Making the Steampunk XWing, Part 1

First of all, this project has some odd roots. I had never drawn anything remotely “steampunk” or much of anything very retro in style ever but noticed it’s rapidly growing popularity.

So the original concept for this was just an exercise in concept art. Beware, serious concept artist hopefuls – doing fan art like this is one of those things professionals tell you to stear clear of because you look like a fanboy.

Well screw that advice – I’m a 15 year working veteran in visual effects and I don’t think any of us would be here without Star Wars so “cut me some slack there ok bro?”

The original concept is still the most favorited thing I have ever posted online and judging by the number of people who have tumblr’d, re-grammed and otherwise copied and pasted it to various sites … you get the picture.

So the first part of this blog documenting the project is all about the concept.


I did several Star Wars related steam/retro designs and the others were interesting as well in that I didn’t really know what I wanted out of these pieces other than to play with the retro and steampunk design tropes.

The T.I.E Fighter I did, actually, I preferred over the X-Wing because it seemed a little more flamboyant.

TIE Fighter 12-16-11 SML

But since the X-Wing resonated with so many more people, I think it was a clear choice for the build. Ordinarily, I tend to rail against fan art of any kind. Truth be told, I don’t really find doing fan art does much more than hinder your true artistic development but these days, it seems no one will take you the least bit seriously as an artist UNLESS you do it. Completely backwards, but I have had a really long career NOT doing fan art so I think an occasional piece is merited.

I didn’t design any of these things with 3d printing in mind – which I think is the takeaway from this project. Although it helps to have a vertical process in 3d printing – going from concept to final with the 3d pinted result in mind – it’s not a deal breaker.

Even though I never thought about even OWNING a 3d printer when I drew these images in 2011, I didn’t even consider making them in CGI back then. But the entire process can still be considered to be vertical in that I will be completing all areas of the production.

So in making your own 3d printed objects from old concepts keep this in mind – it’s very likely that you did not design something with 3d printing in mind. But you must consider the basic physics of the design WHEN you want to print something.

Both the retro designs had something in common in that they are still largely based on the basic designs of real world, kit bashed, old school visual effects models. The original design topologies of the two fighter craft are recognizable almost anywhere in the world and they make sense to world immediately in that they are mechanical, solid, and constructed from real materials.

Next time, I’ll go over the CGI design process.

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Gearing, working parts and 3d printing

I have only ever done a tiny bit of CAD. I had an old copy of TurboCAD for Windows which I barely used, but definitely should have kept using considering the project I have started this month.

I have as much experience calculating differentials as I do hang gliding, but it became absolutely necessary to at least configure the gearing mechanism required for the latest 3d printing project.


The first version of the mechanism showed me that I was thinking much to linearly and I eventually switched to something more complicated but definitely more elegant.

Essentially, the gearing mechanism rotates two planes away from each other – it operates a bit like a scissors.

This is the first operational mechanism I have designed specifically for a 3d printing project and I am considering going to one or more of the open source CAD applications that are available. At least one of them however, is listed by Chrome as a piece of Malware – FreeCAD.

That’s sad – it looked pretty impressive. But I am sure I will settle on a CAD solution, but since I have learned well how to model at scale with fairly high precision, I might not need CAD immediately.

I think the more important issue is how CAD just isn’t as important in consumer level 3d printing – that it’s practically a non issue to many users who are remixing other models, projects etc. Why learn CAD, there are so many free 3d models of reasonably high quality you should be able to kitbash anything you want, right?

You could probably never run out of free things to print online. But just like I remember people using the first dot matrix printers to print out ascii versions of pictures, I think were still very much in that stage of 3d printing. There are definitely the differences between those times and now – some people are truly pushing the envelope but that entry level FFM user is still trying to wrap their head around making these things work reliably at all.

But like I said before, just being a decent 3d modeler is a huge advantage to 3d printing users. It’s pretty much the skeleton key to synthesizing any shape and therefore anything you want to print.

I’ll post more as this project develops.

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Headed to the bank. Sort of.

I literally spent the last week looking around my desk – not even my whole apartment – for thing I needed that could 3d print.

I came up with two things – a pencil and brush holder and a piggy bank. Since so much of my work is digital I don’t do a terribly good job of organizing my pencils and brushes.

Printed VERY clean, will make the next one larger and maybe modular #3dprinting #ultimaker #protopasta

A photo posted by Jesse Mesa Toves (@zeustoves) on

I do an even worse job of organizing loose change.

I spent some time in a previous post talking about the idea that 3d printing has different (not always better) economies of scale when compared to just going out and shopping or re-using something around the house.

In fact, if I am guilty of anything in this most recent exercise, it’s of particularly conspicuous consumption. But I have spent a lifetime designing so many things for other people, I should get a chance to do them for myself.

