Digital Aesthetics Recreated in the Physical - CNCed Resin Cast Objects




Introduction: Digital Aesthetics Recreated in the Physical - CNCed Resin Cast Objects

About: Wei Li is an artist and designer that currently lives and works in San Francisco. Li uses her work to explore fantasies and desires with visual, visceral and whimsical language. Incorporating pure sensations...

The specific characteristics of digital tools and machines bring about aesthetics foreign to our everyday experience with the physical world. Inspired by the digital aesthetics, I wanted to recreate a digital world in the physical space, thus blending the two.

In this instructable I'll walk you through my efforts in creating such as world, by combining epoxy resin casting and CNC machining.

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Step 1: The New Aesthetics

The New Aesthetic is a term, coined by James Bridle, used to refer to the increasing appearance of the visual language of digital technology and the Internet in the physical world, and the blending of virtual and physical.

Influenced by the New Aesthetic and inspired by the specific visual characteristics of the 3d modeling software (rhino) I use, I decided to take a digital scene and recreate it in the physical world. But how do I create physical things that look digital instead of looking like the physical manifestation (the product) of the digital model? How do I create unique forms and textures in the physical world that reflect a digital aesthetics?

Incorporating the resin casting techniques I've been experimenting with, I decided to recreate a specific visual feature in the modeling software - zebra analysis. Zebra analysis is used for surface continuity analysis, and as the name suggests, has a distinct black & white stripe pattern of which the density can be adjusted in the software. By working with epoxy resin, a plastic material (a material that can be easily molded or manipulated), I'm able to create black & white stripes of various kinds which resemble the digital zebra pattern. The resin castings are further machined on the 5-axis CNC milling machine at the Pier9 workshop, leaving roughing marks on the final objects and celebrating the intermediate forms created by CAM software rather than by design.

For further readings on the New Aesthetic, visit this essay on Wired and this note from sxsw 2012.

Step 2: Modeling: the Digital Reference

The 3d modeling environment is an infinite space and the ultimate embodiment of plasticity, where any form is possible in any dimensions and scale; it is also an invented context where any two things can go together, creating unique juxtaposition of unrelated objects.

My collection of objects were chosen pretty randomly, but I was mostly choosing everyday objects that aren't related or don't make sense together. The idea was that by creating strange combinations of objects, I can bring the surreal and invented quality of the digital world to the physical. I ended up having vases, boxes, a banana and antlers in the same scene.

Step 3: Prepare Materials: Epoxy Resin Casting

Epoxy resin casting enabled me to create unique materials with various black & white stripes. The process started with a careful planning of how the stock for each object was to be casted. The size of each casting box depends on the dimensions of the final object, as well as how the casted stock will be held on the CNC machine. For example, extra room needs to be added for machining tabs to hold parts in flip machining. For a few casting boxes that will be machined from a different angle to the casting surface (such as from the side), special work holding was designed beforehand.

I experimented with many different casting techniques. A more detailed instructable that introduces these techniques can be found here. Since I was casting 15 stocks all at the same time, I've found that keeping a casting log extremely helpful.

Step 4: CNC Machining 1: Toolpath

I used Autodesk Inventor HSM for toolpathing. Most parts need to be machined from two sides (flip machining), so I added tabs to the 3d models. I'm using the banana as an example here to show the relation between the object and the material stock and how the object is supported in the machining process.

For revolved forms around an axis (a vase, for example), there're two machining strategies:

1) vase in upright position: set a vertical work plane in the middle of the vase. Machine from two sides of the vase. This requires special work holding to raise the material stock high, to avoid collision of the machine head to the machine bed.

2) vase on its side: machine one half of the vase from the top, then flip the stock, and machine the other half. This is the strategy I ended up using.

Step 5: CNC Machining 2: Work Holding & Machining

The images show a few examples of flip machining and their work holdings. I used vises as my main work holding device. When a material stock is machined on one side and then flipped, the structural support becomes much weaker. Now when you machine the other side, it is likely that your part will move or vibrate, causing inaccuracies or worse, completely ruining the result. A quick and dirty way to stabilize your part is to use some clay on the machined side of your stock to support it better (I used Sculpey here).

I chose only to do a roughing path, so that the pixelated roughing marks are highlighted as evidence of a digital process - an intermediate form created by machine simulation instead of by design.

Step 6: Sanding & Finishing

Now the not so pleasant part: sanding. I used sandpaper as well as polishing wheels with Dremel. Wet sanding is recommended to reduce the amount of resin dust as much as possible. When dry sanding is necessary, it's important to clean all dust immediately after the work. Flying epoxy resin dust is very harmful to the human body.

After sanding, I applied several clear coats to the objects, which immediately brought out the color contrast.

Step 7: Set Assembling: Juxtaposing Digital and Physical

The last step is to put the physical objects created based on digital aesthetics back to their "digital" environment. They are arranged in a set resembling the modeling grid. Now I've created a world that blend the virtual and the physical!

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    2 Discussions

    The Art Sherpa
    The Art Sherpa

    5 years ago on Step 7

    This is a genuinely engaging art project. While I would love to run into this work in the real world it was lovely to see the idea and process here! I am curious if you have done a public space project? Either way enjoyable