Remember the 3D printed record? This object of fascination became an instant smash in the world of 3D printing. The creator of the algorithm that captured some of our favorite synth-pop tunes, Amanda Ghassaei, was an assistant tech editor at Instructables before moving over to their software engineering department.
Ghassaei built on her background in physics and chemistry (including nanotechnology and materials science) in order to bring the 3D printed record to life, and she’s done it again with 3D printed photographs! She used a Stratasys Objet500 Connex multi-material 3D Printer to create these “textured” images captured in grayscale.
Ghassaei joined us for an interview and filled us in on everything from her CAD software preferences to where she got her wide-ranging taste in music.
Stratasys: Where was your first exposure to 3D printing? Was it at Instructables or prior to that?
Amanda Ghassaei: I first heard about 3D printing when I was in college, around the same time that I first started getting into DIY electronics/tech. Actually, one of my first Arduino projects was building an open source RepRap printer with some other students at my school. Since I've been at Instructables, I've been working 3D printing into many projects, mostly for prototyping, but I've also had a lot of fun experimenting with the capabilities of the technology by itself.
Stratasys: Where did you learn CAD? Do you have a program that you prefer?
AG: I started out with AutoCAD and moved over to 123D Design and Inventor for solid modeling (123D Design is free and great for people who are just starting to learn about 3D modeling; Inventor has more advanced features like the ability to calculate gear geometry.) For complex, algorithmic work like the records and photographs, I use Processing with Marius Watz' Modelbuilder library. Processing is a little harder to get started with because the geometry is calculated in code rather than a graphical interface, but it gives me a lot of control and it's perfect for crunching large amounts of data to form a model.
Stratasys: Both the 3D printed record and the 3D printed photographs seem to capture a new twist on common items that have technologically fallen out of favor -- was it by design that you're choosing to reinvent them?
AG: You know, I hadn't really put that together before, but it's not surprising that this happened. Recent technology has focused on creating digital copies of once-physical things to make them easier to store and share, but 3D printers are performing the opposite task, taking digital information and making it physical. I guess it makes sense that 3D printers would be used to revisit physical formats that may have lost their relevance in the digital age. It provides a kind of marriage between the conveniences of digital - the ability to send a 3D model file halfway across the world in a split second - with the tangibility of the physical.
Stratasys: Did you experiment to find the best way to convey texture/depth of the 2D photographs? Did you try different materials on the Objet Connex? Why did you choose the Objet Connex over other 3D printers or milling technology?
I haven't had the time to do much experimentation with the photographs, but I've posted all my code on Instructables in case anyone is curious about it or would like to print out their own photographs. I'd love to try a 3D print with VeroBlack, I think it might add some nice contrast to the image, and I'd also like to experiment more with thickness and the curves used to translate pixel value to thickness. Working with the Objet Connex on this project was great because of its precision; the photographs that I printed have about 100 levels of greyscale at 300 dpi, so they come out looking incredibly detailed. It'd be interesting to see the results on other 3D printers, especially FDM printers like the Makerbot or RepRap.
Stratasys: Have you seen the 3D printed version of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album art?
This seems like the perfect mix of your projects.
AG: Yes I did see that! I would love to 3D print something like that right in the center of my Joy Division "Disorder" record, from the same album of course.
Stratasys: Where did your eclectic taste in music come from? Did you think it would stand up well to the 3D printing algorithm or was it something else?
AG: Well, growing up in Seattle, you can turn on the radio and think it's 1994, so even though I was still listening to Spice Girls when the nineties were actually happening, I've had plenty of time to revisit nineties alternative rock. I've also got really young parents; one of my mom's favorite bands is New Order. So yeah, I tried to balance the song choices I made between things I liked and things that are popular and recognizable to a larger audience without resorting to 3D printing Gangnam Style.
After printing my first few records, Smells Like Teen Spirit and Debaser, I tried to pick songs that had less distortion/live drumming and more emphasis on lower to mid-frequencies, these types of songs hold up to the printing process a little better. Out of everything I printed, I like Around the World and Disorder the most.
Stratasys: Is there something else you're hoping to translate into a 3D print?
AG: I don't have anything too specific in mind, but I will definitely continue working on 3D printing by algorithm - writing programs that translate data into 3D models. My recent projects have been interesting because of the level of precision involved, but they are a little too static for my taste, so I'd like to start experimenting with algorithmically generating movable parts. For example, I want to write a program that generates various mechanisms for moving or crawling and then creates fully assembled 3D models of the mechanisms than can be printed out with an Objet Connex. You could plug in a little DC motor to the finished print and the model would essentially crawl off the print tray by itself -- after it's cleaned off a little.
One of my favorite artists, Theo Jansen, does some incredible work building large, wind powered walking machines based on a leg mechanism that he generated using something called a genetic algorithm (an optimization process inspired by Darwinian evolution). I think an idea like this paired up with digital fabrication, especially 3D printing, could yield some incredible results. I haven't started anything like this yet, I'm still thinking about how I would set it up, but I hope to start exploring those ideas soon.