The largest single object to date that I have 3d printed is this piggy bank. I had originally thought it should be smaller but considering it kind of looks like a hand grenade, I changed my mind. It might be a good idea to print some ears as it is still sort of menacing in a way.

Almost there, will print the screw cap tonight. #3dprinting #ultimaker #protopasta

A photo posted by Jesse Mesa Toves (@zeustoves) on

The next big project might be settled – moving parts. Sound effects – I am sure the nerd rage regarding its design will cause overload. Hopefully it will be done by Christmas.

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Printing your own useful stuff

People constantly talk about the future where you will print the things you need or want.

Before I bought my first 3d printer, I watched a video of a young man who printed replacement parts for various things in his kitchen and bathroom.

While I thought these were interesting uses, the economies of scale in time and convenience are still WAY off of being compelling to consumers.

For instance, the inkwell I made – the larger one took six hours to print. That’s nowhere near as economical as shopping for one at a local art store.

One could say that the hours taken to design it, to print it and clean it so that it is usable costs a consumer far more than it would to simply buy one at retail.

But does it?


My new pencil holder for the desk – designed, modeled and printed in less than 10 hours total time.

Consider some of the most basic aspects of manufacturing an object as simple as the inkwell I designed.

For a manufacturer to produce a similar inkwell for retail, commonly they would have to:

  • Acquire design services
  • Solicit retail
  • Secure credit and financing
  • Purchase manufacturing capacity
  • Arrange shipping and customs agreements if made abroad
  • Marketing and advertising budgets including package design

For myself I needed:

  • A weekend to design the object
  • Design software
  • 3d printer and filament to cover prototypes and the final
  • a few days to print prototypes and the final versions

Obviously I am leaving out a LOT of detail. But at a glance what do you think really means more to users of the things 3d printing is actually capable of making right now?

I have some obvious advantages over everyday users. Even with the emergence of 3d ecosystems with thousands and even millions of objects available for printing, I can design and prototype my own objects without ever incurring anything but the time to design anything.

I also have some experience in computer aided design, drafting and product and packaging design – not to mention nearly 2 decades of computer modeling experience.

It’s really easy for me to fire up a modeling program and synthesize nearly anything I want.

The learning curve behind really making new things is still pretty steep. And I remember when people used to talk about how long it would take for 3d modeling software would take before it became commonplace – a household thing. It’s been almost 20 years since I remember people talking about that and there are only recently some useful 3d programs on mobile devices. That took an awfully long time.

Even I am still looking for that 3d printing “killer app” – that thing that will make 3d printing a real game changer for other people because I have to be honest.

I hate the thought of not having one in my house and being able to make nearly any object I want – especially after making a living for years making monsters.

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Proto Pasta and printing metallic PLA

So I am hoping to get my hands on some of this material soon and try it out.

It’s the new stainless steel PLA from Proto Pasta – it is among the new filaments for Fused Filament Manufacturing (FFM) 3d printers they just released.

The carbon fiber PLA they also make is easily the best looking black material I have used – stock PLA from many sources has a really bright sheen even at higher resolutions which is tough to light and sometimes tough to sand.

The new material from Proto Plant looks really interesting for several reasons.

There are lots of model painting tricks to make something look like metal, and often the results just look painted anyway on plastic models. But there are some blends of industrial plastics that look like brushed metal and let’s face it – I like robots. Robots. Metal. It’s a REALLY good fit.

The other reason is sanding – it looks like this material was made with the intentions of actually looking good even when only partially sanded. I have to say that ALL stock PLA material when sanded looks like just that – partially sanded material.

I hope to get some of this stuff for the next large scale project.

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Interstellar and escaping a rock

When I was 16, I met Ellison Onizuka – a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle, Challenger.

He and two other crew members were on a goodwill tour throughout the Pacific Rim and they stopped at Father Duenas Memorial School when I was in my junior year. They spoke to the upperclassmen about college, military academies and of course – heading into space.

On the morning the news came in, I turned the radio on in my room and every station was carrying the same story. The Challenger had exploded after liftoff, the crew was feared dead.

When we got to school that morning, we literally got nothing done. The understanding of what just happened was going to be allowed to run it’s course. We were “Duenas men” – we could handle this.

That day, time stopped. We barely spoke.

All of us who were readying for college admissions and selecting schools were more than a little shocked that the men we had just met were all dead. In particular, Ellison, a man who had been born and raised just like us – on an island. But people at least know about Hawaii – there was a time when people would consistently ask or joke ‘Guam?’ It wasn’t a place; it was a question. “It’s a rock.”

