Talking 3D print design with 3D toy artist Christina Douk who fell in love with how 3D printing brings to life her computer models. The next generation of designers will have a new view of design and how to conceptualize and bring to life their creative ideas because of 3D printers. Fascinating to find out her comparison of 3D prints she had done from Shapeways and Sculpteo through a Groupon deal from the level of service, time to receive product, and final result.
We are excited to talk more design side today with a 3D sculptress, thanks in part to our sponsors over at MakerBot. We really have found somebody that is doing this as a passion, really their life passion. It’s not their day job but they’re truly an artist and doing a lot of wonderful things with sculpture and 3D printing. We have been talking to Christina Douk. She has a tremendous amount of experience sculpting in CAD. She mainly uses ZBrush and Maya, as she’ll mention. She does a lot of CG creations and do these things.
About in 2014, she had her first physical object created in 3D printing and just fell in love with the idea of that all the objects she was sculpting in the computer could actually be something you could actually hold in your hand. She got very excited about it. She has a degree, a BFA in 3D modeling from the Academy of Arts in San Francisco. Design came first. That’s really why we were really excited to have her on the show, because we don’t get to talk about that enough. Let’s listen to that interview and then we’ll talk about it more on the other side.
Listen to the podcast here:
DesignerCon 3D Toy Artist Christina Douk
Thanks so much for joining us, Christina. We’re really excited to talk to someone who comes more from the 3D design side. We don’t always get that around here.
It’s great to be here too. I have grown from meeting a lot of other artists in the film and games industry. They’re all also going into 3D printing. Learning from them, learning from people in tech and everything that’s happening these days. It’s just been growing. The fact that we have consumer printers, it’s amazing. It allows artist to take whatever we have made on screen and then be able to print it.
I was reading in your bio that your first experience with it was in 2014, right here in Southern California. Had you been working in ZBrush before? Because you started from a ZBrush model and then got it 3D printed.
I previously worked in commercial and video games at this time. I use ZBrush a lot in that process. For games we do like sculpturing high res and reduce it down to low res. We either use ZBrush or Maya. A lot of stuff for 3D printing was just transitioning our knowledge from Maya and ZBrush that we use for games, films and commercials and then be able to just prep it so that we can print the models that we make.
What did you find when you held that first print in your hand? Did you think differently about how you design?
I’m actually holding it right now. Because it always helps. When I was sculpting it … I haven’t sculpted in a long time in ZBrush, so those workshops at Mold3D. When we were sculpting it, we were learning how to bring in our traditional sculpting skills and bring it into a three-dimensional CG form.
It was very interesting because we would just freely sculpt however the heck we want. We can actually set up any limitations. With printing, there is a lot of limitations on what details you do get out of it. Since we were using a SLA resin printer, we just sculpted to our hearts’ content. We were able to just see our actual model be almost one to one in printing.
It’s incredibly fascinating because I’ve never actually would have thought I would have held one of my own sculptures in my hands, because I was actually using clay. Being able to see the creative conceptual arts that what we have made in a lot of films and games, be able to own our own product or actually hold our own product, it’s surreal, for real.
I know, isn’t it? It’s just so strange to be seeing, “Here’s what I’ve been creating digitally in this computer for so long and it’s virtual and in my head. All of a sudden, I’m really holding it.” It is surreal.
It’s funny because I was like, “Oh.” When I first started making vehicles and props on the computer in Maya, I was like, “Oh my God, this is so cool.” I’m actually transitioning my ideas into a visual form. Now, it’s just taking on a whole other step. It’s like physical form. Oh my God.
You mentioned a few softwares. Do you have a favorite software that you prefer for 3D printing purposes over just your normal sculpting that you do?
I tend to use ZBrush the most because it also has the 3D printing exporter on it. I don’t know if you’re familiar with ZBrush, but they’re about to launch this awesome new update, which is connected with FormLabs. So it makes it even easier for printing. For Maya, I use it mostly when I do curved surface stuff, vehicles, characters that are like robots. A little bit more manufactured products, I would use Maya. This is totally because it’s what I’ve been using.
We say that all the time, that whatever you’re comfortable in, you want the design process to flow and not be something you’re constantly thinking about. If you have to then go in and think some more to make adjustments to have it 3D printed, that’s way better than disrupting your design process.
Absolutely. I totally agree. I would love to spend time learning CAD if I were paid to do so. For me, it’s just whatever’s tangible. I’ve use Maya for over seven years and ZBrush for maybe four years. It’s just natural. If I want to design something, I know exactly how to build it using those programs.
