Tag Archives: squirrel

Getting Lost in the Thicket

Bloxen, Bramble

You can download the .STL file for this model fo’ free, fo’ realz, from The Forge, along with many other Creative Commons-licensed designs. Just head to the Seej fortifications section and start clicking like a dolphin on meth. Knock your mean self out, hoss.

I’ve been doing a lot of simple models lately, like ye olde Semi-Formal Pocket Gear Train or the Bonsai Gibbon. These models are big on concept but easy on execution.

A few weeks ago I cranked out a floral Seej bloxen. Bumping out geometry to make vines is easy and fun, and got me started down another path I’ve been waiting to tread for quite some time.

I’d been feeling the need for an art challenge. How complicated of a model can I make with the tools I have available? Can I keep an excruciatingly complex mesh manifold and, importantly, printable on a Replicator1?

I feel like the tone of press coverage for 3D printing has recently shifted from “gee whiz” to “now what?” My Replicator1, as amazing a machine as it still objectively is by the standards of human technological progress, is beginning to feel dated.

The most complicated model I’ve released so far is the Barrow bloxen, but that thing’s a big honking mess of intersecting faces. It’ll print, but at the mathematical level it’s inelegant and causes me to feel an emotion somewhere between embarrassment and disdain.

I’ve been wanting to create a woodland player race for Seej, and a thicket seems like the kind of thing dryads might use to keep attackers out. So I’ll start fresh and create a tangle of vertices and faces, vine by vine, making sure the mesh remains manifold and printable as I go.

The first step is to start with a template bloxen and freehand draw a base for the model.

bloxen template

Then extrude the base, bevel the edges, and subdivide the mesh to get some sculptable vertices for the next step. Beveling the edges can introduce non-manifold geometry if one isn’t careful, so it’s important to visually inspect the tighter corners of the bevels to make sure edges aren’t accidentally intersecting before subdividing the mesh.

subdivide base

After a little bit of sculpting with Maya’s sculpt geometry tool to make the base a little bumpy, it’s a simple matter to punch out the bloxen’s mortises with a pair of cubes. If I’m careful with the placement of vines later on, this bloxen will stack handily with existing designs.

punch mortises

I’ve got digital skulls all over my hard drive: occupational hazard. Everything’s Better With Skulls, so I’ll add a little bit of art detail here. In hindsight I should have waited to add the rocks until later in the project because their extra geometry interfered with attaching some of the vines to the base.

rocks and skull

The process for adding vines is in theory simple, but in practice increasingly difficult as the thicket gets more dense:

  • draw a NURBS curve
  • extrude a polygon along its length with a twist and a taper
  • add some variation with the sculpt polygon tool
  • smooth the mesh
  • join the vine to the base, other vines, and neighboring geometry

I like to color different elements while I’m working so I can tell what I’ve worked on and what remains to be done. So I draw a gear-like profile for the first vine and extrude it a bit. Once the vine is smoothed those gear teeth will look like gnarly roots.

vine base extruded

I don’t need all the extra geometry created by the gear teeth so I merge some of the vertices to turn my profile poly into an octagon, and then extrude it along a twisty curve.

first vine

I want to rough out the major volumes before I get too tangled up in vines, so I add a squirrel. Everything’s Better With Squirrels.

I’m just going to take a moment to reflect on the fact that due to good planning I have a relatively simple way to add poseable squirrels to just about any model.

pose squirrel

Kestenbaum the squirrel needs a vine to grip, so back to the NURBS curves it is to create a suitably convoluted path.

path for vine

I’ll integrate Kestenbaum’s haunches with the skull’s parietal bones later, off-camera.

Every now and then a vine is going to branch off from the main trunk. The process is similar to extruding along a polygon along a path except I like to cut a hole in the main trunk first, round it off, and then extrude.

branch hole
branch extrude

After much lathering, rinsing, and repeating I’m convinced the workflow I’ve got is mostly sound and maintains a manifold mesh. The viny bloxen is beginning to take shape.

keeping track

I add vine after vine after vine over the next few days, and then get a little bored and decide to add something more interesting. A cylinder helps me block out where a bird’s nest is going to sit.

nest cylinder

And after a little subdividing and sculpting the nest is ready to go in. It needs a few little vines to keep it supported inside the bramble, and of course it wouldn’t be much of a 3d nest without some elongated spheres for eggs.

sculpted nest

Jumping ahead in time a bit, here’s a top-down view of the print before manual cleanup, showing the eggs in situ.


And then I’m back to meticulously adding vines a few at a time and running test prints to make sure the model’s as self-supporting as it can be. After a few weeks of working, an hour here, an hour there, I’m ready to begin adding thorns to the vines.

