Introduction: Terraforming Mars With 3 Stages | Tinkercad Scene Design

About: I have been teaching 3D modeling and 3D printing classes at schools, libraries and Toysinbox 3D Printing for more than 5 years. I also designed many 3D modeling & 3D printing project-based teaching materia…

Recently, I ran a 3D design & 3D printing zoom summer camp themed around space from June 22 - June 26. We met online via Zoom for around 2 hours every day.

From Day 1 through Day 4, I led the students to finish specific projects, so students learnt the basics of using Tinkercad. Day 5 was different - instead, I gave them a topic with loose instructions, letting the students figure out how to design on their own. The topic was "Terraforming the Red Planet - To Mars".

I checked their work periodically, pointing out errors, answering questions, making sure the design is 3D printable, etc. The task was to make hexagonal tiles, with each representing a resource or environment on Mars. The tiles could be made into lakes, volcanos, forest, early settlements, underground gardens, mining sites, cities, and more. Students would use Tinkercad's scribble and extrusion tools to generate organic shapes.

My repeat student Joshua Yang (10th grade) found the project truly engaging. He tackled the task in his unique way, and the work he finished is beyond my imagination. When Joshua told me he wanted to enter Distance Learning with Tinkercad Contest with his Day 5 project after he saw a notice on, I supported his decision. Joshua’s work is original, imaginary and quite artistic. It shows that you can do very challenging, complex 3D designs with just Tinkercad. Joshua has participated and helped out in our 3D Design & 3D Printing classes for a few years.

The following writeup is from Joshua. I hope you guys enjoy his work and get inspired.

[Edit] Here is the link for the Mars terrain that Joshua created (link was hidden away in the comments)

Feel free to build and design your own Mars city with it. The terrain was the most time consuming portion of the design, so he was willing to share it. There's lots of other places to get building designs if you don't want to create them yourself. We'd love to see what you do with the base!

Step 1: Building the Terrain

I used a hexgrid as the base shape of my scenes. For each layer of the terrain, I pieced together countless extrusions (featured Shape Generator) to achieve natural curves. I built each layer on top of each other, using the lower layer as reference.

Step 2: Building the Terrain (Creating the Curves)

So how did I use extrusions to create curves? I first used a pair of extrusion shapes, adjusting their shapes with the handles and control points found in the inspector panel. These would serve as the base shape I was creating.

Next, I created a crescent-shaped extrusion and positioned it so that it would "complete" the curve between the two previous extrusion shapes.

Afterwards, I used two hole boxes to cut away the excess of the crescent-shaped extrusion.

Finally, I grouped everything together.

Step 3: Building the Terrain (Cont.)

The hexgrid was constructed from 7 carefully positioned hexagons (Polygon in Basic Shapes).

In the images above, each layer of the terrain is displayed in both ungrouped and grouped forms. You can see all the individual extrusion pieces that were used to create the smooth curves. I used the same technique discussed in the previous step to achieve this. The layers were clipped to the base hexgrid shape with an inverted hole hexgrid. The colors are from a custom burnt orange gradient.

With so many shapes in the model (all the countless extrusion shapes), Tinkercad was already lagging. My solution was to export each layer as an STL and importing them back into Tinkercad. This cuts back on the editor lag significantly and is a great tip for those who are working on large projects. Don't forget to have backup copies of the original objects!

Step 4: Establishing Terrain Variants

The second scene depicts early terraforming on the original Mars terrain. Temperature of the planet will be brought up, and the canyon could be filled with water. To achieve the "water" look, I used a duplicate of the hexgrid base but colored it blue and made it transparent. Using two transparent duplicates deepens the shade of the water. The color of the terrain's top layer is also shifted.

Step 5: Establishing Terrain Variants (Cont.)

The third, final scene depicts a late-stage terraformed Mars terrain. The water remains from the second scene, but with a suitable, life-supporting atmosphere, plants can grow. Thus, the top layers of terrain are now colored green, and the soil is lighter.

Step 6: Filling the Original Colony

The original colony is located mainly within a canyon. Terraforming has yet to begin. Infrastructure must fill the canyon and have connections to the outside. There are four categories of buildings in my theorized colony: residential, agricultural, industrial, and infrastructure. These features will be discussed in greater detail in the next four steps.

Note: all the buildings are constructed out of 4 basic shapes: Box, Cylinder, Half Sphere, and Round Roof.

Step 7: Original Colony: Residential Buildings

The residential buildings are the large, central buildings located throughout the canyon. They contain the living quarters and facilities needed for extended human habitat. They feature large domed roofs (Half Sphere from Basic Shapes) which are strong and provide more usable area for humans. Additionally, another residential building is built into the canyon-side.

