Picture of From 3D to Reality - Making a Resin Sculpture from a CG Character
Note:  This instructable is entered into the "Make it Real" challenge - so if you like it, please take a second to vote by clicking the button in the upper right of the page - Thanks!

This Instructable covers one process of converting a digital character model from a virtual model to a "real" world work of art.  I will be covering model preparation for rapid prototyping, cleanup of the "3D print", mold making, resin casting, and final painting - I hope I can do it all justice ;)

Background:  A while back, I had posted a digital render of a character I'd modeled on a popular CG (Computer Generated) art forum.  One of the posters on the forum wrote that when he'd originally seen the image, he thought it was a photo of a "resin kit".  At the time, I had no idea what a "resin kit" was, but after a little research I found that resin kits were pretty cool and I thought it'd be fun to make my own - having no idea what I was getting into - lol.  I was also inspired by the idea of taking something virtual and making into a "real" object because as an artist who works predominantly in the digital realm, much of my "art" was not physical - it was made of bits and bytes of data - and should electricity ever go away I'd have nothing to show for years of staring into a monitor.

The obvious solution was to turn to Rapid Prototyping technology - but back "in the day" (2005) you had a choice of incredibly-expensive and nice quality, or, somewhat-less-expensive and fairly crude.  I figured that crude would be OK since I wanted to learn how to make molds, had more time than money,  AND I didn't want to risk messing up a $10K "print" while learning how to make molds (not that I could have paid that anyway).  Today, as with all computer related technology, you can get better quality for a lot less money - but the techniques are still relevant.

At the time I started this project, there wasn't a whole lot of information available on making molds and casting resin.  Yes, there was plenty of information aimed at industrial casting operations, but not much for the "guy in his garage" - so a lot of what I learned I learned by reading a lot of semi-relevant material and making mistakes.  Some of them expensive mistakes.  I'm going to try to point out those pitfalls so that hopefully (should you decide to blaze down this trail) you can avoid them. 

Through a lot of testing, I found that there is no "right or wrong" way to make molds or cast material - just more-or-less efficient and more-or-less economical.  I approached this project like a course in molding/casting and I think I learned more than I ever could have if I'd have paid someone to teach me.  My goal was a very high quality polyurethane resin final product and molds that would be capable of small-scale production - and that drove a lot of my decisions (using pressure casting, buying a *real* vacuum pump, more expensive silicone etc).  If a person is interested in just a one-off casting, a lot of money could be saved by using a "mother mold" system and cheaper silicone - although block molds are a lot easier for the noob mold maker ;)

Costs:  To be blunt, RTV Silicone (Room Temperature Vulcanizing) isn't cheap, and neither is polyurethane resin.  Costs can be reduced, again, by using "mother molds" and "slush casting" - but you will exchange your time for the savings (I won't be covering those techniques).  The good news is that currently there's a lot of information available on those techniques -an internet search or YouTube search will bring up a veritable cornucopia of information.  If you are looking for an even more economical way to mold/cast something, I'd suggest looking into using urethane rubber or Alginate for molds, and some of the super-hard plasters like Hydrocal to cast parts.  Anyone who sells mold-making supplies can probably help you make decisions based on your goals and budget.

