Monthly Archives: May 2014

Baby’s First Mace

I’ve been waiting for an excuse to print Dutchmogul’s most excellent Baby’s First Mace, easily in the top five of Designs I Wish I’d Thought of First. Some friends recently obliged by welcoming a baby into this world.


Dutchmogul designed the mace with a pommel, handle, and head to make multicolored printing easy. I stopped the head print halfway through to drop a few black beans inside. Now they’re stuck in there for the lifetime of the biodegradable PLA and make for a lovely rattle.


We packed up the mace with some fresh onesies (note: autocorrect changes onesies to onuses, which is quite telling) and some fine coffee for the benefit of the newly sleepless mom and dad, and sent the package off to darkest Michigan in order to begin the child’s medievalist indoctrination posthaste.

Pro tip: when purchasing new baby clothes as a gift, be an outlier– everyone else will be buying fancy 0-3 month dinosaur outfits, but the haggard parents will very much appreciate your gift of plain white 4-6 month onesies down the road when baby starts pooping for real.

Curiasser and curiasser

Faire Play backer rewards are all I’m thinking about these days. The Athena Makeover Kits are done and should be winging their way towards my midrange backers shortly, and now I’m printing a suit of field plate armor for one of my top backers. My printer is working on a lovely pair of sabatons in the background as I type this.

Nothing’s ever completely straightforward at this level of 3D printing, and of course now I’ve got a strange little gremlin that didn’t surface the last time I printed a cuirass: I’m getting a small line up the side of the print where my printer’s print head stops, lifts, and begins a new layer. Take a look at the cuirass on the left.

cuirass lines

I’m doing my best to make this suit as nice as possible and I’m aesthetically offended by artifacts of the printing process like this one.

What’s wrong here? The geometry hasn’t changed since the first print, the filament’s exactly the same, and as far as I know I’m using the same slicing algorithm. I have replaced a worn-out print nozzle, but I can’t imagine that’d be the source of the issue. I’ve changed every setting I can think of and I’m still getting this weird little printing track.

Truth be told, it’s a fairly minor aesthetic problem in the grand scheme of things and now that I look at the original armor I do see some traces of this artifact there, too.

Even if it can’t be completely eliminated, it can at least be put on the back side where it’s less visible. The best way to do this is to just rotate the model 180° around the Z axis before printing. Easy peasy: take a gander at the cuirass on the right.

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

My maternal grandfather was a painter. Not by trade but by passion; by day he designed lingerie patterns in The City and by night he retreated to his Bronx basement to exorcise his demons with oils and canvas. Or so my narrative of his life goes, cobbled together from snippets told by his wife and children.

Grandpa Joe died of cancer when I was six, so I never had the opportunity to know him well. My strongest memories of him are of the kind man who walked us to the corner candy store on every visit, and of the dried soil in the flowerpot next to his sickbed, dappled with orange seeds.

The smell of cigar smoke still conjures hazy, pleasant images of his presence.

To this day you can’t attend a family gathering without seeing one of Grandpa Joe’s paintings. Every uncle and aunt had (and still has) at least one of his pieces, every one a silent witness to history, now thoroughly infused with lasagna fumes and family drama. Some have even filtered down to grown grandchildren; we have one proudly displayed in an honored spot in my house.

One of his grandest works hung in our home throughout my upbringing. It’s a huge painting by a six-year-old’s standards, and still looms larger in my mind than it actually is. He painted this in 1946, in a world still reeling from war.


There are two distinct sides in this conflict; left and right are rendered differently in style and tone. Panicked innocents flee from the blast of a fantastic sunset in the center. Michelangelo’s God touches no Adam here and instead judges from the middle of the battle.

Staring down from the family room wall, this painting spoke to me like Sauron’s Eye to Frodo.

“I see you,” it rasped.

I’ve felt this painting’s pull all my life. If computers hadn’t caught on in the 80’s I’d have eventually made a living airbrushing heavy metal scenes on vans. But despite years of 10 PRINT "HELLO", the notion that I could be an artist myself had already been planted in my head by Grandpa Joe’s work.

Grandpa excelled at painting details. Look at the capitals of the columns on either side of the painting and you’ll see delicate details and almost-arabesques. These are exactly the kind of decorative motifs I’d like to include in the Faire Play parade armor. Another painting has an appropriate flourish I’d like to include as an homage to my precursor, so I’ll burgle from this:


My guess is that this is a depiction of the Virgin Mary appearing to my uncle and mother as children. I don’t think this is a rendering of an actual event, because you can bet your britches if Mom had witnessed a Marian apparition we’d have heard about it every Thanksgiving for the last 40 years.

