I was watching the 2013 Hugo ceremony livestream when I made an offhand joke that I should have a base design in mind, just in case I was ever asked. And that would have been that, except 2 things happened:
1) Spokane won the Worldcon bid. I grew up in Spokane. I went to my first con in Spokane. I'd be a local artist! And it would be the closest Worldcon to Seattle (where I live) in over 50 years, so I was definitely going.
2) A great design idea popped into my head.
I had to make it happen. It was a moral imperative.
See, every year the base of the Hugo Award is different. The rocket is always the same, but the Hugo Committee gets to decide on their own base. For the last ~10 years this has tended to be done through an open competition instead of a direct commission. So if you want to make a base, you just have to apply, usually sometime the previous winter.
That's what I did. And on August 22, 2015, twenty seven Hugos mounted on my base were handed out. Here's how I made them.
(Note: You might want to check the tutorial on making metal gaming dice I did earlier this year, as it covers many of the same processes.)
The image I had in mind was a kind of spiky, tessellated... something. Rocket blast, maybe, or the central plateau of Washington state, surrounded by mountains. I wanted to leave it ambiguous.
My first step was experimenting with various 3D design tools. I had a decent amount of CAD experience through my job, but I wanted something a bit more freeform than that. I tried Blender again, which had scared me off in the past. This time I stuck it out through the terrible learning curve and actually ended up kind of liking it. It's certainly very powerful, and having a tool that is also good for rendering scenes has been very useful when I'm applying to public art RFPs.
I included a model of the Hugo rocket in the design, so I could judge the full effect better. I later ended up getting a version of it 3D printed to go with my prototype base. I based the rocket model off the official spec sheet. The fins are a bit too thin compared to the real thing, but the overall dimensions are quite good.
Once I was happy with the design, I needed to find a way to "unfold" it into individual polygons. I had heard of the Japanese papercraft program Pepakura being used by costumers to make armor, so I tried that. It worked -- and it even let me test my design in paper first! I'm glad it did, because this let me refine the design in a very fast and cheap way. Things always look different in real life.