Lifestyle Products: LCAD - 3D Printing of a complex mask with EOS Additive Manufacturing Technology
Additive Manufacturing introduces new medium to game art students
Virtual worlds are filled with mythological creatures and characters or realistic depictions of human beings. As Gavin Rich, professor of Game Art at Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) points out, “Everything always has to lead back to the real world." But what would such computer-generated images look like in the real world? Would the level of detail created using 3D computer programs be visible? Would a villian's hunched back cast the ominous shadow the artist intended? Is there a technology capable of accurately producing hand-held objects that mirror their virtual counterparts' complex designs? Thanks to Additive Manufacturing, six game art students from LCAD were able to see their creations in the physical world for the first time and address such questions..
Rich spearheaded a workshop called Pixels to Polymers, where students imagined and developed 3D characters with elaborate masks. The masks alone, designed to be 3D printable, were judged by industry professionals and the six winners were chosen to have their projects printed by Solid Concepts, a custom and Additive Manufacturing service provider based in Valencia, California (USA).
When Scott McGowan, Vice President of Marketing at Solid Concepts, heard about the project, he agreed to print six masks and sent a team member from his company to LCAD to advise the students on design techniques. Ariel Fain was one of the workshop participants. The precocious young woman's deep appreciation for virtual art led her to the Game Art program at LCAD where she focused her studies on 3D design. Her intricate mask design was based on the legend of Quetzalcoatl, the Mayan god whose name in the Nahuatl language means feathered serpent. Fain's mask, complete with intricately detailed feathers and a prominent headpiece, and characterized by deeply etched raised texturing, was chosen as one of the six winners.
Due to the complexity of the mask, the Solid Concepts team decided the EOSINT P 700-series plastic laser sintering system would be the best process to use. “EOS technology is always good for complex geometries," McGowan explains. “We often steer architectural models and anything artistic toward it." The process begins with a thin layer of powdered nylon material (or metal, depending on the type of system) on a build platform. An STL or 3D CAD file of the model to be manufactured is uploaded to the system. A focused laser then traces the outlines and contours a cross-sectional slice taken from the 3D digital model, melting the layer of powder at high heat. Fresh powder is then reapplied and the next layer of the model is traced by the laser, fusing it to the first and slowly creating a solid replica of the digital data as each new layer is added. Because laser sintering is an additive rather than subtractive process, the technology grows parts one 60-micron layer (about half the thickness of a human hair) at a time.
“There's just something about seeing your designs come to life in 3D," Fain says. “I really never knew how it would work at all and I am still amazed that Solid Concepts could actually 3D print something that I had made. The whole medium is beautiful," explains the artist. “There's a huge difference between seeing something on a screen and then seeing it in person and being able to physically touch it. Now I am able to hold it and examine it from every angle."
Rich recalls: “I was in the gallery the day the contest winners all saw their masks for the first time. It was like watching kids open up Christmas presents." Running from pedestal to pedestal, the students analysed what details came through compared to their digital designs. One of the biggest impacts was how real light played off the physical surface of the model. This is an aspect that is particularly hard to test when working solely on a computer. “You're looking at a flat representation under fake lighting," Rich explains. “So having an actual figure in front of you with ambient light on it can really change your perspective."
Sandy Appleoff, LCAD Game Art program founder and chair, believes the growing gaming industry will increasingly adopt 3D printing, specifically for avatars and replicas of the creations featured in popular video games. “With the development of new video games come new characters. These characters attract fans, who then demand 3D models of their favourites. This creates a really viable commercial market for 3D printing," she explains.
Appleoff personally experienced the digital shift in the art industry and one of the main reasons she set out to establish the Game Art program at LCAD was to introduce her students to new tools. “We are in the midst of a visual, virtual renaissance and at the heart of it is games," she says.
3D-printed models are not only changing how artists design and see their work but also helping LCAD showcase what the Game Arts program is all about. “We usually ink print 2D renderings of the students' designs to display in the hallway, but having the 3D-printed models made a stronger impact," Rich explains. “Being able to see a physical representation of the work helped show visitors what we actually do in the program."
Forming partnerships such as the one between Solid Concepts and LCAD is one way to affordably add design for Additive Manufacturing to an educational curriculum. “When I approached Solid Concepts about the contest, it was a real joy to find such enthusiastic support and genuine interest in the program," Appleoff says. She hopes that LCAD and Solid Concepts will be able to build a continuing relationship in order to expose more students to this new medium. “I think there's a genuine magic when what students do virtually becomes reality," Appleoff says. “And that's what 3D printing brings to these young minds."
Sandy Appleoff, Founder and Chair of the LCAD Game Art program
Solid Concepts Inc. provides custom manufacturing solutions via Additive Manufacturing- both plastic laser sintering and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), rapid prototyping, CNC machining, cast urethanes, injection moulding and tooling. Since 1991, the company has provided engineering expertise from multiple fields to bring success to new products in different industries.