Thursday, December 4, 2014

Charles Darwin Shapeways prints

This image above shows Charles Darwin printed as a 1 inch tall, nickel steel charm or pendant. As you can see, it's scarcely taller than a quarter. It is considerably grainier and more striated then the Shapeways renderings would suggest but, I have to admit that I love the effect. It seems more distressed and ancient than something fresh out of the 3d printer. In certain instances the striations mimic the hatch work in old engravings. When the 3d print arrived, it was quite a bit duller and darker as well. A few minutes of nylon brush and cotton wheel on the old Dremel tool brought the shine up in a jiffy while leaving the darker oxides in the deepest details. This piece is currently available at this link for under $30.
Shapeways is an online 3d printing service that prints in a variety of different plastics, metals and ceramic. The plastic prints are either SLA or SLS products depending upon the particular plastic. Most of the metal prints are actually printed in wax and investment plaster molded. The wax gets melted out of the plaster and is replaced with molten bronze. Once the bronze cools, the plaster is then broken off and the bronze may be hand finished.
Typically making a traditional or historical bust, an armature is first constructed, clay is applied and modeled, a silicone mold is built, the bust gets cast in wax, the wax is then refined and re-molded for bronze casting. It's a lot of steps and a lot of time. At the end of that laborious process you are left with one bronze in one size. This bust was sculpted in Zbrush, no armatures, no clay, no molds or casts. The different sizes are rather easily achieved by reprocessing the mesh to the desired dimensions. It's not quite as simple as just scaling it up or down. Consideration must be given to proper wall thicknesses. For instance,  the proportional wall thickness of the life sized head would be much too thin in much smaller variants. Conversely, the proportional wall thickness of the smaller variants once enlarged, without reprocessing would result in a needless use of additional material and expense. Fortunately Shapeways runs the mesh through it's own digital test and will alert you if the mesh needs modification in order to ensure the durability and success of the print.
The price range is nearly as astonishing as the available range of materials. A one inch tall head or bust in matte polished nylon can be printed on demand for as little as $5.25 or, for as much as $2,600.60 in platinum. My favorite finish is the premium silver for $130.31 but, the polished nickel steel is nearly as handsome and $100.00 less. An 18k gold version can be printed for $1,314.56 but a gold plated brass copy can be had for as little as $75.00. On the other side of the size spectrum, a life sized head can be printed for as little as $1,200.00 in polished nylon or, $8,986.66 in bronze. That may seem pricey to those unfamiliar with the costs of sculpting and casting an original portrait but, in truth it's never been more efficient or cost effective. While Charles Darwin may not be everybody's choice for an ear ring, charm or, pendant, anybody's portrait or head could be processed in this way.
Any loved one or, lover or, spouse or, child, anyone near, dear or, important to you can be commemorated and or celebrated in this medium. Beyond that personal but, miniature scope, The Darwin bust or head, especially in it's largest configurations would serve the collections and displays of any museum, library, school, office, scholar or, evolutionary biologist's study very well indeed.
Why Charles Darwin? He's a key hero in my pantheon of the greatest human beings whom have so rarely graced this planet's face. As a thinker he alone marks the begining of the begining with greater clarity, reason and rational resolve than any who came before him. His founding observations are the shoulders upon which all biological life sciences now stand.
While $127.90 may seem to many as a preposterous price for a 6" plastic Christmas ornament, it's actually peanuts for producing an on demand rapid prototype of an original sculpture. Besides, has there ever been a more serious looking Santa?

On a final note I must mention that while all of these images appear to be photographs, they are in fact based on renderings generated through Shapeways. Before making a purchase, I strongly suggest studying Shapeways site so that you may fully acquaint yourself with their products, methods and actual photographs of pieces in different materials that have been produced by them.

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