That’s definitely the way to go then, because being really efficient in a program is much better than trying a different program and being very inefficient. Make no mistake, ZBrush is CAD software. It’s just a different kind. It’s definitely more sculptural.
I want to draw attention to our listeners, to really your story, your post on the website of your process making some of these 3D printed objects, like the WorkerBots for example. There’s really a good whole documentation of your process from sketching to modeling, to preparing to models for 3D printing. There are great photos of the 3D prints even with all the support structures and everything on them, and then finishing them. It’s really, it’s a well told story there.
I think anyone who was interested in really exploring the reality of taking something from a brand storm to reality, to holding it in your hand. This is a great way to go. Especially seeing all your prints in the state they came off the printer with all the supports, that’s very cool.
For a lot of the other models that I’m actually releasing soon, I have a lot more write-ups that are coming soon.
You’re going to be at DesignerCon, which is this month in Pasadena. Tell us what DesignerCon’s about, for our listeners that aren’t familiar with it, and what you’re going to be doing there.
DesignerCon is a big giant toy convention. It’s introducing a lot of indie artists and then also bringing in a lot of the bigger toy companies. It’s a nice niche where you have people who are sculpting their toys, or now they’re 3D printing their toys. There’s a lot of prototyping, a lot of things you never even thought existed in this industry.
I actually will say that Designer Con in 2014 was what made me made me want to focus in creating my own toy line. I actually came to Pasadena to check out this event because they’re like, “Oh, there’s a lot of toy makers here.” What I liked is that we’re all independent toy makers so we produce stuff on our own or using our own hands. It’s a fantastic event to get great references, great introductions to people that are working in the industry. It’s filled with a whole lot of toys. I will say, save up money.
Our good friend, Rouk, who is in marketing and he’s a big superhero fan. He’s been dying to get his hands on one of our 3D printers, which we promised him. Because he has quite a collection, so he would be … His wife would have to keep him away from there. How exciting and interesting.
How is it going with that? We talked to a lot of designers who really aren’t making a living. I’m sure that your toy line is still a side job because I know you have a day job because we’re talking here at night, which we don’t always do on the podcast. How is it going though? Do you think it’s starting to scale up and you’re seeing more momentum and more business for you in the future?
I’m doing this for the love of creating my own product. I would say that I’ve seen a lot of people successfully pull this off. They have transitioned their careers into creating toy sculptures or use 3D printing as your master and then cast off of it. I think the market for creating your own toy is definitely going to grow. It’s what my focus is, is working with other artists who conceptualize a design and I want to make their designs come to life.
That’s a great collaboration. I love that. Because you do have a lot of artists who just really don’t have the computer experience you have in terms of modeling in the computer.
It’s fun because I actually went to a bunch of these conventions before, like WonderCon, ComicCon. You just meet a whole ton of very, very talented artists. For some of them, I just would walk up to them like, “Oh my God, this would be an amazing toy. I would love to create it.”
For a lot of the pieces that I have going to be released soon, I worked specifically with an artist that I’ve been working with for a while. Whenever we have the free time, she would concept something. Her name’s Eve Skylar, by the way. She would concept something and I would just take it and create the model. Now, since I have my own printer, I’m just going to print the model so we can actually see the piece in live format.
What printer did you get?
I ended up getting the Form 2 after a long waiting time of failed other printers. I’ve invested in other printers that just completely, just didn’t do it.
Let’s hear about that. I want to hear it. Let’s hear about that, if you don’t mind. Because we do a lot of printer reviews. We don’t expect to be dishing dirt on all these printers, but they’re not right for everything you want to print. When you know what you need to print, you have to really find the right printer for your need.
I agree. When I first started out, it was a financial thing where I couldn’t afford to buy a printer. I decided to back a printer on Kickstarter. I don’t know if you want me to tell the name or …
Yeah, go ahead. Please.
It’s the Titan I, that was supposedly going to be the new coming of age printer where it was the largest build volume and the fastest printer and it uses a DLP projector. I backed it of course, because I was like, “It’s $1,000 cheaper than a Form I.” I thought this would have been my big break where I started just modeling and getting prints ready so that I can actually printed on it.
Thing is, I think this goes for a lot of Kickstarter printers, is that there’s always never enough time for them to actually launch their stuff. You end up putting money in six months before launch. You wait for it but it ends up being an extra two, three months to actually get the product. When you initially put in the money, which I think I put it in in May of 2014, I didn’t get the printer until January 2015.
