for those films. I pull a lot of inspiration from all of these talented artists who put that much attention to detail and craftsmanship into everything they make. A more recent inspiration is Harrison Krix who runs Volpin Props. He makes amazing props, but more importantly he’s a nice guy who shares his knowledge. He documents everything on his blog, which makes it much more accessible to those just starting out. Really nice work and in the maker spirit. There was a lot of stuff I had to figure out for myself when doing the Octopod, and I wanted to share the knowledge so I kept the OPUS V blog to document everything.
8. Now that you have a master’s in Digital Imaging and Design, what would be your dream application of your degree and knowledge?
If I could do anything I would probably use 3D printing for props, maquettes, puppets, etc., for movies and animation. I would love to work for Laika, who did Coraline and ParaNorman. They used 3D printers for all the faces and made beautiful armatures for the bodies.
9. What’s your day job?
For the last 9 years I’ve been the repair technician for the New York University Film & TV program. I keep all the film and digital cameras, lighting, audio, etc., up and running, and having access to a shop in the middle of NYC is great. I love using tools and machines and fixing stuff, but I have missed doing more creative projects, which is part of the reason I went back to school.
10. What do you love most about New York City?
I love/hate that it can be almost impossible to find the right size screw at any hardware store but I can go down to Canal Street and find a store that sells nothing but foam.
Come get a closer look at Sean’s Octopod model, and a vast array of 3D printers and projects, at Maker Faire New York. All the information you need to join us is on the Maker Faire site. And keep your eyes peeled for our special upcoming MAKE Ultimate 3D Printing Guide, hitting newsstands on November 13.