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:

 

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