13 Questions with Alessandro Ranellucci: Father of Slic3r and Curator of Maker Faire Rome

Maker News

Italian designer, developer, speaker, professor, and curator Alessandro Ranellucci may be best known as the father of Slic3r, the most widely used open source slicing software for 3D printers, but this multifaceted maker is also an inspiring champion of the Maker Movement. This year, he’s the official content curator for Maker Faire Rome, the European Edition, one of the largest Maker Faires in the world, and we’re excited to see how amazing it will be.

Now in its fifth year, Maker Faire Rome is taking place on December 1 – 3, once again at the expansive Fiera di Roma. The Call for Makers was just extended until October 8, so there’s still time to share what you make with the world. The deadline for schools is now October 20 and for universities and research institutes, it’s now October 15.

We connected with Alessandro to learn more about the maker community in Italy, how it’s flourished, how he got involved, and what we can expect at this year’s Faire.

1. How long have you lived in Rome?
I was born in Rome, so that means 32 years.

2. What is unique about the maker community in Rome?
Roman makers, and Italian makers in general, show a great combination of several approaches to making. Our country has a long tradition of high-quality craft, which is facing the challenges of renovation through new technologies, including digital fabrication. There’s a lot of focus on how to turn creative and innovative ideas into startups, and on trying to combine sharing with business opportunities.

On the other hand, our maker community includes many college students and graduates in electronics, design, and architecture. Schools are very active through their maker programs, and many medium to large companies are interested in learning from makers. This is more a European thing than an Italian trend. Maker Faire Rome is the European Edition and attracts makers from all over Europe (and beyond), so it’s a rather nice “melting pot” instead of just representing a local community.

3. How have you seen the community grow since the first Maker Faire Rome five years ago?
In the first two years, people were approaching Maker Faire showcasing the projects they made before even thinking about themselves as makers. Many new technologies and attractions brought a great “wow” factor to the show. In the third edition, maker projects started to be more focused on applications of those technologies to solving actual problems or shaping the future somehow.

In the fourth edition, many of those projects became mature, and the “wow” factor shifted from “what” those things are to “how” they are made. This maturity puts focus on the processes, and requires people to actually talk to makers in order to understand the value behind the projects, which is not always immediately visible.

The challenge of a European Edition of Maker Faire, such as our show, is to build a community despite not being a local event. This is actually happening, year after year: hundreds of makers come to Rome regularly. I love how Maker Faire is a living organism, like a city, where things happen spontaneously, even when nobody planned them.

4. When and where was the first Maker Faire you attended? What was your first impression?
The first edition of Maker Faire Rome was my actual first Maker Faire, but I had been following Maker Faire Bay Area for a few years with enthusiasm, by looking at every picture and watching videos. I was excited by how powerful it was seeing people inspiring other people. I felt the need to make something myself.

5. How did you get involved with Maker Faire Rome?
The Chamber of Commerce of Rome, which has been producing the show, and the curators (Massimo Banzi and Riccardo Luna) knew me because of my Slic3r project and the networking activities I was doing in the Maker Movement. They asked me to collaborate, together with my friend Costantino Bongiorno, and we provided our help as “makers in charge” for curating the content and bringing our genuine enthusiasm.

6. Tell us about your role as executive content coordinator of Maker Faire Rome. 
I work on the content of the show. I do scouting and invitations, and together with Massimo Banzi and Riccardo Luna, I’m in charge of evaluating and selecting the applications from makers. (I love reading them, but I hate having to do a selection since all of them would deserve to be in Maker Faire Rome if we had an infinite venue.) I give input for placements and main themes, and I support all teams in making choices that affect how the show is perceived by makers and visitors.

7. What themes are you seeing emerging for this year’s Maker Faire Rome?
I’m noticing an increasing focus on agriculture, disability, education, and electronics.

8. What will be different at this year’s Maker Faire Rome?
We will have a focus on Industry 4.0, as there’s a growing amount of professional visitors and companies who want to see the impact of the Maker Movement in manufacturing. Robotics, in general, is going to be one of our main topics. Also, we will have a rich program of speeches and workshops, as we want people to be able to learn actively.

9. The Call for Makers was just extended. Are there any types of projects in particular you’re still looking for?
The Call for Makers was extended to October 8th, as we got many requests from people who were not able to complete their draft applications in time. On our website, we have a long list of things we would like to have, including large-scale projects and anything related to energy and sustainability, food, robots, animatronics, science.

10. Why do you feel that Maker Faire is important?
Maker Faire gives people freedom and happiness. At Maker Faire, everyone discovers the joy of trying, playing, learning, sharing. Maker Faire connects people who love sharing stuff with other people and reminds us that we aren’t just passive buyers, but we can always find a new identity through what we make.

11. How does having a background as diverse as architecture and software development help you stay grounded in the maker community?
I become a maker by combining those two things. I think all makers actually combine very different skill sets, and that’s what makes them so open to learning and finding nonstandard solutions to their problems. I solve architecture problems by using my software skills. This gives me more creative power, and I always keep trying to learn new things, as mixing diverse knowledge opens new ways.

12. How and why did you develop Slic3r?
I was not satisfied by the results of RepRap printers, and I decided to experiment by writing the software part of them from scratch. After publishing my work as open source, the community gave me enthusiastic feedback. So much gratitude, love, and cooperation made me continue for years with passion and a bit of addiction.

The Slic3r community was actually advancing 3D printing technology by enabling new things. I didn’t just want to write software, but I wanted to write clean code which would document the algorithms involved in digital fabrication so that other people could make even more things.

13. You were also director of the Make in Italy Foundation. What’s the goal of that organization?

The Make in Italy Foundation supported the Italian FabLab and makerspace network in the years of its fastest growth. Tens of labs opened throughout Italy, and we supported and promoted them.

All the information you need to apply to exhibit at Maker Faire Rome or to attend and join the community is on the website. 

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at snowgoli@gmail.com or via @snowgoli.

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