Actually, for a Kickstarter, that’s pretty darn good.
It’s an unfortunate side effect of Kickstarter and the companies who don’t have a ton of experience launching products to know that it’s going to take longer than it actually does.
I was surprised it did come sooner than a lot of people expected. The other issue is, once they launch that, you have your competitors literally making the next best thing. They’re already going to launch their new machine before they actually release their first machine. I ended up getting the printer and realizing the actual software was just not consumer ready for me.
That’s a big problem.
That was my whole issue with it. First of all, I had to build printer, which I didn’t expect. I didn’t know it was a kit. That took two to three hours to put together. On top of that, there’s a lot of user error. You could have set it up wrong or the projector couldn’t have been aligned or the resin vat could off centered or off lined.
There was just so many user errors that you could make for your print to fail. When I actually started printing, I don’t think I’ve ever had a successful print because first, the bridge, it ended up being broken. The next thing was that the motherboard of it broke as well.
Oh my goodness. Not a good experience there.
No. I just kept going and going. When I actually started to set up to print, it was the software that really, really stumped me. You actually have to type in your layers, your exposure time, your lift time and every single stat based on whatever resin you bought. I ended up getting the cheapest resin on their list, which they then told me they don’t recommend. I was like, “But I just bought it. It was on your site.”
It ended up, I couldn’t use the resin, the vat is just not sturdy enough for multiple prints. Every single time it fails, it takes about an hour to clean up the tray so that you can start over again.
Wow. Where’d you move onto after that?
I ended up getting an FDM printer, which is the UP Mini. That was a pretty fun one. I used it for a lot of test prints. Then I ended up with the Form 2, which I just got this August. I’m mass printing as much as I can.
I’m sure you’re enjoying that experience. Some people we find do this in their development and design process. Do you use the UP Mini occasionally just to test out something when you see it on the screen and you’re not sure if it’s going to look quite right and then go and print it later? Or do you just not use it anymore?
I used to do that process when I used Sculpteo and Shapeways to print stuff. If I needed to test something before I print it in metal or print it in polyamide powder, I would print it off the FDM one because I know that it’s not as expensive to test it there. I used to do that. But now, since I know the Form 2 has been working flawlessly, I actually just go straight to resin instead.
That’s good. At least you’ve shortened your process there. Christina, I have a question about your Journey Rings that you have on your site where you wrote that you printed the bronze version at Shapeways and the silver version at Sculpteo. I’m curious about the different process of each one. Was the choice to use each just because of the specific material they had available?
To be honest, I got a coupon from both.
That’s great. Did you find any difference in the quality of them?
Yes. It’s interesting. For the silver I printed at Sculpteo mainly because I did have a coupon. I just wanted to see the metal type. I like the quality a lot more on the Sculpteo side because I think they got some of the inner details a little bit better. The Shapeways ones though came out really well. I was happy to see it in another style of printing. I’d add and print another silver one is what I’m saying. I like both. I think Sculpteo just gave me the print a lot faster than Shapeways did. Sculpteo came in in like a week and a half for a silver print and then Shapeways took a month.
Oh, wow. Really? Was there any difference in the surface quality you got? Did you have to polish these up on a buffing wheel or anything? What did you do to it after you got it? Or did it really come in the way you wanted or a way that you were happy with it?
The silver came out fantastic. You can polish it to just get it shinier. I think initially, it’s totally the perfect brand new silver ring. The bronze, in general you would have to polish bronze because it gets a little weathered and old. I think that’s just what that type of material would do.
You didn’t find the texture funny on either of them?
No, I think they were both really good.
That’s good. So good to know. We’ve been wondering the difference between the two. We’ve talked to them both. I don’t think we’ve used Sculpteo. We’ve used a few of the different bureaus. iMaterialise, we really like, but you wait forever because it comes from Europe. They did an awesome job. Interesting to see them side by side in that way.
Sculpteo actually is in France as well but they have a station in San Francisco and San Leandro.
Great. Tell us a little bit about some of these designs that you sent us images on that are going to be at DesignerCon. We’d love to find out the inspiration behind them and other things about them.
There is a mech, kind of cat mech, we’re calling it Mech Pets.
Yes. I was working with the same concept artist, Eve Skylar, for this project. She also was the concept artist for the Air Ship and for another print that I’m working towards to get done at the end of this month or mid next month. For this one, I actually have a write-up coming up soon.