As much as we loved our island, there wasn’t a soul in that class who didn’t aspire to leave it at some point and seek their fortune. Father Duenas, after all, was a college preparatory school and its mission was – pardon the phrase – to launch us into our careers, lives and more.

Seeing someone like Ellison suffer such a terrible end, so publicly, so completely gone – you think it would have made us all feel afraid, that the world was an island and daring to leave it had a cost.

But the effects were different in the long run. I know that many of us went on to be pilots, businessmen, soldiers, lawyers, architects, engineers and myself – an animator (bare with me). We ended up in quite diverse fields, the 100 or so of us that met with Ellison and the other crew.

If you would fast forward to 28 or so years later, I’m sitting in a nearly empty theater watching a movie thinking about how people rationalize one thing or another – is it worth it, should we be spending money on something else, the internalization of how big our problems are and how wasteful something like space travel is when our roads need paving and our bridges need mending.

But all those bridges and roads lead to somewhere where once there was no building, no job to go to, not even a place to park your car. It’s really easy to cut exploration when you think you’ve been everywhere and seen everything. There’s nothing in outer space, right? Why go?.

It made everything more expensive – traveling, goods an services, communications and therefore the internet. It made everything more complicated, building, travelling and even watching movies. You were sometimes never sure whether or not a movie you heard about would ever have a chance of playing because the possible audience for it was so small.

It was a different set of movies that inspired me to leave Guam. They were in order that I saw them, Toy Story and The Shawshank Redemption. You can say they are as completely unrelated as humanly possible but look at the themes and popular phrases that emerged from them both – “To infinity and beyond” and “Get busy living, or get busy dying” and watching them in quick succession turned into my refrain for planning my departure.

I say planning, but I think I caught some people off guard. Particularly the people I knew who were more than happy living the rest of their lives there. Why leave?

Why? Why did I listen to a man who said “nothing is impossible” when months later he’d be dead. Why believe him. He failed? Why leave an island that you know, that sustains you, that gave you everything?

Because I got sick of being isolated. Afraid of never dipping my oar into chance, to be more poetic, and being happy about it. People visit the island and call it paradise but I promise you that the ocean surrounding it has swallowed more wishes, dreams and lives than space ever has. I simultaneously respect, love, and fear the ocean. But it was a barrier to everything I wanted in many ways.

You know what scares some people? It’s not dying in space. It’s drowning in an ocean because they never learned  to swim. My sister has been teaching grown men and women to swim – adults who have been putting it off because they never had the time, felt ashamed, or just didn’t know it was even a choice. It’s a bit of a stretch, but as a metaphor for why we should learn out way about space it’s a decent one.

If it sounds like I may have disliked “Interstellar”, nothing could be further from the truth. But I was caught off guard by the people who hated it so much for any reason we reach for when hating a big budget, sometimes sentimental and serious look at science fiction. I loved the movie. If, for no other reason, than I had actually met someone who faced the real terrors and rigors of space travel and perished.

I repeat this phrase from an editor’s speech on stories a lot. Stories have such common themes on this planet that there must be a deeper reason and one of his comments was that many of our stories are our way of rehearsing our fears. It’s a petty criticism of any movie, a dismissive audience that walks away and comments merely “that sucked,” snaps a bunch of selfies then gets drunk and boards a plane. What is there to fear any longer for humans?

We need the sheer terror of space. We need that inky, cold, deadly black oblivion stare to motivate us and fucking dare us to leave. ust like I needed to look across an ocean when I had barely graduated from college and say I am leaving, I think the human race owes itself some new stories. New terrifying and crushing terror from the reaches of space.

After just a few generations, the human race has become pretty skilled at flying itself around the planet. We take it so for granted that you can’t go too many weeks without hearing about loud, drunk morons making even short trips a complaint filled torture. Flying went from exploration, to utility and recreation pretty fast, but space travel gives another challenge.

I can’t quite imagine I’ll be making spaceflights soon but I applaud the courage of people trying to pave the way. It’s funny to think that if we ever get REALLY good at travelling across space, people might complain of how big our other problems are and how wasteful something else is when our spaceport driveways need paving and our wormhole bridges need mending.

And some part of me will think that early space travelers don’t really want to advance the species or save it, they just want to get away from all the complaining.

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Ending Dinovember soon

So it was something people say NOT to do but I don’t care. They said don’t post unrelated images in your blog posts.

Coffee-raptor Jump attack Skull dino 02a

I didn’t care. I was happy with the art, I want this website to be my forum for all things and I friggin love dinosaurs dammit.

But I had finished all of my dinovember piece sketches a while ago and just needed some excuse to post them

Now I need to concentrate on a new 3d printing project – one which has mechanical engineering requirements which I hope will result in a functioning … thing. Secret for now.

