Our life depends on the energy from the sun. We are only one step removed from the photosynthetic process of the plants that we consume. The solar energy harnessed by flora lives on inside our body, distributed through veins like roots in the earth.
This was the inspiration for my Prosody Flora, or Foot Plant. I created a 3D scan of a foot with Autodesk 123D Catch, which I edited in Autodesk Meshmixer. I then brought the cleaned mesh geometry into Rhino modeling software to manipulate the surface with the parametric plug-in Grasshopper. The goal was to create a surface on the foot that resembled a plant. Lastly, I create clear resin 3D prints to use as a container for a plant that could grow hydroponically, so that its roots could be seen through the translucent foot surface.
Step 1: Scan Foot – 123D Catch
To scan the foot, I used the free Autodesk software 123D Catch. This can be done with a smartphone application, or as I chose, to take photos and upload them into the desktop application. To get a good 3D digital model, it is important to have even lighting on the object to be scanned, have photographs taken at regular intervals around the object at different vantage points, and have enough photos (30-70).
Step 2: Mesh Edit – Meshmixer
The mesh geometry from the scan can be exported from 123D Catch as a .obj file, which can then be imported directly into Meshmixer. The scanned geometry will likely have artifacts that need to be removed. I first start with the Cut Plane tool to remove the ground or connected surface. I then use the brush selection tool to delete the remaining unwanted geometry. The mesh “self heals,” which is a convenient feature. Lastly, I went into the Sculpt tool to work on getting more detail from the toe area. I used Refine to add more mesh and Draw to push and pull the surface to resemble toes.
Step 3: Surface Manipulation
I exported the mesh geometry from Meshmixer and brought it into Rhino modeling software. Here, I hollowed the object and then thickened the mesh surface for 3D printing. I then created a series of surface manipulations with the parametric plug-in Grasshopper, to obtain surface textures that resembled plant skin. For these operations, Weaverbird was especially useful.
Step 4: Mesh Export .stl
Grasshopper is notorious for outputting messy meshes. After modeling, I brought the mesh back into Meshmixer to run an analysis. Many of the surfaces had problems. Some of which I was able to solve in Rhino with Mesh Repair. For others, I used Meshmixer and Mesh Lab. Unfortunately, not all of my surface geometry was compatible with 3D printing, resulting in errors.
Step 5: 3D Print
I used an Objet 500 Connex resin 3D printer with material Vero Clear. Out of my four feet surface typologies, only one had a major fail in 3D printing. However, the open lattice with polygonal mesh frames proved too difficult to clean all of the support material out cleanly. A lye solution helped, but ultimately dissolved some of the mesh frame. A larger and thicker mesh with reduced polygon count would have likely solved this problem.
Step 6: Plants!
As I was working on creating the models and 3D feet prints, I was simultaneously experimenting with hydroponically growing edible plants. I initially wanted to have herbs or leafy greens growing out of the feet to draw a direct connection to the phrase “we are what we eat.” Unfortunately, I ended up killing them all. A more experienced hydroponic gardener would likely have had more success. So, I decided on tillandsias for the small feet and a Paper White for the large one. I was happy that at least this foot would smell good. The plant has taken off, growing inches a day and the roots are starting to fill the foot. More photos to come soon….