Moving all those thorns into place by hand (I think there are somewhere around 350 of them) would be way too time consuming, so I settle for a hybrid manual/scripting approach.

I manually go through the mesh and identify the polygon faces where I think a vine needs a thorn, and then write a short MEL script that constrains an instance of the thorn to those worldspace coordinates and then locks the thorn’s y-axis to the average of the faces’ surface normals. It sounds more complicated than it is.

add thorns

Sometimes the surface normal average doesn’t make perfect sense for the thorn’s orientation, so there’s a little bit of manual tweaking for a good 30% of the thorns.

I’m running test prints every few days throughout this process, just to make sure the model was mostly self-supporting. Chances are I missed one or two overhangs, but the density of the vines is such that stray filament strands actually add to the look for the final print.

The almost-final mesh is looking quite gnarly.


Because I am a homonin of questionable morels, I add a few mushrooms hidden inside the bramble so that others can experience the joy of finding them. These 3d fungi are far more detailed than they need to be at this resolution, but I’m planning to make a Dryad battle flag in the same style later so my small extra investment in time won’t be wasted.

xray shroom

The mesh has dozens of tiny holes created by Maya’s boolean operations, mostly at junctions between vines. I fix these when I find them but allow netfabb to do the cleanup on most of them.


I could keep adding detail to this model forever, but in practice the mesh is getting too unwieldy to work with. Sometimes it’s like working inside an actual thicket, with vines obscuring my view and 3d thorns scratching up against my camera lens.

Here’s a final print at 200% scale to bring out the details:

bramble 03

Whew. Glad this one’s finished. Time to move on.

A Veritable Smorgasbord of Rats

Paul Lynde as Templeton the rat in what is perhaps the greatest example of voice casting, ever, in the history of ever.

Careful watchers of the Scrying Pool will note that I’m taking a brief hiatus from working on the Drake token. I felt the need to crank out another model quickly, so I’m switching to an MTG Rat Token for a while. We’re about 75% done with the model here.

I have models for several Squirrel tokens in the Forge, so it’s not a huge step to do an evolutionary K-turn and go from Scuridae to Murinae.

MTG Rat Preview

The big difference between the rat and squirrel models is that I can open the rat’s mouth and arbitrarily pose him. The squirrels are limited to sitting on their haunches, mouths closed.

So that’s your basic rat. Whoopledy-doopelty. He’s really not worthy of the title MTG Rat Token yet; needs some scabies, matted fur, and maybe some open sores.

I’m planning to do some work with pose and surface textures to try to make this guy a little creepier. Scaly tail and some sharp fur tufts will help alot. Then I can go down the plague rat avenue, and hot diggety, I could make a rat swarm model. This could be a veritable smorgasboard of rats.

Stay tuned for test prints and the inevitable rat fails.

Quercus Leafreader, Squirrel Mage

When widow Winter refuses to yield to youngling Spring, ragged claws clutch-raking tattered tailfur.

When the kits, mewling, lick the last milk and teats sag empty in the frozen morn.

When fox and owl scour the ground and starving we fear to leave the nest.

When these are the times, the Leafreader comes and leads us to snow-forgotten treasure. Not a feast, but Enough.

And we live.

Quercus is the latest in my series of Magic: The Gathering Creature Tokens.

When your squirrels start getting up to +3/+3 and higher, you’ll need a model that conveys natural majesty. Enter Quercus Leafreader, Squirrel Mage. He holds aloft his Slimesinger (Sam the Slimesinger, if you must know) and dowses for acorns for the Scurry’s good.


The Emperor Wears No Kapton

The MakerBot 2X was just released, and I’m a little disappointed to see that MakerBot Industries hasn’t gotten rid of the Kapton tape part of the printing process yet. It’s easily the most frustrating part of working with the printer, and in a lot of cases it’s completely unnecessary.

For non-3D printer people who have stumbled across this blog post, Kapton tape is a space-age amber adhesive tape that one lays down on a build platform to help prints stick while printing. Kapton tends to bunch up and self-adhere, making the process of affixing it to the platform a real exercise in patience.

Without some adhesive assistance, prints slide all over the platform and you get a big bag of fail.

I haven’t had the opportunity to use a 2X yet, but I’ve been printing on a Replicator 1 for about a year and I’ve found a few workarounds that let me concentrate on designing stuff rather than getting my prints to stick to the first layer. Presumably these tips will apply to your shiny new 2X, too.

The models in all of the following photos were printed on a Replicator 1 using ABS of various colors, using the original Replicator firmware. I’m using ReplicatorG to slice.

