Remix the Thingiverse in Virtual Reality





Introduction: Remix the Thingiverse in Virtual Reality

Like the record-sampling craze that spawned hip hop music in the late 70's, a suite of tools - both hardware and software - has entered the marketplace that allows anyone to "remix" and redeploy 3D content. Virtual reality, and Oculus's Medium software in particular, makes digital sculpting tools approachable for even the youngest users, while a proliferation of 3D printers (in public libraries, for example) means that the physical realization of customized 3D models is fast, easy, and fun.

This Instructable will show you how to (1) take any of the nearly 1 million free 3D models available on Thingiverse, (2) import them into Oculus Medium for radical customization in virtual reality, and then (3) 3D print that remixed model. Importantly, you don't have to be a CAD designer; a graphic artist; or a software developer to re-imagine the slew of freely available 3D content available online - you just need your imagination.

Step 1: What You Will Need

  • Internet access
    • You can begin your remix from home, by logging on to and browsing the nearly 1 million freely available 3D models.
  • Access to VR (Oculus Rift, Touch Controllers, and Oculus Medium software)
    • Both the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift have programs dedicated to artistic creation, but - with its focus on virtual "clay" (rather than virtual brush-strokes, like Tiltbrush for Rift) creations produced in Medium will mostly likely be easier to 3D print.
  • Access to 3D printer
    • Check out this google map to see which one of the hundreds of public, academic, government, and school libraries near you might have a 3D printer available. In most cases, you will only pay the cost of 3D printer filament, which can be less than color copies!

Step 2: The Thingiverse

While tools like 3D printers and virtual reality are becoming more common (and freely accessible, in many cases) 3D content creation has been, until recently, a task for well-funded experts. High-end 3D scanners, that let you digitize entire environments or generate scans of large geographical landscapes can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, while sophisticated CAD software can take years to master.

Fortunately, free 3D asset repositories - like Sketchfab and Thingiverse - have been growing steadily over the last few years, and, in the case of Thingiverse, you don't even need a login to gain access to hundreds of thousands of 3D models for redesign! Indeed, the Thingiverse relies primarily on the Creative Commons licensing structure, which allows for modification and re-publication of content (in most cases).

To find a foundation model for your VR remix project, follow these steps:

  1. Launch an internet browser of your choice and point it to
  2. Scroll down the Thingiverse homepage to browse their "Featured Collections" for inspiration or type the sort of object you are imagining into the search bar.
  3. Once you've located your base model on Thingiverse, click the "Download all Files" button on the object's page, or, if you are only interested in working with a part of a set of 3D objects, click the "Thing Files" button (about half way down the object page), and manually select which part of the set you want to work with.
  4. Your 3D model file will begin downloading, most likely to your Windows downloads folder.

Step 3: Remixing in VR

Unlike modeling with real clay in the real world, modeling (or remixing existing models) in virtual reality, is a quick, easy, and flexible process. Importantly, your virtual work environment lacks most of the distracting elements that you might associate with a real sculptors studio. In Oculus Medium, you can turn off the horizon line, for example, and the working material (virtual clay) is already gravity-free - regardless of how large your model looks, it's never heavier than the weight of your hands and the Oculus Touch controllers.

There's also an abundance of versatile tools available in Oculus Medium. The primary, additive, functionality of the software centers on the "Clay" tool, which allows the user to add virtual clay, in any shape, to the imported foundation model. But beyond the Clay tool, Oculus Medium gives you instant access to ingenious remix opportunities like the always entertaining "Blend" and "Inflate" tools, which let's you warp and extend any portion of the 3D shape you import or create.

To remix your previously downloaded Thinigverse model, you need to:

  1. Transfer your downloaded 3D base model to a VR-enabled workstation with the Oculus Rift, Touch Controllers, and Oculus Medium software.
  2. Using the Windows file explorer, locate the folder labled "Medium" and drag-and-drop your base model inside the "Medium" parent directory labeled "Reference Meshes".
    • Note: Oculus Medium only supports .obj and .fbx 3D file types for Reference Meshes.
  1. Launch Oculus Medium, put on your VR headset, and "Import to Clay" your imported 3D model.
  2. Begin remixing the model by depressing the trigger button on the right Touch controller.
    • By default, Medium enables the "Clay" tool, so you will see virtual material begin added to the model in the area where your hand is located when you press down on the trigger.
  3. Push "up" on the left Touch controller thumbstick to reveal a multitude of modeling tools. Experiment with those tools and how they apply to your foundation model.
    • If you mess up, don't worry! Undoing any action is as simple as pressing "left" on the same thumbstick.
  4. Press "down" on the the left Touch controller joystick to access the export menu and export an ".obj" file type for downstream 3D printing.

Importantly, all Oculus Touch Controller buttons are viewable in virtual reality, and most actions can be undone, so - by clicking a couple buttons to begin - you should be able to locate most features quickly and without negative impact to your remix.

Step 4: 3D Print Your Creation

Most 3D printers can produce a physical object using the .obj file you have exported from Oculus Medium.

If, like many others you don't yet have a 3D printer at home, libraries are a great place to take that .obj file and finish the process. This useful Google map lists hundreds of locations, across the continental US, where 3D printers can be found. In many cases, access to these resources is public and the user only pays for filament (although material costs are sometimes free as well.

Alternatively, you can send your completed 3D model file away, to a 3D printing service, and have the output mailed back to you. Shapeways is an example of this type of service, and the quality is high, which is reflected in the cost.

Finally, you can prepare your remixed model for many 3D printers at home, prior to visiting a public library for the final print. Since may 3D printers rely on G-Code to guide the motors which build the models from the base up, the free, open source software Cura is a good place to start. Cura will "slice" your remixed model, and make it readable by 3D printers, and you can also get a feel for scale and orientation of the final print.

Note: Any portion of your model that is wider than a portion below it will require the inclusion of support material in Cura, prior to 3D printing. This is because the common FDM-type printers work from the ground up, and cannot print on open air (e.g. overhang).

Step 5: Conclusion

That's it - you've successfully remixed the Thingiverse in Virtual Reality!!!

What's more: you are part of a growing revolution the way people perceive ownership and re-imagining of public digital content. Take the recent New York Times article "Virtual Vandalism" (photo credit: Sebastian Errazuriz, on Instagram). Recently, graffiti artist Sabastion Errazuriz took exception to a Snapchat-sponsored sculpture that was deployed, in an augmented reality app, in Central Park. Errazuriz released a tagged (graffiti-ed) version of the same Jeff Koons balloon dog on a competing AR app as “...a symbolic stance against an imminent augmented reality corporate invasion".

In some ways, Thingiverse is like Central Park. Both are publicly accessible "spaces" where 3D content now can be uploaded and downloaded (or overlayed, in the case of AR). Mr. Errazuriz, then, was executing the same creative freedom that this Instructable describes...and you can too!



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Clever way to blend designs. I hope you will do more mash ups in the future.