The Formlabs LA Roadshow 2018 just recently concluded. Formlabs is a Massachussets-based company that designs and manufactures desktop 3D printers and was founded in 2011. The event was attended by over 150 enthusiasts and featured
a panels composed of experts in the 3D printing industry. Joining the panel with Tracy was Sarah Reynolds from Hasbro, Aaron Sims from Aaron Sims Creative, and Aaron Bernard from Blizzard, among others. Formlabs showcased their recent developments which highlighted the new 3D printers’ capabilities to print very fine details as demo’d by a team from Formlabs. The significant takeaways from the discussions were the importance of having variety and a broader standpoint when building a design team and taking immersive classes to fine-tune skills.
Listen to the podcast here:
A Rundown On The Formlabs LA Roadshow 2018
Tracy had the opportunity recently to go to a special Formlabs event in Los Angeles, and she spoke on a panel there. I wasn’t able to go because I was out of town on business at another event. We could have Tracy share with us all about that event because I heard it was a great time.
It was fantastic. It was in LA. I was honored to be a part of the Formlabs panel. It was a joint sponsorship between ZBrush, Formlabs, and many other vendors and other things that were there as well. It was a lot of fun. The panel was focused on talking about construction methods and things that are going on in LA and Hollywood, specific with movies and other things. There were some great people on the panel like Sarah Reynolds who consults with Hasbro and other toy companies. The moderator was Paul Gaboury from ZBrush. Aaron Sims was there who is very well known for many movies that he has done and monster creations that you can’t believe. Lance Winkel from the University of Southern California, and Ehren Bienert from Blizzard here where we are in Orange County do a lot of merchandising design for movies that might be coming out and things like that.
I was on that panel as well. It was located at this cool place that you didn’t get to see called MunkyKing. They had the coolest little toys and all things that they were creating. They are a very interesting little shop. It was a cool building off of Pico in LA. It’s certainly worth going and checking out. Definitely check out their website. They were a lot of fun and great host for this. Back out behind, they had a big Airstream serving beer and Taco Truck that showed up. It was a lively fun and I was shocked at the number of people they crammed into this little space. There was probably over 150 or at least right around there in this tiny little space. Formlabs has been doing this. If you aren’t familiar with Formlabs, their printer the Form 2 is the most current one.
There’s a new one coming out that has a whole color kit that’s going with it that’s very cool. They had some demos going on with that as well. We had an interview with Jon Bruner from Formlabs where we talked about some of the new things that they’re working on. It was great to see some of the pieces. It’s one thing to talk about this on the podcast, but to feel it and look at the color, I was impressed by it. It was a lot more integrated and a clearer color than I expected it to be, so it was interesting. That was good to get to see some demos as well. It was an interesting group of people and many people who use ZBrush or who are already using the Formlabs printer. Formlabs did this in New York and then decided to go on the road with this and then came out here to LA to do that. They sponsored this panel and then have this two-night event. It was so well done.
I was very impressed with the quality of the people there. I bumped into people that I don’t get to see often enough. We’re in the 3D printing industry but unless there’s a local event, you don’t get to see them. I got to see some of our friends from MatterHackers and a couple of former guests on the show. The quality of the questions is what fascinated me the most, not just on the panel. Paul did a fantastic job of moderating and asking cool, interesting questions of like, “What’s your favorite movie?” and all kinds of things. There were lots of interesting questions from the audience and some of them revolved around construction, like “How you’re doing things?” “How are you creating this?” “What is your inspiration?” might be the other side of it, so more on the design thinking side. It was fascinating to get a look at both.
There was a demo by one of the Formlabs team members who was showing something that he was creating that was so cool. It was this fine detailed monster creation that’s a combination of a wolf and a bird. It was like a wolf with feathers, but the detail on these feathers was so incredible. I could not believe the quality of the detail on it. That was a combination of how he did it in ZBrush, which he gave a demo of, and the Formlabs printer. The two things combined created it. What that showed me, and this is the point that I wanted to get across, is that there is a tremendous amount of power in mastering your tools rather than dabbling everywhere. Mastering one set of CAD in which you can be great at it and mastering a printer in which you can push it to its limits. Those two things combined give much more creative license.