This was an interesting one because I haven’t done a print larger than four inches. This one is seven inches tall. There was a lot of cut and keying and figuring out how to position it, especially because it’s very top heavy. What we wanted to do is relate to the concept as much as we could, which it pretty much has developed into that.
We adjusted some of the proportions so that the body would flow on a curve and be able to stand on its own without having to need a base. Right now, in the image, it does have a base just for extra stability. For this concept, it’s what I’m working towards, is getting these unique designs that you don’t see anywhere else and be able to print a product that maybe you’d might be interested in buying the toy.
Same thing with the Air Ship. This was a long standing project I did way back in 2010. We were working on a pitch for an animated shorts that ended up being cancelled. I saw this concept of this air ship but I never got a chance to model it.
Instead I actually contacted the concept artist, which was Eve. This is actually how we met. We were talking through email back and forth. I’m like, “What do you think about this design? What if we adjust shapes, the proportions, added more detail in certain areas?” We kept going back and forth for over a year on this design. I was able to create the model of it just for my own portfolio fun sake.
I think in 2014 or 2015 actually I think, I was just like, “Let’s print it.” Because I just wanted to see something in large scale get printed. I ended up printing the Air Ship at eighteen inches long through Sculpteo.
Wow, that’s really long. Amazing. That brings me to the thinking, because you were talking about mechanical pets and the idea of that. Our daughter is seven and a half and she’s been looking at printing. She’s been practicing and doing some things and making a couple little bracelets and a couple of things there.
I keep thinking about this whole next generation of designers coming up and people who will have a different view of how to design. What kind of advice do you have for those young designers out there on the design side of things and not just the 3D printing side?
Conceptualizing is what you’re asking?
Yeah, how can they start, keep themselves motivated and maybe find the right education?
Personally, I think the art side of it always comes from studying references in the world. I watched a lot of cartoons when I was younger. I played a lot of video games. I analyze video games like crazy for detail. I gather a lot of references for what is interesting for me.
For a lot of concepts that I usually use, it’s like steampunk, vehicles, a lot of unique gadgets and stuff. I like the otherworldly look combined with real life products. For me, gathering references from stuff that you actually love, finding your style within working with it. I keep saying, “I need to keep drawing. I need to keep concepting on my own.”
Because learning the skill of actually drawing and transferring whatever ideas you have in your mind and putting it to paper, then actually taking it and creating the live model from it, allows you to … It’s like sketching. You’re just sketching an idea, bringing it into the 3D world and seeing if it works. I would just say, spend a lot of time really analyzing the things that you do like, compile references.
And start from drawing, which I love. I still keep a sketchbook around. Mine has lines now because I end up writing just as much as I sketch. I do both at the same time. That’s exactly how my design inspiration start for whatever it is that hits my head. At some point, I have to sketch it just to say, “Is this really what I’m thinking about?”
It’s important. I think we break away from the traditional route a lot because putting it into 3D might be faster. But the thing is, I will always break away and either digitally sketch on top or I’m better with a ballpoint pen and paper. I will just doodle a bunch of shapes. Sometimes those shapes will just turn into something and then it will reveal itself within the sketch. Sometimes I’ll take that and bring it into Maya or ZBrush and be able to make that model from whatever sketch doodle I made.
I love it. Thank you so much for sharing that. I really appreciate it. We really are so glad you came on the show because we love to hear you talking about it from the design perspective in the 3D printing rather than the other way. Before we go, I just want to ask the last question I usually ask pretty much every guest, which is what do you think you need 3D printing, the 3D printing industry, whether it’s software, hardware, whatever, to really push to make everything that you want to do with it better?
I’m actually very happy about where it’s going. I think a lot of the times, it would be … It’s a lot based on technical things, like time.
Speed it up a little bit.
The amount, cost amount is a little high. For every vat of resin, it’s $150 for me every time I have to replace. I think it’s totally going in the route that I’m loving. I think the software compatibility that is happening between certain programs, like ZBrush and FormLabs, I think that’s a really great route. It’s combining two things into one so it makes it easier for the consumer.
I’ve actually been very fortunate to attend a bunch of workshops that teach 3D printing by industry artists. They’re also doing the same thing that I am doing, which is taking our models that we create for films, games and stuff, and be able to print it.
I think the growing market of it is what I can’t wait for. I can’t wait to see a bunch of artists create stuff that they’ve been working on, either in a traditional format or having had an idea in their head and be able to put it out there in a show or a gallery. I think that’s what I can’t wait for.