Materials and Supplies:  What you will need depends on the materials you choose and your desired final product.  For *this* project, the "core" materials and tools were:
  • A digital model - followed by a Rapid Prototype or 3D print of the model
  • Laquer sanding sealer
  • Sandable "filler" primer
  • Air Compressor - 3HP 20 Gallon model (if you are going to pressure-cast)
  • Pressure pot (casting chamber - only for pressure casting)
  • Vacuum Chamber
  • Vacuum pump
  • Various wood frames for holding molds together
  • RTV silicone - I used a ShoreA 40 "clear" silicone from Shin-Etsu
  • Polyurethane resin - I used a couple of different formulations from Smooth-On (different cure times and hardness)
  • Silicone Spray Parting Compound
  • Naptha and 90% isopropyl alcohol
  • Petroleum Jelly - as a parting compound
  • Sulphur-free modeling clay
  • Various dental picks and waxing paddles (used during mold-making)
  • A few clay sculpting tools
  • Cardboard for making mold barriers
  • An accurate scale for measuring silicone components
  • Mixing bowls and strong mixing sticks for silicone, disposable containers for resin mixing
  • Hot-glue gun and lots of glue sticks
  • Packing tape
  • Good quality Cyanoacrylate (CA) Glue and Zip Kicker
  • Epoxy Sculpt epoxy clay or equivalent
  • Airbrush
  • Various acrylic paints and laquer "dull coat"
  • Various brushes, sandpaper, sponges, screens, liquid masking, painters tape, wire, gloves, etc
  • Materials to build a display base (rock, wood, acrylic, glass, screws etc)
Whew!  A lot of stuff for sure.  Now, on to digital model preparation........

If the silicone is degassed you should not have this issue with the resin cast parts under pressure

jwilliamsen (author)  botzendesign3 days ago

Agreed. The ideal, IMO, is a properly de-gassed silicone mold, and pressure cast resin to almost completely eliminate bubbles in the casting. My purpose in this step was to show what can happen if you don't properly de-gas your silicone, and you pressure cast in that mold. It was also to show how effective pressure casting is at eliminating bubbles in the casting.

MelissaW76 months ago

That's one beautiful piece of art! Looks amazing. She's bad-ass! :) Thanks for sharing the steps to your talent.

This instructable is a tour de force in creative and scientific mastery. I am stunned at your talent and incredible attention to detail.

...in '80s-speak: You totally rock, dude!

Thanks so much for taking the time to document and post this incredible (and awesomely successful) project. I am really, really impressed!


jwilliamsen (author)  Syntegrator1 year ago
Thanks, Syntegrator - it was a challenging project, but I learned a lot (which is the whole point). I'm glad you liked it :)

woah you're a master!

gunter5111 year ago

I'd like to thank you for your detailed description of finishing your 3D printed figurine. For me, one of the best tips was using putty and Duplicolor filler primer. This made a huge difference in the final surface finish. Much appreciated and awesome job!


jwilliamsen (author) 2 years ago
Hi Marko,

The service I used for the "print" was 3DArtToPart.com - but I don't know if they're still running(?). The print, at the time, cost about $250 which was far more affordable than the $7K-$10K quotes I was getting from places that provided a better surface finish. Prices have come down and quality has gone up since that time - so you'll probably have to do a little searching around.

There are a number of places that will print a model for you, but they seem to come and go. Protodemon.com was a place that specialized in outstanding surface quality and detail - but they seem to have disappeared. I would search for 3D Printing Services, or Rapid Prototyping Services and just check around for the best bang for the buck. A good place to ask around would be the zBrush.com forums - those guys do a lot 3D printing. Good luck! :)
Gwanji2 years ago
HI - Awesome instructable! If I may ask, where did you have the object 3D printed and how expensive was it? I would like to follow your instructable with a smaller, less complicated 3D character and I am new to the 3D printing world.

Thanks again for this great instructable! --Marko
kronos19892 years ago
Nice ! Thank you
dermord2 years ago
wooow you are friking awesome!
goldie14712 years ago
thank you for taking the time to document this great, instructable - i learned a lot from your work, and will read this several times - Great mold making and beautifull character
kondoruy2 years ago
My god, you have left me breathless throughout all the instructive reading. The quality that you has developed to generate all the steps to creating a perfect (why not say) molds and models, makes it can receive more than one award. To say that and from now this instructable became part of my book training (I'm not writing a book, just learning this), my sincere congratulations on the entire process of manufacturing parts, and this spectacular steep-by-steep instructive.
By the way my brother wants to know what is the approximate cost of the figure, in materials and paint-work, figuratively "comparing it" with other models that may be for sale, warcraft, mass effect, etc. ..
jwilliamsen (author)  kondoruy2 years ago
Thank you for the kind words :) It was a lot of work, but I learned a lot in the process.