Rhinoceros is my preferred CAD program because I have so much experience in it. I’ve got fifteen years literally in Rhinoceros. I had worked with other more Autodesk CAD programs prior to that and I still do use some Autodesk programs and use 3D Studio Max and other things for certain things, but definitely the vast majority of my work is in Rhinoceros. I have considered, “Should use something? Should I try Maya? Should I try working in ZBrush or a different program?” There are so many others out there. I feel that it’s very similar to airline pilots. There are airline pilots that are trained to fly Boeing wide-body jets and there are others that are trained to fly airbus jets.
They all know how to fly, and certainly if anybody had a problem in mid-air and there was a Boeing pilot in the back on an Airbus plane, they’d get them up there. I’m sure he could land the plane, but there are a lot of specific nuances and details about how to fly that plane to its best. If you’re in a bad storm or terrible turbulence, you want the guy that has 10,000 hours driving that plane and knows how to fly that plane, that specific model. They’re not going to be wondering, “I need to do this, where’s that switch?” It’s second nature. We’re talking about CAD programs here in designing and engineering. We’re not talking about something that is as critical as flying a plane, but there are similarities there.
The principles are the same from one CAD program to another, but if you have mastered one or have thousands of hours in one, it is going to be faster and more efficient for you to try to accomplish something in the program you know than to stop and move to this other CAD program, learn how it works, and try to figure it out. Even though that other program may accomplish the tasks that you want to much more easily, it may take you a whole lot longer to figure it out. I wrestle with this all the time because I do think “I bet I could sculpt that in ZBrush a lot more easily than I could create it any other way in a surface modeling program that is more geometric-based than it is pixel‑based in terms of how you manipulate it.” That’s one example. It’s tough. If you’re going to do first class work, if you’re going to be a true professional at what you do, at some point you have to commit and understand the program intimately.
You have to look at this from a broader standpoint and whether or not it’s you building a team of design staff or whatever it is that you’re building and many of them do. We were talking about Aaron Sims and he has a team of designers at Blizzard. You’re talking about those things when you’re building a team, maybe you want to have a variety rather than have everybody standardized on one. It might be interesting for you to have some Maya people, some Rhino people, and some ZBrush people because they have capabilities of these expertise. When you have a project that requires this fine sculptural detail, like I was talking about with the feathers, you hand it to your ZBrush guy and he goes crazy with it.
If you’re doing something more geometric and sculptural, as we used to talk about when we were doing a lot more of the soft finishes, Rhino worked better and so you put it to your girl who’s doing Rhino. You have this broadness in your team of being able to handle any project or any challenge that’s in front of you. That’s if you’re building a team, and then if you’re doing it personally and you say, “I am limited,” like you hit a wall, like “I want to create something and I don’t have a tool for it,” it’s the time to reach out and go say “I need a ZBrush. I want to create this fine detail and I can’t. ”
My recommendation from having seen this is you must take an immersive class. Do not sit. It’s going to take you so much longer and you’re not going to achieve what you want. You’re going to get frustrated. This guy who’d been creating this beautiful feather forms and everything, he was still struggling to find where the tool is located that he uses. Paul was there, the expert and trainer of ZBrush, and he’s going, “If you go under this menu, it’s here, here and here, or there’s the shortcut tool here, here and here,” and he taught him something new in that moment because he knows it like the back of his hand. You want to be trained by somebody that teaches you to do what you want to do. If you can get that immersive one-on-one training or even group training onsite in person, you should do it.
