the rubber chicken pendant

I haven’t blogged in awhile because I’ve been remodeling my parents’ house. But while preparing a portfolio piece for a jewelry company, I made a series of sheets that show the design process of some of my more recent work.

Click to download the PDF of this file.

Click to download the PDF of this file.

So how did I make this little guy? I started with a DynaMesh Sphere from the Lightbox, then turned off Perspective. I used the Gizmo 3D in the Move mode to stretch the sphere into an egg shape.

Switch to the Draw mode. Using a mask where the neck should go (Cmd on Mac, Ctrl on PC), I reversed the mask (Cmd/Mac, Ctrl/PC and click on background) and used the Gizmo 3D “ball” in the Move mode to pull the neck out. Since your primitive is already a DynaMesh, after each major change, re-DynaMesh to refresh the mesh. If you want to see what’s happening, on the right side of the main canvas look for the PolyF button with a grid on it.

Using the same method, turn on Symmetry under the Transform menu, then you can mask off both legs at once in the Draw mode, then switch to the Move mode and use the Gizmo to pull the legs down.

Try using the Snakehook tool to pull out things like the toes on the feet…play around with the size. The shortcut for Snakehook is B-S-H on your keyboard.

Switch to the Clay Buildup tool for sculpting details…a good tip is to turn your intensity down to 5 so it doesn’t apply much material, which is easier to smooth with the shift key. The keyboard shortcut for Clay Building is B-C-B.

The arms were masked off, mask reversed, then pulled out to each side. Try using symmetry to do this, but you will need to move the Gizmo to the general vicinity of one of the arms…when you pull out to the side, it will “raise” both arms at once. To move the Gizmo, hold down Option/Mac or Alt/PC and drag the Gizmo over the masked area for one of the arms, release the key, then use your mouse to pull the horizontal arrow away from the body. Clear the mask and fine-tune with sculpting. To re-center, click on the third icon above the Gizmo to find unmasked center.

Another trick? After masking, you can hold down the Cmd/Mac or Ctrl/PC and click ON the model to soften/blur the edge of the mask. This will provide nice, rounded arms.

And finally, the t-shirt was applied to the chicken using a mask and the Mask Pen. Try switching the stroke to Lasso if you’d like. Sharpen the mask by clicking on the model while holding Cmd-Option/Mac or Ctrl-Alt/PC. Then use the Extract command from bottom of the SubTool palette.

I’ll do a tutorial on this one soon, but hopefully this will get you started!

MoI — moment of inspiration CAD software

types of CAD modeling

After taking an online course on jewelry in ZBrush, I was a little frustrated that the instructor was going back and forth between ZBrush ($795) and another piece of "parametric CAD" software that was more expensive. I had a few early attempts to stretch SketchUp's capabilities to make basic forms for ZBrush that worked okay, but since then I've learned more about ZBrush's ZModeler functionality for hard surface modeling.

Simple flower made in virtual "clay" in ZBrush

So you say, "Kat, you're using that crazy terminology again, and I have no idea what you're talking about." Let me explain.

ZBrush gives you the ability for more freeform modeling. Imagine sculpting with a ball of clay in real life...you can push and pull the material into organic shapes, creating a model in a very realistic way but in a new medium. The flower shown here is a very basic example of this type of freeform modeling in ZBrush. However, the flower was originally created in ZModeler as a hard-surface model, then sculptural details added with other more freeform brushes.

The ZModeler mode in ZBrush is great for creating hard-surface models...this would be like modeling a starfighter...you might start with basic shape and push and pull surfaces to make something more mechanical looking. Here's a fascinating time-lapse video of "Alex O" modeling a war helmet in ZBrush with ZModeler. In jewelry design, I might use the ZModeler functionality to create a square frame for a pendant, then an inner medallion, then switch over to soft sculpting to create the design. When creating a base for 3D printing, I also use the ZModeler functionality. Here's another great video from Alex O that shows him using ZModeler to make a geometric ring.

However, something like SketchUp (SketchUp Make, FREE download) is a little more rigid. I can create a box, then push and pull geometric shapes. But if I were making a box that I wanted to be exactly 20 cm, I have a precision built in to the program that can make that happen. That is a characteristic of a "parametric" 3D modeling program. That makes SketchUp...like AutoCAD, Fusion360 (cloud-based, FREE for hobbyists), Solidworks, and similar software...perfect for creating technical drawings and product designs. For example, I used SketchUp to design my jewelry workbench.

moment of inspiration (MoI)

I had some issues with creating printable models in SketchUp, so I started looking around for another "technical" drawing solution that wouldn't break the bank. Enter Moment of Inspiration, also known as MoI. MoI is $295, works on both Mac and PC, and has a 30-day trial.

At first I was a little skeptical. The interface was pretty basic, and definitely wasn't written to take advantage of the Mac interface I'm using. But then again, neither is ZBrush. After a couple of YouTube videos I was up and running, and I was able to figure out the rest on my own. 

So what is MoI good for? Probably almost any kind of technical modeling you might want to do except freeform "clay" type modeling. You could take a freeform "extruded" shape and "subtract" a sphere from it. Combining different "primitive" shapes, such as cubes, cylinders, and spheres, you can make pretty complex models that export well. Turning on a "grid snap" or "object snap" helps line things up. Then you can export these items easily, bringing them into the PreForm or other "slicing" software that prepares the file for 3D printing.