Step 8: Original Colony: Agricultural Buildings

The small rectangular buildings dispersed around the other buildings in the canyon colony are dedicated for agriculture. They sport glass roofs (Transparent color setting) to capitalize on what sunlight can reach the buildings. These modular buildings are squeezed in any available space.

Step 9: Original Colony: Industrial Buildings

The colony needs industry to be self-sufficient and have the capacity to grow. There are mines located on top of the canyon which supply raw material to be processed. However, in the canyon, there are domed, modular buildings which contain various industries: material processing, manufacturing, refining, and more. They are located throughout the colony.

Step 10: Original Colony: Infrastructure Buildings

First, there are bridges that span the canyon which allow for transportation from one canyon side to the other on the surface. There are buildings on both sides of the canyon that need access.

Second, there are a multitude of massive elevators which transport people, vehicles, material, and more up and down the canyon. Many elevators are located throughout the canyon to provide for the growing flow of things that need to be transported.

Third, large tunnels connect all the different buildings together in the colony. They are large enough for both vehicle and humans to travel through.

Finally, the entire colony is nuclear powered. A nuclear power plant is located off to the side, away from the colony.

Step 11: Original Colony: Complete

The original colony is now finished. On to the early terraforming stage!

Step 12: Filling the Early-Stage Terraforming Colony

One of the first steps of terraforming is raising the planet's temperature to the "goldilocks" range which is suitable for life. This will allow us to fill the canyon with water to create a body of water. The atmosphere is still insufficient to support human life, so the entire colony still must be enclosed.

Infrastructure must all be moved out of the canyon and into the surrounding land. Again, there are four categories of buildings in the second stage of my theorized colony: residential, agricultural, industrial, and infrastructure. These are essentially the same as in the original colony. These features will be revisited in greater detail in the next three steps.

Step 13: Early-Stage Terraforming Colony: Residential & Agricultural Buildings

In the second stage of the colony, I experimented with a concept of integrating the residential and agricultural buildings together. Features remain similar to the corresponding buildings in the original colony, minus integration. Developments in resources and technology allow for larger, more elegant buildings. I used an increased amount of transparent shapes and lighter colors to emphasize this point.

Step 14: Early-Stage Terraforming Colony: Industrial Buildings

The colony's industry will obviously expand. As technologies improve and resources become more readily available, industrial buildings will grow larger and more complex to suit the needs of the colony.

Step 15: Early-Stage Terraforming Colony: Infrastructure Buildings

First, bridges and pathways again connect the parts of the colony.

Second, the nuclear reactor has been moved up to the surface as well, a little distance away from the rest of the buildings. It is accessible across the body of water via a bridge.

Finally, airlocks are all around the colony and connect the industrial and agricultural/residential sections together via vehicle.

Step 16: Early-Stage Terraforming Colony: Complete

The early terraforming stage is now finished. On to the late terraforming stage!

Step 17: Filling the Late-Stage Terraforming Colony

By late-stage terraforming, the atmosphere is suitable for life. There is no longer a need for a closed network of buildings sealed off from the outside. Thus, less infrastructure is needed. Expansion and building now have new-found freedoms.

Again, there are four categories of buildings in the later stage of my theorized colony: residential, agricultural, industrial, and infrastructure. These features will be described in greater detail in the next four steps.

Step 18: Late-Stage Terraforming Colony: Residential Buildings

Without the need for airlocks or a tunnel network connecting sealed buildings, building design is freer and aesthetics are no longer an afterthought. With the corrected atmosphere, extreme weather should be tempered too. Skyscrapers can rise and are increasing in number.

Step 19: Late-Stage Terraforming Colony: Agricultural Buildings

Finally, crops can be planted outside in the ground. Circular crop fields are used for efficient watering and fertilizing. They conserve space, and are suitable for field crops. Other crops can be grown in vertical layers in buildings under more controlled conditions as well. Grain bins and silos are located around the area for food storage.

Step 20: Late-Stage Terraforming Colony: Industrial Buildings

Again, the colony's industry will obviously expand further. As technologies improve even more, industrial buildings will grow more and more complex.

Step 21: Late-Stage Terraforming Colony: Infrastructure Buildings

First, bridges are still needed to cross the body of water. The nuclear reactor remains unchanged. Overall, there is less infrastructure since the outside climate is no longer a problem to deal with. Roads, however, are a new factor to think of.

Step 22: Late-Stage Terraforming Colony: Complete

The late terraforming stage is finished!

Step 23: Stages of Evolution

Here are the three scenes put together for a final, comparison view. Hope you all liked it!

Distance Learning with Tinkercad Contest

Fifth Prize in the
Distance Learning with Tinkercad Contest