Training is very important and can help you along the way, but there’s no better trainer than doing the work and spending a lot of time creating things. Mileage under your belt is how you’re going to learn those things. I like a CAD program that allows you to type in commands in addition to you can find them through menus and you can have other tools where you can have all different menus at your touch with a five-button mouse that’s pretty serious and gives you a lot of capabilities. To me, I like it where I know the command, I know its name, I know what I want to do. I type it in and go. Until you experience all these different things and use them, you don’t know it. You have to put in the time. I like your idea of if you had a workflow and you had a team, creating an object the most efficient way might be handing it off to two or three different people over the course of creating the model.
When you’re talking about how it works in Hollywood or how it works on a building a movie is you have that because it’s the most efficient, fastest path to getting things done in time for shooting. The most efficient path is to put them to the experts who can complete them. The one interesting thing that Aaron Sims said and talked about that I found so fascinating was that 3D printing has given them an opportunity to go back to some old school hand techniques. They’ve been hand-painting the models. They 3D printed it, which is efficient, but they hand-paint them. He was joking, he was walking in front of his team and going, “This is an airbrush and this is how you use it.” I love that he’s educating a digital generation of his staff to how they used to make models because it has the possibility of doing that again.
It’s efficient. They can save so much time on this, they can paint it and get it going and disguise all the pieces because they build these giant mini models of things. Mini to us, but they’re still much bigger than the bill plate. They have to piece them together. The other thing that I got a lot out of was how important and how challenging articulation is for the toy designers or even the designers of the models that they might use in filming as well. Getting the articulation right and to have it not look clunky, to have it look like a part of the design, 3D printing has opened that up and made a lot more possibilities. It’s not like you have the only possibility of using a ball and socket and that’s it. There are lots of other ways to attempt and develop these that 3D printing has allowed for them and created for them to create it so that it’s much more natural looking, and so these monsters are scarier or the dolls are more realistic.
I love that that has opened up and changed the possibility of not just how something looks, but how something functions as well. You would think the natural thing and the thing that Hollywood has been doing a lot of in recent years is all CG. They use the term CG as if it’s a specific thing which just means computer-generated, not something physical or live that you can touch and feel. It’s not limited to science fiction movies, but all of the computer-generated imagery that is done is modeled in a computer and rendered by a computer and not as a physical device. Here you say Aaron was talking about educating people in old-school techniques of hand painting or airbrushing 3D‑printed objects. You have this cross-section of high-tech and modeling in 3D printing with low tech and old-school artisan craftsmanship to create things. We’ve seen a lot of these things, especially in props used and Game of Thrones, in particular, comes to mind.
The new movie Black Panther has loads of 3D-printed costumes, props, accessories, tools, and things like that. One of the things that I learned the most from sitting on the panel, and this is something that we already knew because I talked about it there, is that when we physically print something, when we build it, when we iterate, it teaches us a whole lot more about how it’s realistically going to be used or function or perform or fit in my hand or all of those things. You cannot do that in the computer no matter what. Some of the times they’d look at one of their monsters or their creations in the computer and they go, “That looks great. It’s going to animate great. It’s going to be wonderful,” but the minute they print it out, they realize, “The proportions is off.
If I enlarge the hands or enlarge this piece here, it’s going to have much more of the realistic feel I was going for like this is something that came out of a dinosaur. ” When they put that back in to the computer after realizing that they needed to enlarge it, the monsters are scarier because they are a little more realistic. It has fed back into the design process for them and created better design because they’re doing this out of the computer process. We’ve known that all along. That’s exactly how we’ve always worked. We learned that the early days when we had said, “You better make a full model because this thing is not going to fit.”
You cannot design in the vacuum of a computer. I’ve been using computers my entire career. Modeling and rendering was in its infancy when I started. I made that classic mistake. I designed a piece of furniture for a very specific application that was inside of a van. It was a mobile office in the back of a van for road warrior salespeople and a company in Western Michigan was producing these things and selling them in the vehicle. It was an amazing project. I made the rookie error as a very young designer. I designed this in the computer, I had this animation showing how everything opened and would function, very impressive and I was a rock star. I made the rookie error of giving the manufacturer drawings to make this thing and I had never made a physical three-dimensional model and put it in the vehicle and made sure everything was going to work properly.
