I have been 3D modelling and 3D printing for many years, but the main program I use, Autodesk Inventor cannot model organic shapes. Inventor is a parametric modelling software so every shape is very precise which makes it fantastic for mechanical puppet parts. However, for the past three years I have wanted to learn how to digitally sculpt more organic, natural shapes such as horns, eyes, noses that are not perfectly symmetrical.
Part of my research has led me to 3D scanning and photogrammetry. Initally, back in 2015 I got to try a handheld 3D scanner that was connected to my laptop by cords called Skanect. The challenge was that there was limited software to edit the scan, and the software that came with the scanner was very difficult to manage.
In early 2023, I was again exploring new tools for photogrammetry which is a form of 3D scanning using lots of individual photos, and a prop making channel I follow, gave a demonstration of a mobile app they used to make a space helmet. The demonstration they gave led me to trying the Polycam app for iPhone.
I tried the app and the paid version worked great for a small puppet part that I needed. The trick with this app is that you need to walk around the object, so it is important to place the item being scanned on a stool or stand that you can walk around.
My next step was to find a software package that I could edit the scan in. In 2021, I tried Z Brush, but I found that software package was very expensive and difficult to navigate as a first time user. It is also a software package that was not available at school- so if I learned the software, I could not share it with students. Since I have access to the Autodesk suite of products, fast forward to 2022, I started to explore Autodesk 3DS Max. Working through the training from Linkedin Learning, my experience was this software was more focused on building environments rather than characters.
Now in 2023, I have just attended a workshop called Digtal Tools for Analogue Makers taught by Philip Millar (@puppetryschool) at the Melbourne Festival of Puppetry on July 1, 2023. In the pre-workshop reading, Philip not only recommended Polycam as one of many 3D scanning tools, but also Blender as the modeling software. Blender is a free, open source program that is very similar to ZBrush in it’s capabilities, and it is available for the computers at school! I found an incredible YouTube video on how to use Blender with a drawing tablet to help me learn the program very quickly.
One of the most challenging steps was removing the background surface from the scan result without damaging the scanned part I required. Each polygon had to be individually deleted.
The resulting mesh was only the surface of the puppet nose- there was no thickness that would support a 3D print. I had to learn how to add the back by closing the mesh, then began a process of refining the mesh and smoothing the polygons. I completed the process by adding a rectangular prism to the mesh and aligning it to flatten the back. It meant I had to install an add on called Booltools.
I really struggled with orienting the mesh so that I could use the grab and smooth tools symmetrically. It is something I still have to learn more about. In all, I am really excited by what I can now do with Blender.