Designing my own action figure – and printing it on a 3D printer

At Fab Café in Shibuya they have 3D printers and laser cutters. Most of the Christmas decorations in the café seemed to be made on those machines. Very creative atmosphere in general, the girl in this photo seems to be making music:


I spent 45 minutes designing a little action figure in a 3D sculpting app on Miyagi’s ipad. Miyagi had designed a dog. I improvised and learned the program as I sculpted.



Then the staff helped us to print our figures, which cost 1,400 yen each.


The staff adjusted the size of the figure so that it would take under 30 minutes to print it, since after 30 minutes you have to pay more.


Gluing up the platform where the figure will be printed:


A bottom plate is added automatically, so that the figure can stand up:




This is halfway through. My figure took 20 minutes to print, Miyagi’s dog took 28 minutes because it needed more goop.




Voilà, Miyagi’s dog and my … alien? I think I made the head a bit too big. Miyagi’s dog needed some “support goop”, I think that should be taken away manually after printing.


Some of the Christmas decorations that were made at the café:


It was fun to see a 3D printer in action and to print my own action figure, but at the same time I must say that it’s a bit funny with all this fascination about the physical object. After all, we have just learned to read books digitally instead of on paper; we’ve got used to the idea that the physical book is nothing more than “printed content”. With 3D printers we go in the opposite direction: It’s not enough to just fathom the object I created digitally – we want the 3D printout. Maybe the fascination in part is due to our otherwise totally digital society.

My own fascination with 3D printers is that the technology is in such an early phase. We gathered around the 3D printer, photographed and filmed it, in pretty much the same way as we did in my high school 20 years ago when the new printer produced a colour print. Which took about the same time. I figure 3D printers will develop in the same way, and that we will look back and laugh when thinking about how long time it took to print a simple figure back in 2013, and with such a crappy resolution at that.

Earlier this year I read Jaron Lanier’s book Who Owns the Future? He describes a future where any object can be printed on 3D printers, which will be extremely advanced and will print in many different materials. 3D printers might change the world in the same way that the printing press and the internet did. It could kill off the whole traditional manufacture industry when everyone just prints the objects they want. But at the same time it would create a new industry that would produce all the 3D printers. Which in theory could be printed too in bigger 3D printers, and those printers … Yes, it’s a very theoretical or philosophical book, but give it a couple of hundred years and the future he describes doesn’t feel impossible at all. And it’s when you have that perspective that you get a thrill from printing a simple figure on a 3D printer in a small café in Shibuya.

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