When they made the first one out of real materials and put it in the van, one of the major functional aspects ended up not working because a part of the interior environment of the van interfered with how part of the furniture was going to function and pivot move. I looked very bad. I had egg on my face. Had I just simply made a rough prototype of what would have taken me an hour or two and cardboard to make and stick a physical sample in the back of that van, I would have seen it and known it. It was a good lesson that modern technology is wonderful and it does speed things up and is very helpful, but at some point you’ve got to also get real with the product and experience it firsthand. That’s what we love about 3D printing. We can do that and much more.
I also want to flip and talk about the team side on the printer. I was getting this flash that this team environment was useful on the CAD side, on the design side, to broaden it because it’s hard to expand your skill set and still stay productive. On the other side, I was thinking about that because I think we should get a Formlabs printer in here. There are so many great printers out there that have different capabilities and so having a farm of printers, not of the same one but of different ones, of enabling us to do different types of qualities of finishes, different types of qualities of skills. I like the idea of that, especially after I saw the color capability of the Formlabs. That’s in our short-term future.
I also wanted to say that I feel validated in the choices that we made. We’ve taken a lot of hits over the 500 plus episodes we’ve done here, and whenever we talk about it, that we started with a MakerBot and we like our MakerBot. We take a lot of hits with that, but I stand behind that decision, especially now because you had a conversation with our friend, Allen who, because of your review and your testing of this CEL Robox, got one as well. Allen Wilterdink is a dear friend who is a rocket scientist of the internet. He hasn’t been in 3D printing industry. He is a coding genius. He is all around the internet, software, and coding. I sent him at one point a 3D printer because he had an interest in it. I had one that I could send him, so I did. He has gotten totally into it. He even hacked it. I don’t know how he did this. He hacked that 3D printer and its software so you could expand the printable area in the X-Y dimensions, so a side note that it can be done.
You were having a conversation with him about it because what you sent him was one of the smaller MakerBots and so you sent him a MakerBot and then we had been reviewing this printer here and he decided to buy one. Before my review was done, I was talking to him about it on the weekend, and he’s like, “Oh,” and then next thing I hear, “I bought one.” He’d been trying it out and working on it and nothing against it because it has great capabilities and an interesting printer. Tom loves it and so does Allen after using it for awhile. This is a guy with high tech capabilities, that’s the point that I wanted to make. He said that if he had started with that printer, he probably would’ve given up quickly. That was the point why we started this podcast. I wanted to go back to that because our first episode is so buried in and there are many listeners out there who probably don’t know why we started the project.
One of the reasons that we started this podcast was because we felt the learning curve was so high and so steep that a lot of people who would benefit from it and get something out of it, whether it was a design firm, independent designer, a retiree, a student, didn’t matter what age demographic, where you were coming from on it, we didn’t want you to give up because we think that the value proposition is there. The benefit of what you can learn, what you can do and the capabilities are there, but you have to go through this learning curve. Over time what we have come to respect was that our choice, while expensive and not necessarily the logical starter point for many people, with the starting point of the MakerBot simplified a lot of things we needed to learn about 3D printing that we’re much more valuable and important first rather than having to worry about the printer constantly.
The printer became a simplicity. Rather than having to become a technician from the get go in the machine and the software to get it to make even the simplest of objects, not having to become a technician was a big advantage and we had a lot of success sooner, but I craved for more capabilities as we moved on than the MakerBot had and still do. I use the MakerBot often for a lot of things, but having a printer that can use any material, not just PLA, and in fact use two different materials or two different colors of the same material, it’s a huge advantage and you need that at times. Going back to my tie-in of having a team of printers, you need one extremely reliable, low-tech in terms of the amount of hacking and/or maintenance you have to do on it that’s always available to you, so you can do some quick things. Maybe that’s your starter and then moving onto one where you can do more materials and do more things, and then I’d like to complement that. That’s what I was saying that I had learned from this event is that with the high level of detail that the Formlabs provides, there are certain things that we’ve been designing recently where that now becomes warranted. While we can do it in the computer and we can do the rough outline, it doesn’t look as good and we’re missing out.