HBP 110°
extruder 240°
layer height: .25 to .27
feedrate: 45
travel feedrate: 65
ReplicatorG 037
Skeinforge 50

I’m generally printing small models onto painter’s tape. The base on this squirrel is maybe 5 centimeters in radius.

squirrel token with NUNCHUCKS!

I get at least a 95% success rate printing these. (I need a lot of them because the kids and I use them as tokens in Magic: The Gathering.)

If you’d like a nunchuck squirrel of your own, download the STL here. Unarmed squirrel tokens also exist.

I was having such success printing tokens of all kinds on painters’ tape that for a while I was thinking Kapton was completely unnecessary until I tried to print a Dungeons and Dragons dice plinth.

painters tape plinth

See that circled gobbet of filament? That’s caused by not covering the entire platform with tape. The plastic won’t stick to bare aluminum, so when the extruder does its pre-print nozzle clearing it takes the extruded plastic along for the ride.

These gobbets can mess with your print if they get caught up in the print area, so it makes sense to cover the extruder path with a strip of tape.

Note where the edges of the dice plinth curled up from the platform. My understanding is that as layers of plastic cool, they contract and pull the lower layers of the print upwards. If you want to avoid this pulling, the first layer really has to stick to the platform.

The Sharpie marks around the print help me to make sure the build platform is locally level in the print area. I hardly bother with MakerBot’s platform leveling script anymore. I don’t see the point of having level platform corners if I’m not printing that far out, and getting level corners is a second exercise in patience that I just don’t have time for.

So. I lay down a small piece of Kapton in the build area only. Don’t bother trying to cover the whole build platform if you don’t need to. It’s much easier to work with that way.

I spread a liberal application of ABSynthe in the build area and then hit the print button again. Success. Those bubbles in the kapton are usually a problem, but with enough ABSynthe anything will stick to the HBP.

plinth with absynthe

Take a look at the difference between these two prints from the side. Painters’ tape on the left, Kapton with ABSynthe on the right.

plinth comparison

But, there’s a small downside to using ABSynthe: look at the bottoms of these prints:


The ABSynthe I have at the workbench is a noisome slumgullion of every ABS filament color I have, which leaves a murky film on the bottom of the print. Note to self: make mono-colored ABSynthe for higher-quality prints.

Why not use ABSynthe on painter’s tape? I’ve tried it. The ABSynthe fuses with the tape and it can’t be removed from the bottom of the print without a lot of sanding.

Squirrel, with NUNCHUCKS!

squirrel token with NUNCHUCKS!

The original Magic: The Gathering Squirrel token has Taken a Level in Badass.

Our squirrel deck quickly boosts your friendly neighborhood 1/1 squirrels into 2/2s, so we decided that the best way to make rodents look more dangerous was to give them nunchucks.

If you’ve never designed for a Replicator or Reprap or similar device you may be a little disappointed that it can’t turn every wacky idea you’ve got into plastic. You’ve still got to deal with gravity. The printer isn’t capable of printing forms that hang in empty space. The hot plastic droops if the overhang is too extreme, usually any angle over 45° between successive layers. So that means your poses are limited to those with no mostly-horizontal limbs or weapons.

You can command your printer to print with support and automagically build you some plastic scaffolding, but that requires post-print cleanup with a hobby knife and sandpaper, and is unlovely.

I prefer to use the limitations of the medium as an artistic challenge. I try to design objects that can be printed all in one go, because that’s really what the dream of 3D printing is about. Ideas to Objects in one click.

This squirrel token is pretty solid; there are some little overhangs at the bases of the nunchucks but otherwise she conforms to the 45° rule.

squirrel token with NUNCHUCKS!

If you’ve got your own 3D printer, you can print as many squirrels as you need. You can download the model here, completely free.

No printer? No problem. I’ll print you as many as you need at my Etsy Store.

This model is distributed under the Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 US license. Please remix and enjoy.

100th blog po–SQUIRREL!


Once we found out there were cards like Squirrel Nest, Nut Collector, and Deranged Hermit, we couldn’t not build a Squirrel deck. This is a token designed for use with such decks in Magic: The Gathering.

Gnawing your opponents to death with a swarm of chattering rodents is particularly gratifying, especially when they underestimate your deck because squirrels.

Dr. Doom owned by squirrels

If you’ve got your own 3D printer, you can print as many squirrels as you need. You can download the model here, completely free.

No printer? I’ll print you as many as you need at my Etsy Store. A half-dozen should do it for most games, unless you go nuts (ha!) with the Squirrel Nest/EarthCraft infinite squirrel combo.

This model is distributed under the Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 US license. Please remix and enjoy.