Some rubber mold frames made in MoI

I jokingly say that the second phase of having access to a 3D printer is when you start making your own tools. I purchased some frames for making rubber molds from Rio Grande, but they were too wide to fit in a nifty little spring clamp that holds the split mold together while filling with hot wax. Additionally, trying to estimate the amount of two-part "RTV" (room temperature vulcanizing) mold material usually resulted in wasted material...and at $56 a container, it's too expensive to do that! So my "improved" version has markings on the side to indicate centimeters, and a handy spreadsheet calculates the exact volume and weight of RTV needed. Remember the ability to measure in a parametric modeling program? Because MoI works that way, my one centimeter marks are accurate when printed. In ZBrush, that would be more difficult.

And because I'm a dork, I added www.katkramer.com and my logo to the side...and it was backwards, so when the rubber mold is made, my website address doesn't read correctly. Oh well, there's always version 2.

So in a nutshell, MoI is a nice little program, and the models created are accurate in size. It is a nice alternative to more expensive programs for making basic models to bring into ZBrush.

 

zbrushcore...zbrush fun at a lower price!

Awhile back I started writing about 3D printing, and my exploration into a piece of software called ZBrush. It was the single most confusing piece of software I've ever tried to learn, but once you "get it," it's simply amazing. There are a lot of resources out there for learning, and the company's ZClassroom is pretty comprehensive. If you still have questions, you can go to Twitter and use the hashtag #AskZBrush, and they will answer with instructional videos on YouTube.

I've researched the different types of software available, and most "bench" jewelers that make mostly engagement-style jewelry are using something called RhinoGold, but the price tag is pretty hefty. If you want to add on the functionality of modeling with a virtual clay, it will set you back over $8,000.

But ZBrush wasn't made for jewelry. It's been around since the late 1990s, and primarily used for creating movie monsters and CGI effects. If you've watched any of the Marvel movies, or even Game of Thrones, you've seen things made with ZBrush.

So I've been working with the most recent version (as of Fall 2016), which is ZBrush 4R7, costing about $800. I understand 4R8 is coming, but a little surprise happened along the way...a new version called ZBrushCore. This new version is targeted at folks who want to get started with 3D modeling in ZBrush, who might not need all the bells and whistles, and who want a lower price. Voila! ZBrushCore is $199.

Click to enlarge

Feeling pretty advanced with ZBrush, at least where jewelry is concerned, I volunteered to give a demo to a fellow glass artist who is interested in using 3D printing to create specialized tools. At first I gave her a demo of ZBrush 4R7, well before the introduction of ZBrushCore. Then she came over for a quick intro lesson on the new software, and I was thrown off a little by some of the tools that are missing, but we still had a successful tutorial session, making some press molds for clay. But as you can see, the Palettes are significantly simplified.

After getting a chance to work more with ZBC, I found there are workarounds for someone working with jewelry designs. And Pixologic has also included some starting projects in the "Lightbox" for a signet ring, a plain band, and an engagement ring. There are also wonderful videos for getting started...the ring below is a variation of one of their tutorials. I added the bezel and stone, and hollowed out the back of the ring so that it would be lighter to cast. The new version also includes simplified exports for 3D printing, but I haven't tried those yet.

New Gizmo 3D tool

ZBrushCore is also limited to 30 different brushes, but the majority of them are the brushes I use most. I did try loading some of my favorite brushes from ZBrush 4R7, but I got a message that says that ZBrushCore only allows brushes created in that program. I'll have to look into that...can I make brushes? But it did let me load in my favorite materials (Shiny, Shiny Dirty, and Dirty Blue).

It was also missing some of the Clipping Brushes...most notably the ClipRect brush that I use frequently. I tried adding it, but it wasn't accessible. I also couldn't find the Close Holes function, but found that when a Dynamesh operation is performed, the holes automatically close. I really like the new Gizmo 3D tool that allows the user to more easily rotate, stretch, and resize the model, and look forward to that be added into the full version of ZBrush.

One other thing that might throw off an experienced ZBrush user is the masking brushes. At first you think that some of the mask brushes are missing, but check the Stroke options below the masking brushes, and you'll find your old friends. the Curve and Lasso options. Under the mask brushes, you'll also see the new additions of PerfectCircle and PerfectSquare.  These were formerly checkboxes in the Stroke options, but adding them in as an easily accessible tool makes things really nice.

If you've got the extra money for the full version of ZBrush 4R7, I would recommend the full version, but if you're on a budget and just getting started, ZBrushCore is a great program that simplifies the learning process, and still produces models that can be easily printed in 3D.

I'll write more about this over the weekend, and create a tutorial on how to make a ring for YouTube. But if you're interested in digital sculpting, ZBrushCore is a great place to start!

Variation of silver ring from ZBrushCore's tutorials

adventures in zbrush

It's been a few months of working to master a program called ZBrush...literally the most difficult program I've ever worked with. It's a program primarily used for the creation of amazing creatures for the movie industry, but flexible enough it's being used by jewelry artists.

I've been fascinated by CAD since my senior project at the University of Texas in the early 1990s, where I made a ten-second video of a prickly pear cactus losing a fruit that bounced off a table and onto the floor. It was primitive, but took months of work. And at this point, I have no idea how models make their way out of ZBrush and into an actual movie, but the modeling is just downright amazing.

My goal is to be able to design jewelry and send it out eventually to a casting house while sitting in a beach cabaña on an island somewhere, but for the time being I'll be 3D printing the models and casting them myself. I am optimistic! 

I am also in the process of creating instructional videos in ZBrush for jewelry artists, and hope to be teaching others in the near future.