Introduction: 3D Dog Sculptures

About: I'm a designer/fabricator working in the Waterloo Region of Ontario, Canada. Currently working on practicing my TIG welding, CNC production, and working on bringing some small stainless steel products to marke…

This instructable is going to be a writeup about the process I took to make several planar sculptures, and how the project has moved from creating objects that are simply formal to objects that are functional with an interesting formal quality.

This project is based around the use of the Autodesk 123D suite of apps, particularly 123D Catch and 123D Make. I also extensively used Meshmixer, a sandbox app at the time (now a fully fledged member of the 123D suite) to repair and modify my models.

This project was essentially my first attempt at amorphous 3D models, and also my first time utilizing any sort of digital fabrication. There was a bit of a learning curve, but it was lessened by the intuitive qualities of the 123D suite and all of the video tutorials available online.

Step 1: The Beginning

This whole project started 2 years ago, in Grade 11 art class. We were given a project; to create a planar sculpture. The sculpture could be whatever we wanted, it simply had to be constructed out of sheets of a material.

I had seen a couple instructables using the 123D suite before, so I did a bit more looking around to see how difficult it would be to make something with it. I had already decided on the form of my dog, so I figured that to make it have the complexity and definition that I wanted using a computer program would faster than trying to figure everything out by hand.

Step 2: 123D Catch

This program was indispensable to me during the entire process. Because I had no prior experience with organic 3D modeling, Catch helped me create the basis for my sculptures. It got me started with the general shape which I was able to repair and modify in the next stage.

Using the application is rather simple. You can use their phone app or you can use a camera and upload the images to their website from a computer. Either way, you simply take photos from all angles, making sure to not leave anything out. Then the photos are uploaded to the program's servers and the images are processed. Eventually, the images are formed into a 3D mesh and you can download the result.

Step 3: Meshmixer

The next stage in the process was to repair and modify the mesh created by Catch. The mesh needs to be repaired, because at the moment it lacks a bottom and it probably has a few holes. I used Meshmixer for this. I struggled a bit at first:Meshmixer isn't nearly as hands-off or intuitive as Catch. It took a while for me to get the hang of using the different tools to create the effects that I was looking for. Eventually, I was able to produce result that I thought would look good, so I exported it in .obj and moved on to 123D Make.

Step 4: 123D Make

The final stage on the computer was actually creating the parts. 123D Make takes 3D models and cuts them into interlocking, stacking or folding planes. This was probably the easiest part in the whole process. All I had to do was correct the scale, choose my construction technique, adjust spacing and then play with the angle of the slices. Then I exported the files as a pdf.

Step 5: Now the Tricky Bit...

I didn't take any pictures of this, as I never figured on turning it into an instructable. My school was lucky enough to have been given a low power laser-cutter by the schoolboard, and I was lucky enough that it was always available because nobody knew how to use it. However, this also made this the most time consuming and difficult part of the whole creation of the sculpture.

There was a lot of troubleshooting for me to do. The first thing was that I couldn't get the laser to cut vectors, it kept trying to engrave them as rasters. This was partly because I had to export from Corel Draw, a program that I had never used, and partly because when I placed the pdf file the line weight was guessed by the program. I eventually solved the problem by setting all of my line weights to 0.00.

After that, all I had to do was play with the setting and with different materials to find a way to get a nice cut. I eventually chose to use black and white mount board (or museum board) to create my model.

Then the only thing left to do was get it cut out and assembled. Because of the low power of the laser I spent 6+ hours cutting, skipping my morning class to watch the laser to make sure that I didn't accidentally start a fire or ruin my parts. Then I spent another 3+ hours assembling and crazy-gluing everything together. Although the mount board looks nice, I cannot say that I recommend it for this. The assembly took so long because the board is very rough, and the narrow slots are able to tightly grasp the other piece to the point where meshing the slices together seemed impossible at times. If I increased my slice width the pieces would have been too wiggly.

Step 6: First Part Finished

After all of the time and effort spent on this project, I was very happy to get it finished. I made a stand for it with walnut and stainless steel, and took a long break from using the laser.

Step 7: Part Two

Just after I thought I was done with making cardboard dogs, it was time for our art summative. The summative was to be a revisitation of any of the projects we had done over the semester, and because I felt that my most rewarding project was my planar sculpture I decided to expand on it. This time I also played around with the radial construction technique.

Even though I had to make many more parts, the process went much faster this time. Because I had done everything before I was able to avoid most of my past mistakes and make everything more efficiently. Again I chose to mount the sculptures on walnut with stainless steel risers. Because these sculptures were much larger and heavier than the original I had to make the bonds to the stainless steel with Sugru so that it would act as a shock absorber and the pieces couldn't simply snap off. I also used the Sugru to give the base 3 feet for stability.

Step 8: Part Three

This past Summer I found that I wanted to do something new with the sculpture. I had really taken to the form, and couldn't help but feel that I could do more with it. After a bit of brainstorming I decided to change it up to make a pencil holder.

The changes that I made to the file were to increase the spacing between slices so that pencils can more easily fit and to flatten the bottom to remove the need for a base.

My original idea had been to make the sculpture out of metal, and I went back to this because the pencil holder needed to be much more durable than the mount board version. I chose to use stainless steel, and found a local business that had a water-jet cutter. I got a test done, made some changes to tolerances, and got a bunch of them cut.

The stainless steel was much easier to assemble, because it is strong enough to hammer into the slots. After everything was together a small amount of epoxy was used at each joint to secure the parts in place.

Step 9: Conclusion

Overall, these projects challenged me and forced me to learn a few new skills that I had never needed before. I got my first taste of digital fabrication, and I stepped into the world of organic 3D shapes. The whole thing would have been impossible without the free 3D tools that I found through Instructables, and probably wouldn't have even been imagined without the inspiration from the many other instructables on this topic.

I am extremely happy with the results of this journey; now I have a little sculpture of my dog that I can keep on my desk to keep track of my pencils while I am away at school.

If you are interested I have included the files for both the mount board and stainless steel versions.

Thanks for reading!

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