Here’s the detail that I’d like to use as a recurring motif, from the lower left of the painting.

flourish sample

My old workflow for this involved tracing the flourish in Illustrator, importing the EPS, creating a planar trim and then tessellating to produce a polygon model. That’s the quick and easy path, but ultimately that journey is beset by N-gons and nonmanifold geometry, difficult to seamlessly join to an existing model.

Instead I’ll bring the image into Maya and trace the outline with the combination of Create Polygon tools, edge extrusion, and vertex pulling. This helps me to keep a model that’s built exclusively out of quads; it’s much less likely to cause me problems later on when I boolean the many flourishes into the base cuirass mesh.

flourish grow

This is going to be a slow, but easy, process, so I sip my coffee, put in the earbuds and some Quirks and Quarks podcasts, and achieve Csíkszentmihályi’s flow as I work. Twenty minutes later I have this.

finished flourish

The translated flourish doesn’t fit the space in the armor exactly, so it needs a little lattice work to deform it to the space above the bird’s wing.

flourish molded

And finally some extrusion and mirroring and it’s ready to become part of the parade armor.

extruded and mirrored

I’ll be appropriating details from both of these paintings over the next few weeks while I decorate the Faire Play parade armor.

A note to my future grandchildren, yet unconceived, osmosing this post with retinal HUDs on the shores of Central Park: do not judge my low-resolution geometry too harshly, and please pilfer your ancestors’ work to better your own.

Also, thanks to Dad for photographing the paintings and sending them my way.

Shielding Backers From Fugliness

First, you should totally join The Horde to keep up-to-date on the comings and goings at Zheng Labs.

The Horde is a relatively low-volume, high signal, low-noise mailing list, maybe one email a month with a digest of blog posts and whatever other interesting 3D printing scrapple I can sweep off the abattoir floor for you. Also: Horde members will be the first to hear about Zheng3 Kickstarter #2.

And now on to show-booty-bidness: I’ve been hindered by a repetitive stress injury for the last week or so, a remnant of my mouse-using days that flares up if I do too much high-detail work without resting.

Creating the selection masks for the parade armor’s cuirass is exacting work, and interesting enough that I postpone my RSI breaks for JUST ONE MORE EDGE LOOP AND THEN I’LL STOP I PROMISE.

Sometimes intense focus is a recipe for injury, and frankly I should know better by this point in my career. A fortnight ago the pain finally got bad enough to force me away from the Wacom tablet for a while.

But in this business you hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie, to the hip hip-hop and you don’t stop. You. Do. Not. Stop, not while you’ve got backer rewards to print and shipping infrastructure to be laid down.

So with NSAIDs and ice packs and my good wrist I kept going on the boring stuff, and finally this morning the wrist has healed enough to send me back to creative work.

I’m printing a suit of field plate for a backer right now and I’m displeased with the shield’s attachment point. My original design was good enough to be photographed (you don’t see the attachment in any of the photographs I’ve released so far) but now that I’m sending a piece of physical art out to a backer I can’t bear to let my name be attached to this fugliness:

fugly shield

That’s the mortise where a forearm cuff snaps into the shield. There are two problems with it: first, it violates the 45° rule, which means the printer can’t handle the slope as it builds up layer by layer.

Second, the mortise is too wide for the printer to bridge easily once it hits that 90° bend at the top.

This needs a few little geometry edits, like so:

shield geometry edits

First, make that slope a little less than 45 degrees. Second, add a little peak to the mortise so that the printer can handle the bridge a little bit at a time. Note that the shield prints upside-down: sometimes the best orientation for printing isn’t the most intuitive way to design a model.

A shield can take a while to print, so I’ll cut down the geometry and try it with a test piece first. This piece is skinny and likely to fall over while it’s printing, so I extruded a little brim on the bottom to keep it stable.

shield test

Fantastico! This works. The squiggly deformations on the left side of the test print tell me I have a little bit of temperature fine-tuning to do with this roll of filament, but I think I’m ready to try a final print of the shield:

shield fixed

I’ll incorporate the new shield attachment into both the field plate and the parade armor.