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Making the Fire Gauntlet

For anyone interested in animation and computer-graphics, the Siggraph conference always brings a host of interesting research to light, and features some of the best creative work ever expressed in the digital medium. It has been interesting to see the popularity of 3D printing increase over the past few years, as animators choose to bring their designs off the screen and into the real world.

I’ve both attended and presented at the show many times, beginning in 1995 when I was just 15 years old, when I presented a 3D display system with Dimensional Media Associates. Fifteen years later, in 2010, I joined Shapeways for their first Siggraph and showed some of my 3D printed designs. Among the work I showed was one of my first experiments with customized wearable 3D printing, the Fire Gauntlet.

The Fire Gauntlet grew out of a series of sketch studies I had made studying hand anatomy and mechanics. I was also interested in exploring the idea of printing hinges and other complicated mechanical devices in one shot using laser-sintered nylon. The theme of a classically styled gauntlet is also very appealing from a display perspective. There are many examples of stories and products in our culture of a mechanical hand or glove that confers special powers or is representative of new technology, such as Nintendo’s Power Glove, the Terminator movies, the robotic hand from Army of Darkness, and several well-known DIY Steampunk-styled gloves. I saw this as a great opportunity to explore some of the technical development issues, while also making a compelling display model that would convey the massive potential of 3D printing to the attendees at Siggraph.

The design was based on a 3D scan of my hand, which was then offset by 1.5mm to allow room for a cloth lining. I built surface patches over the mesh and converted them to shells of 1mm thickness. Hinges and joint pins were added afterward with proper clearances to just barely prevent them from bonding in production. Once the excess powder was brushed away, the hinges rotate freely.

Interestingly, one of the drawbacks of using printed-in-place hinges was turned to an advantage. Since the free-play in the joint  permits off-axis movement, the surfaces being hinged together do not necessarily need perfect alignment. The result is that sections with compound curvature can be joined so that they move easily, yet as the rotation becomes more extreme, the resistance to movement increases. This is exactly what is desired, since the glove should be compliant in a rest position but not allow extreme movement that might cause injury to the wearer when encountering large forces (in a hypothetical battle for example).

The glove model was bonded to a frame to support it during production and attach it to a base. I designed a base to cut by CNC out of mahogany to match the classically styled references of the piece. The base was cut in sections and bonded together, then lightly sanded to let the tool paths show through in the final design. Those features and the natural grain were highlighted by a natural oil finish. I also added magnets, set into pockets with epoxy, to allow the piece to be disassembled easily for transport.

The gauntlet was finished in silver to highlight the curvature and brass for the hinges and frame to bring contrast to the details.

It was a really memorable week presenting at the show and hanging out with the Shapeways team. At the time, Shapeways had not yet moved to the US, so most of the team was Dutch, but they were kind enough to keep most of the dinner conversation in English.  We stayed in Beverly Hills just north of the convention center and enjoyed a week of beautiful weather. The response at the show was enthusiastic and positive, and at the time far fewer people had been exposed to 3D printing.  I did several interviews to explain what I do and what Shapeways does, emphasizing the value 3D-printing has to create unique and customized objects. My presentation skills were not as polished at the time, but I am happy to have had the opportunity to share my work in such a great venue.

Here is one of the interviews:


Back From Rapid 2012

I just returned from Rapid 2012 in Atlanta. I was closely involved in the Materialise fashion show, and also had some work in the gallery. It was a great experience, and the show was very well received considering the audience was mostly engineers! I will share more when I get a chance to edit some of the video together.

Enjoying the reception with Abby and the rest of the team after a successful show.

Origin – audio visual art installation

After teaching a class at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center, I exited the building to see an unusual object in front of me. It was an interesting sight to see, in a completely empty courtyard, with no one around. I later found out that I was looking at the preparations for an art festival this weekend where this installation, called “Origin”, is being presented by United Visual Artists, with sound composed by Scanner.

Cove Candle Released

The Cove Candle is an oil warmer with a natural theme. It was partly inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence.

Boboli Gardens

Boboli Gardens in 2003

The Cove Candle is designed to be made with ceramics or full-color 3D-printing. The ceramic material will hold up to heat well enough that paraffin tea lights can be used. The Full color material will have to use LED-based tea lights. As well as holding three candles, the design also holds six small statues. The ones I’ve designed for sale along with it are stylized mushroom and tree models. Any model with a 18mm base can be used.

Cove Candle1

The ceramic material is bright white and sealed with glaze. That will allow you to fill it with oil that will be gently warmed by the candles. The color material will not hold liquid at higher temperatures, so it is not suggested to use real candles in the color version. A diffusing reed can be placed in the central hollow, which continues the length of the trunk, down to the base.

Cove Candle2

You can buy the Cove Candle and the Mushroom and Tree figures at Shapeways.com

Presenting the Morning Star

MorningStar1_CIMG0429The Morning Star looks incredible on its wooden base in the gallery at Rapid 2011! There are many other beautiful pieces on display, though photographing them is difficult with the LED spotlights directed at them. I will give that another shot today. My piece is exceptionally durable and I describe it as tactile art, so I worked with the curator to arrange it more accessibly with a sign encouraging interaction. The ball is actually zip-tied to the base, just in case. Huge thanks go to Bob, Tom, and Glen at ProMetal for helping to make this piece a reality!


One of the more impressive machines I saw at the event was EnvisionTec’s Bioplotter, which aside from being a solid piece of engineering, had some very unique capabilities. It could rapidly switch between five material cartridges, all loaded with various biologically compatible plastics for creating implants. The cartridge can also be filled with living cells in a nutrient solution for producing replacement structures using the patients own cells. Note the nozzle cleaning system in the front. A steel wire, a toothbrush head, and a wire brush. By far the least high-tech part of the system, but it does the job.

EnvisionTEC Bioplotter

EnvisionTEC Bioplotter

EOS presented their mature line of laser-sintering machines, and was also focusing heavily on software, with applications designed to create sparse mesh structures from CAD input. Their contribution to this common approach involves dynamic finite-element simulation to evolve a more efficient structure. They had plenty of examples of porous Titanium medical implants and other complicated structures.


I spent a good part of the day browsing the booths, but I’m not nearly done. In the evening, after the dinner reception on the show floor and chatting up the vendors, I took a walk though nearby Loring Park and stopped for a pint at Mackenzie.

LoringPark_CIMG0474 MackenzieTaps_CIMG0478

First Day in Minneapolis

I’m in Minneapolis this week for the Rapid 2011 conference and exhibition. The exhibition begins today, Tuesday, in a few hours. Monday was dedicated to set-up and a few workshops. The piece I am displaying was set up before noon, so I spent the rest of the day exploring downtown Minneapolis. The hotel is right on the strip, with plenty to see and do. Looking southward down Nicolett Mall, the signage boasts “14 blocks of culinary adventure”. To the north, pubs, grills and odd stores ensure I won’t be bored in my evenings here.

Downtown Minneapolis1

Dusk approaches, taken from Brit's Pub.

The main drag is pleasantly pedestrian oriented (which is what makes it a mall instead of an avenue, I suppose). After exploring on foot for a few hours, I settled in at Brit’s Pub to sample a few of the Minneapolis microbrews. I highly recommend Surly’s Brews, especially their Furious American IPA.