Sheep Shape: Designing a Divine 3D Ovine for ‘LEO’

This is the second in a series of posts about the build process for the characters, look, and feel of ‘LEO the Maker Prince.’


Of all the models that appear in the book LEO the Maker Prince, the sheep is by far the most beloved. It seems to evoke the response of “Aww! So cute!” over and over again from readers and folks who come to visit my studio. Of the 13 objects from the story that are currently posted on Thingiverse, it gets the most attention, with more than 3,000 downloads to date. (The jewelry is second, with more than 700 downloads.)

The sheep is an element that evolved quite naturally as the story developed. I knew that, as a 3D printing robot, the LEO character would need to get a model file from Carla one way or another. She could have pulled it out of a computer or a hard drive but as a designer, I believe strongly in encouraging people—kids and adults alike—to draw their ideas, so I made it a drawing. Although it requires a suspension of disbelief to think that a 2D drawing would have enough information to generate the bubbly, multi-part sheep that LEO builds, I think it gets close enough to the idea of turning graphical data into a 3D output to show readers what 3D printing is about.


The drawing that the (fictional) Carla character made for LEO.


Illustration of Carla placing her sheep drawing on LEO’s tray.

When I thought about the relationship between LEO and Carla, it reminded of The Little Prince, a book that inspired me first as a child and throughout my life. Just as the prince serves as a mystical character who encourages the pilot to think creatively and draw, LEO encourages Carla to have confidence in her ability to draw and create. The line “draw me a sheep” is an homage to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince.

Sheep appear in popular mythology in a couple of different ways, which were also serendipitous in terms of serving the story. In 1996, genetic research led to the creation of Dolly the sheep, the animal that is most often associated with the idea of biological cloning.

Since my book encourages people to reproduce the objects that appear throughout the story, I loved the idea that we would essentially provide our own kind of sheep for people to clone. And, when I was refining the narrative with my story editor, Cindy Hanson, she told me that folklore says that sheep are always able to find their way home. This made sense for our two main characters, who are lost.

I began sketching different versions of cartoon sheep, and brainstormed ways that a sheep could be made up of 3D-printed parts. I wanted to make sure that it would print reliably in different sizes, so I focused heavily on chunky parts without a lot of detailed crevices, and I thought about how it could be made from two filament colors.


Sketches from the sheep design process from the ‘LEO the Maker Prince’ project.

The result is the modern form you see here and in the book, combining geometrical shapes like spheres and the bottoms of pyramids to make up a sheep with black parts that plug into the main white body.

Every week, I’m surprised by a new version of the sheep that a reader has 3D printed and posted to Thingiverse.

Do you have a sheep model that you can share? We would love to see what you’ve created.




3D-printed versions of Carla and LEO’s sheep on Thingiverse. Created by (top to bottom) Blokkendoos, ThomF, and PXD.

LEO the Maker Prince

Carla Diana is a designer, author and artist who enjoys living as close to the near future as possible. In her studio, she works on future-specting projects that bring robotics and sensor technologies to everyday life, creating smart objects that can charm and surprise.

She has taught at several universities, including the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she was creative director for the iconic humanoid robot, Simon. Carla is also a Fellow at the innovation design firm Smart Design where she oversees the Smart Interaction Lab. She writes and lectures extensively on the subject of creative technology, and her January 2013 New York Times Sunday Review article, “Talking, Walking Objects,” is a good representation of her view of our robotic future.