We all feed off each other and get inspired, that’s why we’re so grateful to have you on the show. Thank you so much for joining us, Christina.
DesignerCon 3D Toy Artist Christina Douk – Final Thoughts
I’m really impressed with how hands-on she’s gotten, how much she has jumped in. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised as an artist, as a sculptor, you do get knee-deep into your craft, whatever that is. Her craft has really become the computer and a 3D printer or multiple 3D printers.
I thought it was really interesting. Telling us that when she built her own machine that first time, she learned so much about it and she’s got all this technical knowledge now that I think probably helped. We talked about that on past episodes, where we said, should you build or shouldn’t you? In a way, it probably was really good for her to have built one. It probably taught her a tremendous amount about how the 3D printer works and what she wanted in it. It taught her more about what she was looking for.
Being able to then pick the printer that was perfect for her at that point, it was just more logical. It certainly made her appreciate her latest printer so much more, I’m sure. “Hey, this works so well.”
There are times when obviously you don’t want to do that, and she really didn’t have the time to do that. That’s where we say, “Hey, maybe not.” We’ve talked about it as, is it a pro or a con when you give your teenager a 3D printer? Should you give them a kit and make them start from there and really see that? At the same time at the end, you might not get one that works because there’s too many variables.
It’s a hard question to answer and it really depends on the situation. I don’t really like making a recommendation one way or the other. We talk about the pros and cons and those are all legit. They’re there. You have to decide what’s right for you, see what makes sense for you.
I really enjoyed seeing how she laid up the story of her projects. I was really in particular interested in some of the jewelry she’s done, those rings, they’re beautiful. The amount of texture and detail that can be achieved in those silver and bronze prints from Sculpteo and Shapeways respectively, it’s for real.
You could 3D print detail that would be the same as what they stamp out in coins, like the government mint stamps out in the coins, little relief. You can actually print that kind of detail. Also, you can do things that can’t be made any other way. That’s what the really cool part of it. That’s the challenge to me, is that idea that you can create some shapes, textures, things that cannot happen any other method.
Gosh, how lucky were we to be able to find out that she got to compare Sculpteo and Shapeways side-by-side? We don’t hear that very often. Wow, I didn’t think about that. They maybe need to do more groupons. Look, it brought people in. I want to find out where to get that coupon myself.
It’s really fascinating to hear some of the biggest differences between the two service bureaus had everything to do with the level of service, the lead time especially. Sculpteo obviously won hands down.
It makes me wonder whether or not the Shapeways metal is actually outsourced even from Shapeways. Because that sounds like an extend lead time. You don’t hear that very often. I’m curious about that. We may have to look into that. That certainly was not rapid prototyping.
This is just fascinating. I’m so thrilled to have her come on and really talk about this. I have been lately looking at some of Lannea’s toys that she has. She’s got this Monster High dolls that have these shoes on them and bags on them. They have various details on them that really don’t look like something you would have thought to mold before. They certainly don’t look like Barbie shoes. They look like something that was inspired by something 3D printed. But then it is obviously mass-produced.
I really think that that design influence is really curious and it’s really going to see this whole generation of concepts and toys and things that are going to be coming out of places like DesignerCon and from young designers like Christina.
I’m so excited about how that’s really going to change everything for us. Artists, sculptors, designers are just scratching the surface with this technology in the industries that can use it. There’s so much to come. If you’re another artist or sculptor out there and you have any projects you’d like to share, please reach out to us and let us know. We would love to know about it. We might highlight you on a future WTFFF?! episode.
About Christina Douk
Christina Douk’s love of making began as a child having to craft her own toys from available materials due to family finances. Her interests for 3D printing began in 2014 at a workshop in southern California with the company, Mold3D. Here she experienced making her first 3D print from a model she sculpted in Zbrush. Holding the print in her hand changed the way she viewed creating and she was inspired to take her ideas and CG creations and turn them into physical pieces. Currently, Christina works at The Third Floor Inc. in Los Angeles creating previsualization assets for feature films. In addition, she works for Powercore.io, a mobile marketing and merchandising company creating toy prototypes. She has also worked for EA Maxis, on the Sims 3 and Sims 4 franchise, Alliance Studios doing product concept and design, and The Artillery SF, creating props for a commercial with TopCon construction. During her free time, Christina collaborates on 3D printed sculptures and designer toys with several talented concept artists. Her own line of designer toys are planned to launch in November 2016 at DesignerCon in Pasadena, California.
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