Thinking Outside of the Box: Using 3D Printing for a Course Assignment

Having Student Technologists around, for me is a complete joy, seeing them grow in the position and learn new technologies every day is quite fun.  Student Technologists work alongside me in Academic Technology, and provide support to students, staff and faculty in our Print Depot and beyond! They learn in the position and teach me as well -from music, to computers and gaming I’m learning new thing(s) from these student employees everyday. I consider this mutualism of learning to be one of the best parts of my job.

One of the Student Technologists, Matt Travers, recently used his skills in Meshmixer and 3D printing to design a class project. I interviewed him and his professor, John X. Christ, a Teaching Lecturer in Social Science and Art History, for a brief look at how Matt used 3D printing to complete a school project. Additionally interviewing John gives us a greater understanding of the goals of the project and what might be achieved. Having perspective from both a professor and the student provides a more thorough context of how ideally this type of project might be presented – perhaps 3D printed but also in a 3D environment through additional CAD design – or through additional creative means as Professor Christ notes in our interview.

We’ll start with the interview with Professor Christ.

What courses are you teaching this semester?

Globalization and Diversity (GEDI 1400) Politics and Art (PODI 1060) Art and Ideas of the 19th Century (AH 3540)

What inspired you to incorporate a sculpture design process into your course?

This project is part of the Politics and Art course I’m teaching this semester. As a creative thought directions course, we incorporate three extended design projects into our explorations of the relationship between politics and art. The first, for which Matt’s team created The Shoveler, asks students to design a work of art that promotes unity and shared values for a specific New Hampshire site, including a consideration of the official steps that would be necessary to obtain permissions and funding to materialize the work. The second project asks students to research and solve a political problem; how does one creatively and effectively respond to the continued presence of Confederate monuments in the United States? The third project, which is completed individually, has students explore the ways in which the arts can challenge the conventional procedures and content of political discourse. With regard to the sculptural format, it was not a mandate but it was a route that many students followed as a viable means of creating an artwork for a specific public space. In addition to traditional sculptures, students also proposed murals, video projections, and reproducible graphic media.

Had you thought about incorporating 3D modeling or 3D printing up until the sculpture from Matt’s team?

I had not thought specifically about this option, though I certainly hadn’t ruled it out either, as I left the project open to a variety of media. Initially, I had asked students to create a two dimensional rendering of the work and its relationship to its site, leaving open but not mandating the option of creating a prototype.

What did you think when a prototype sculpture was brought into your class? I loved it and really appreciated the initiative Matt took to create the piece. His prototype really brought the piece to life in a tangible form that the class could easily imagine on a larger scale. The prototype was not able to convey as rich a sense as I would have preferred of how the work would look in its intended site in Franklin, NH. Given Franklin’s rich urban fabric, its continuing and multifaceted efforts to reinvent itself and reinvigorate its economy, and the piece’s siting along one of the rivers around which the city has grown, such an image would have been really beneficial, especially given the strong verbal description of the site they offered.

Hi Matt, Describe the exact assignment and what led to you deciding to 3D print it?

The assignment was to develop a piece of public art that could be used to unify New Hampshire through some sort of thread; my group was brainstorming and we sort of jokingly brought up that shoveling is something that could bring us together. The idea is that New Hampshire is a widely diverse state socially and economically. You have this incredibly diverse people, but everyone here shares the brutal winter here. We thought that a man shoveling was a perfect vessel for that idea – it embodies that hard working soul that New Hampshirites pride themselves on. When talk of a statue came about, I instantly thought about 3D printing a draft. I figured it would be a super standout project and it would be the most interesting prototype we could make in the span of the project. 

Can you describe how you made the file and which parts you found from elsewhere/what you designed yourself? 

The original plan for the file was to do a photogrammetry scan of someone posing as an over-dramatized person shoveling, but do to the time constraints and the undesirable weather these past few weeks I ditched that idea in favor of just winging it with some prefab models online.  I started looking for a base model on, and I eventually found a photogrammetry scan of a Samson and the Lion statue at The Art Institute of Chicago. I saw potential in this, so I took it into meshmixer and edited out the lion. The lion was pressed up against the Samson’s legs, so i then needed to restructure his thighs and lower stomach. I then found a model of a shovel on Thingiverse, and threw that into the meshmixer file. It fit like a glove in his hands so after that I just built a base, put snow on the base, restructured some of his arms (his arms didn’t look quite right in the original scan) and built a winter hat on his head just for a little bit of added comedic effect. So the body and the shovel were found, but they were both manipulated pretty heavily to fit the project

What was your finishing process like?

AS far as finishing goes, I started by sanding away as much of the support scaring as i could. I was running low on time and I didn’t get to sand it as thoroughly as I would have liked, but it turned out fine. I also had a bit of the raft get super stuck onto the bottom of the structure that needed to be sanded away as well. I then spray painted the entire print gold (it was printed using semi-transparent red PLA because that was all I had at home at the time) and it ended up taking about 3 coats to get it where i was happy with.

Now for the final photos, all images were provided by Matt Travers. 

A 3D Printed Statue by Matt Travers
Another view of a 3D Printed Statue by Matt Travers