Then when we have it done at a service bureau, sometimes there are surprises. Being able to print that before you hand it off to the service bureau is going to be valuable in our future model of how we’re working as a business and the kinds of projects we’re working on. Having both a team of people resources you can use, even if they’re not in-house for you, and having a team of printers that you have access to as well is going to make a much more productive process for everyone. That’s the model that I feel we’ve been on the path for but now I feel validated for it. I went on record and said when they asked us “What are your printers? What software do you use?” All of those things on the panel there, and I explained my theory on the MakerBot and I had quite a few people coming up to me afterwards and saying, “There’s been so many days I just wanted to throw my printer at the wall because it’s keeping me from designing and doing it. I have renewed respect for what you said.” We’re standing by that because we would rather spend our time on the design process than we would on the printer and that’s the reality of how we work, but that’s who we are and our business.
What you’re saying is important for educational institutions to consider as well because there’s definitely something to be said for having a proper printer that’s easy to use, that works as the starting printer in any educational environment. You’re going to have to supplement with a serious service package so you buy it from someone who can provide you service, can provide you all those things and be there to troubleshoot it for you and fix it and get it back and running for you. You’re there to teach, we’re here to design. These are the purposes of that, not learn how to service machines. It should be secondary.
That’s why a lot of design firms and a lot of these Hollywood companies, when they first started, had originally separated their 3D printers from their staff and so they had a lab and a technician who was in charge of that lab. They do still for the final design work for the final prototypes, but they now have 3D printers on their desks for the small iterations, the simpler ones, easy to maintain ones, ones that don’t take a lot of time but gives them that ability to do what they wanted to do in terms of the design process, and keeping the flow going and not having to sit there and wait for the print to be done at the lab who’s backed up and busy servicing everyone. I would love to have a lab and a technician to be printing all my stuff and I don’t have to “The print is done. I got to start the next one or whatever,” and not to worry about that and also somebody who’s just more in tune with the details.
I enjoyed my time with Formlabs. I enjoyed the facility MunkyKing. All of the people on the panel were fascinating. What I liked are the questions that came up afterwards. We had some WTFFF listeners who showed up and asked me questions. One of the things that I had said, because they had asked about support and other things, and I said that you design your own support. There’s been a request to redo that episode, because it’s old, to update it as to how you design your own support and why you do it when you decide to do it. That was the big question that came out from many people. I had six people ask me that question. Let’s record a separate episode on that. We’ll air that within the next four or five episodes total on WTFFF. If you’re listening to this now, you can expect it coming up soon. We’ll take a deeper dive into support and what situations you might want to create your own and then suggestions for how you might go about doing that.
There was an obvious interest in toy design. Sarah Reynolds who works with Hasbro was there. I’m going to invite her on the show in the future. We had an episode with Christina Douk and I saw her there at the event. She does her own creation. She is a comic book artist and creates also from that her designs into three dimensions. I love to remind her about that. Keep your eyes and ears out everybody for Formlabs events in your city as they continue to travel around the country. I looked and I didn’t see a schedule for any future ones, but if we do get any of that information, we will add it to website, 3DStartPoint.com.
On 3D Start Point, we have an event calendar. If you are hosting events in your area, you simply need to message us in that section of the website and we’ll be happy to add your event to our calendar. We need to do a little updating on that going forward now that we’re starting to get some new events on the calendar. You can reach out to us anywhere on social media, especially Facebook @3DStartPoint. We’d love to hear from you and about your events or things that you’re working on, so please do that. Thanks again everyone. This has been Tracy and Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
- Formlabs event
- Aaron Sims
- Lance Winkel
- Jon Bruner
- 3D Studio Max
- CEL Robox
- first episode
- Christina Douk
- event calendar
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