3D Prints of the Helmet and Arm Armor
Quite a while ago now, a good friend of mine, Matthew Serle, announced that he had purchased a couple Z Corp 450 3D printers. I couldn’t believe my ears. Early on I had briefly looked into the possibility of using 3D printing for my project but soon discovered that it is absurdly expensive to have a company 3D print things for you. So you can imagine the amount of squee-ing I did when my friend told me he would let me 3D print anything for the mere* cost of materials. All this is why I haven’t posted anything in a while. I wanted to get my project to a place where I had something tangible to show.
The advantages of 3D printing are astounding. First off, there’s accuracy; you can’t get any more exact than getting a one to one copy of a 3D model (assuming your model is accurate as well). Then there’s the fact that it’s fast and easy compared to all the work and fine tuning you have to do with manual creation (do not take this to mean that 3D printing requires no hard work at all). The few disadvantages are cost and possible difficulty. When I said “easy” before, that assumes you have the knowledge and skill to work with 3D modeling software, and even that is still a lot of hard work.
To make my 3D prints I used the original Metroid Prime game mesh, which I showed in an earlier post, as a guide to build my mesh over. Obviously you can’t just grab the game files and print them since the models are super low poly and not fitted to a real human. Prime uses a few thousand polys while my models are in the millions.
Preparing a model for printing is a bit more complicated than it may seem. You have to make the object “closed” meaning it can’t have any single sided polygons (think of how a plane is single sided while a box is not). So I had to extrude the single sided shell which is a huge pain in the ass to get right. I tried just about every program I could find including Maya, Max, and Blender, as well as more obscure software, in an attempt to find one that had a good algorithm for extruding evenly without distortion. This is very important for a printable model because you need to minimize the amount of material you use (cost), while keeping the object thick enough (strength). All the programs I’ve used have varying degrees of accuracy, but none do it well enough. I ended up just using Maya to do it and then had to manually fix the entire interior of the helmet to make it print-worthy. Ugh.
The print turned out to be amazing! There’s no way I could have gotten close to this crispness, smoothness, accuracy, and symmetry if I had done the pepakura method that I had been planning on doing.
It’s surprisingly smooth. I expected it to have a stair-step look to it due to the fact that the printer prints in layers, but apparently the layers are so thin that the worst you get is a wood grain appearance which can easily be sanded to be super smooth. It was printed in four pieces because the printer bed is only 8″x10″x8″. So far I’ve glued the front half together but hit a snag on the back half. Somehow the back half is wider in the biggest flat section between the grooves (the center/top section) when matched up to the front pieces. I can’t imagine how this happened since my model is perfectly accurate and warping can’t make things longer. It’s very weird. The only solution I see to solve it is to grind off a bit where the two back pieces meet, which also means I have to grind a new center groove. I have a dremel to do this, but we’ll see how it goes.
The left arm and elbow cap turned out just as awesome. My estimation skills on size amazed even me – the arm fits so snugly you’d think I’d 3D modeled it around my actual arm. Granted, I did use pepakura to help guess the size, but I still had to make some big guesses. I’ll be continuing to use pepakura to help size the armor to my body, and as I create them I’ll upload them to my newly added pepakura file page (see the links at the top of my site).
* It is still quite expensive to print things for just cost of materials, but well worth it in my opinion.