Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Primer On 3D Production, Part Three

Another wall of text.  This is the third in this series, a basic primer in 3D production.

Here's Part One.  Here's Part Two.

On we go...

While it's important to have the right file format (STL works for me), it's probably more important to have the right file maker, i.e. "Digital Sculptor."

I love the artwork that most CGI artists create. There are amazing examples out there, covering every possible genre in existence.

Like I stated before, though, those pretty pictures, and the meshes they result from, are usually not oriented for printing or production.

Let's focus on that last word. Production. As in, mass production.

CGI artists can make beautiful, hyper-realistic figures as one-shot maquettes, or for portfolio purposes, but if you want to sell more than one, things have to be done to facilitate molding.

At some point, you're going to have to say to yourself, "Yeah, that looks great, but how the hell is it going to cast?"

There are many methods of molding, but it usually comes down to the main three: rubber molding for gravity casting, rubber molding for spin-casting, and injection molding.

3D prints and hand-sculpts, done properly, can be used to form cavities in rubber molding.  Injection molding tooling usually requires a cnc machine to cut your cavity out of aluminum or steel.

To make parts for mass production, you've got to know about parting lines for molding, either hard or soft molds.
Paint flow on the end product.
Interior pockets.
Mold rippers.
Open space on a hull for nose art or unit decals.
Panel line depth.
Generational losses of detail between remasterings.
Minimum detail sizes.
Prototype materials and temperature ratings.
CNC tooling limitations and draft angles if you're going to have this machined.

The list goes on and on, and if you want to make more than one figure, you're going to have to take all of the above into account when you're designing and sculpting.

Now, don't be intimidated or overwhelmed. It's pretty easy to use techniques that compensate for the above.

Study epoxy "greens" hand-sculpted by folks you admire (like Kev White or PF, for example). Look at unassembled model kits to see how the pros at Bandai or Hasegawa do it. Search out online digital and manual sculpting tutorials.

Parts breakdowns on resin or garage kits show how others have done it.

Even some of the smaller injection molding companies give design guidance, like Protolabs.

There's a lot of information out there for production design. It's like drinking from a firehose, I know, but it will help you make a better designer and product producer.

If you're running a company, and want people to make these things for you, don't just hand your project to someone you meet via a forum who will work for dirt cheap.

A vetting process is required, whether you're flush with cash from a massively-funded Kickstarter, or a guy working two jobs to pay a sculptor to make your vision come to life.

Like I've said in the second post of this series, I've been handed garbage files that were done by folks who did beautiful artwork, but didn't orient things for production. It's a nightmare.

Your file needs to be oriented, from the ground up, to be made with production in mind by people who know what they're doing.

Ask for photos of printouts or examples of mass-production work.

Ask your service bureau who they might recommend.

Making pretty pictures isn't enough. They have to know the fundamentals of design, production, and prototyping, not just arranging ones and zeros.

To summarize, I'm not disparaging other artists or their work, but showing that a sculptor needs to not just have talent, but know how to apply that talent to the production process.

Also, Mr. Contos, a fellow digital sculptor, has some excellent thoughts on the subject...


Concluded In Part 4:  Molding.
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