As far as cost of materials, there's probably somewhere around $80 in resin and another $45 or so in paint depending on what brands and colors you buy. I don't know how that compares to some of the other models for sale - but I'm assuming this would be quite a bit more since it's not mass produced.

Thanks again - I'm glad you enjoyed the Instructable :)
mclancer2 years ago
Wow, this is an amazing project. The final outcome is incredible.
This just goes to show the large amount of skill and hard work needed to create this piece of art. Your painting skills really make this thing "pop".
I really enjoy reading your presentation.
brianhulsey2 years ago
Where did you get your vacuum degassing machine? Never seen one like that!
jwilliamsen (author)  brianhulsey2 years ago
I got it off eBay ;) It's a Welch Chemstar 1402N Vacuum Pump. It can actually "boil" water!
Thanks for the info!! Great instructable :) Is the chamber itself made by Chemstar too?!
jwilliamsen (author)  brianhulsey2 years ago
You're welcome - I'm glad you found it useful :)

The vacuum chamber is made by Nalgene and is similar to this one: Vacuum Chamber .  I was a bit disappointed with the gaskets that came with it - the rubber just couldn't stand up to the vacuum - so I poured some spare mold silicone into the "groove" around the base (with the chamber removed of course) and it formed a really nice gasket.
PaulFlint2 years ago
Superb instructable and great work! Loved it all. Many thanks for sharing. Paul
Anyone ever notice how all of the female characters have un-natural enlargements (top-heavy)?
I'm a little more concerned with what's going on with her back. XD Spines don't work that way!
jwilliamsen (author)  Sulwen3 years ago
One thing I've learned over time is that as soon as you think there nobody that looks a particular way or that the human body can't do some particular thing - there's always someone out there that is going to burst that particular bubble ;)

You might want to check out The Ross Sisters "Solid Potato Salad" on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1J3NLNWAPU - they bend in ways that make you say "ouch" - lol
jwilliamsen (author)  javajunkie19763 years ago
Hmmmm - That's not really correct. There are a lot of characters that aren't "top heavy" but they may not be the ones you notice. A lot of the design depends on the genre the character fits into (Fantasy, Anime, Manga, Realistic, etc). Being of the "Fantasy Art" genre, this character is very "hippy" and although her proportions are pretty extreme (in "real life" she'd be over 7 feet tall without the wings) they aren't out of balance IMO.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, though - it's what gives us the variety we see in life.
kzagorov3 years ago
That is an GREAT work! Do you sell it?
jwilliamsen (author)  kzagorov3 years ago
Thanks! I've sold a handful of kits, but never really put it into full-scale production. It's difficult to justify the amount of time it takes to produce the kit (about 8 hours per) vs. what I can reasonably charge for one. If you're interested, you can PM me - I may have enough parts around to put together a full kit ;)
Wow, what a brilliant instructable. Really appreciate how much work you put into this. Thanks so much for sharing.
sauwen3 years ago
Nice job!! I love the intricate details involved.
bucklipe3 years ago
I have to say that this is THE best documented Instructable I have ever seen. Profusely photographed, exceedingly well written and an absolute joy to read. You did a masterful job in taking it from CG to 3D. It is obvious there is a ton of work and multiple tons of attention to detail. I humbly subscribe in the hope of seeing more from you...
jwilliamsen (author)  bucklipe3 years ago
Thank you :) I hope to earn that compliment :)
jmpt973 years ago
What program is that??
jwilliamsen (author)  jmpt973 years ago
The original model was built in Hash's Animation:Master. The model was exported as an OBJ then imported into Softimage for cleanup.
tinker2343 years ago
amazing job really fasnited about cleaning up a 3d print
RSV263 years ago
why did you choose person, who is it??
jwilliamsen (author)  RSV263 years ago
I'm not totally sure what you're asking - but - it's a character I modeled for fun, based on a fantasy art painting.
ok i thought its a carictor from a game
Fred_T3 years ago
Nice work!
jwilliamsen (author)  Fred_T3 years ago
Thanks! It was a *lot* of work ;)