Challenge Accepted

While brainstorming product ideas that could be created with our 3D printer, we came up with an idea for figurines that could be customized to look like people's original characters. We thought that if you could just paint one head and then buy new bodies for the head, it would be like your character was putting on new outfits.

Project Art
Project Art

PICKABODS

Since the heads were supposed to be removable and interchangeable with new bodies, we decided to name them "Pickabods" as a play on the "pick a body" concept, as well as a reference to Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. At first we also wanted to be able to switch out the arms so I had to figure out how to sculpt the body with pegs to connect limbs, and the head.

Measuring Up

The first major challenge that we encountered is that ZBrush does not have any fixed scaling, unlike in Maya there are no units of measurement. This meant that there was no reliable way to create parts for a figure that would for sure fit together when printed separately. To try and overcome this, I created a radial measuring stick.

Project Art
Project Art

Each stick is composed of little cones and large cones threaded onto it, measuring out 5mm per set. When imported into the scenes, it could be scaled so that figure's height would match the maxium dimension of 130mm along one arm of the measuring tool. As I created each part of the figurine, I used the sticks to guide maxium dimensions.

Forging Ahead

We quickly realized after a few prototype prints that the smaller neck and arm pegs were too flimsy and would often break off inside the connecting parts. We opted to make the neck of the figurine act as one large peg inserted into the head which could be lifted off and swapped out easily.

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Project Art

To create the hole in the head so that it would match the diameter of the neck-peg, I had to learn how to use dynamesh groups to subtract the neck shape from the head mesh, as seen above. Once I learned how to use this method, I was able to create more heads and subtract the same hole in each one.

Measurements

I used polypaint to mark on my measuring sticks how far out from the center point the subtools extended. Using these measurements, I would export my STL files with the correct milimeters in preperation for printing.

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Project Art

Being Patient

Each prototype print took an average of 7 hours to print. It was hard to tell if the prototype would fit together properly or if the parts would be durable enough until the print was completed and could be handled. As seen in this photo, the results were sometimes disappointing. It was hard to have waited 7 hours only to have the peg break off inside the head.

Each failed print lead to some reimagining of how the figure should piece together and what techniques worked better or more efficiently.

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Project Art

Take two

Adjustments were made to the body type and scale so that the figurine could balance better and be free standing. The arms were not staying on as removable parts, so we decided to nix that idea and have them be connected to the body as solid pieces.

The concept of having the head be removable while the neck acted as a peg, seemed to work in the prototype tests printed based off this second set of models. The next step was to dress the bodies in clothing and pose them.

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Project Art

New Issues Arise

Although we had solved for the head issue, we began having problems with the quality of the 3D prints. The layers of filament were not sticking together well on the undersides of the model.

The head for some unknown reason, came out much larger than anticipated. But... we liked it. Unfortunately it was top heavy, the head was too loose, and the figurine would often topple over.

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Project Art

The interchangeable heads were a neat idea, but we were unable to isolate and resolve the mysterious "enlarged head" printing that kept occuring.

The issues with the poor quality of the prints also seemed magnified at the larger scale. We had to make the difficult decision to table the idea of the interchangable heads at that time and move forward with creating the figurines as a single piece to still be offered as a slightly different product. Printing the heads and bodies connected would necessitate reducing their overall height.

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Project Art

persistence

Over the course of creating the prototype prints, there's a lot that can go wrong. It was not unusual to wait a few hours for a print and then go to check on it ... only to walk in on a filament "nest" waiting for you ontop of, below, or all over the printing bed. It was good practice for taking a breath, taking a walk, getting over the frustration quickly, and starting over.

The last one

As a last ditch effort to try and resolve the print issues we tried using the "full support" option. This meant while the model printed it was encased in thin gills of filament structure that would need to be torn away in sheets to reveal if the print was succcessful.

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Project Art

To be continued...

While the print quality had vastly improved using full support structures... there were still enough defects in the 3D print that it would be unsuitable to sell. Pieces were overall delicate due to their small scale, and we snapped the figurine's feet right off at her ankles trying to sand her smooth. Despite the months of work put into this project and a strong desire to bring this product to market, we had to weigh the level of effort against the returns. Between the time needed to print each figurine and the unsatisfactory results, we had to put the project into the "parking lot" until we can afford a better printer... and solve for the mystery of the giant heads.

Copyright © Tim Grey