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Go ahead and work for Exposure

Notice that’s a capital “Exposure” – and what I mean by that is Exposure if worth something, exposure isn’t.


If someone tries to hire you with the old chestnut “It will give you exposure” – let them know you expect the other kind with a capital E.

Here’s that it means – if a company is going to hire you, they expect to reach a certain number of people with whatever number sized audience.

YOUR price for that exposure should be a FUNCTION of THAT number.

“So your company expects the audience for this work to be 100,000? Fine, my price for doing this project is you get me 1000 likes on my facebook page.”

That’s right. Exposure – capital – has a quantifiable number now. There are no more ambiguous metrics like their were in print and broadcasting. You can get solid projections from professionals about how much they “expose” various audiences to marketing and media messaging.

As an artist, you need to do your homework on who gets what numbers and if someone doesn’t have the numbers, they can only afford exposure, and NOT Exposure.

What is the value – as an artist – that you put on a retweet? A like? A heart in Instagram? Artists thrive on building audiences for their work, and any artist good on various media platforms is totally aware that even with tons of metrics, converting someone to a customer is a different story.

But you can’t sell anything if someone doesn’t know it exists. Hence, Exposure.

What’s it worth to you? And let’s face it – too many businesspeople don’t waste time trying to find GOOD art, they just look for POPULAR art. It sucks to say that. But non artists in charge of purchasing art don’t have their gut to trust – NOW they have hard data.

Don’t get me wrong. Metrics and Exposure are NOT the whole picture and never will be, but I can surely attest to the value of Exposure versus exposure – just look at my living room and the various equipment and samples in it sent to me because people knew I would give them the best possible Exposure.

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This is when you will outgrow your first 3d printer

The minute you want to build something bigger than the printer is capable of printing in one piece. At least a dozen people I know have said something which indicates the size printer they want to buy is dictated by the thing they most want to make RIGHT NOW. Later on … you get the picture?

Minifigs, RPG set pieces, jewelry, designer ice trays … tiny stuff. Cool.

And that STILL shouldn’t stop you from printing something pretty darned huge.

The guys at Ultimaker proved this by printing a life sized elephant in dozens of individual pieces using a “print farm” – a group of Ultimakers all working together.

The Gulanee model I printed out was originally targeted for the Makerbot Mini where the size was set to 1 foot – minus the base I made separately.

Want to know what comes in strikingly handy? The built in Windows 8 calculator which does many conversions natively.


If this is the first time someone has praised Windows 8, don’t freak out.

Going bigger on the Ultimaker 2 meant doing some re-configuring to get parts that would print the model 2 feet tall. That’s bigger than my old Godzilla toys.

Having a good grasp of conversions is something every scale modeler knows – 1/8 scale this or that, 1/32 scale ships and so on.

So a workflow for me always started with “How big do I want this thing to be” and not “how big can the printer make it.” Because frankly, it’s a stupid question. The bigger and better questions are “what’s the right scale” and “how much filament do I need.”

All slicer software worth it’s salt should tell you a few things.

  • How much material will it take
  • How large the final print will be
  • The exact scale entered to produce the final print
  • And how long it will take to print

This is an example of the Cura display showing these values.


In a previous post I said how crucial CGI modeling skills were going to be? Glad I spent years modeling things the hard way – polygon to polygon.

The Gulanee was designed and built for animation production – not 3d printing. Plenty of conventions in animation just don’t fly in 3d printing.

The biggest problem? Floating parts. Anyone who has done visual effects and CGI knows this.


All of the armor and little screws were all discreet pieces of the model that had to be merged so it’s a bit like building the model twice.

The final result can be noticeably better if you take the time to merge things manually – the biggest reason is that the software which more easily merges models also increases their file size and can soften certain details. Even with more expensive software, I spent so much time modeling the Gulanee the first time, I REALLY wanted to preserve that detail.

People call this process making the model “watertight.” It’s still an important step but it’s one lots of people are working hard to eliminate. Wouldn’t you want to save production time?

Determining the ideal spot where you will split up your model is also something various programs handle differently – I’ve been doing it manually. For the most part, breaking you model into parts is about scale.

It is also about strength. Many parts of the Gulanee were made unnaturally thin – it was meant to indicate something sleek. But in the real world, that meant change attributes of the model to be stronger.

The legs of the Gulanee were printed with different settings – basically they were given more internal structure and therefor strength than the res of the model. Parts of the feet are almost solid.

If you are satisfied downloading models from the internet, printing out that Yoda model in the material of the day, be my guest. Once you find out what you REALLY want to make, you’ll have to design it yourself.

THEN, you’ll be making the future. Then you’ll likely want another printer.

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Things no one tells you about 3d printing

I know a lot of this has been said online. But I experienced all of this first hand over the past year. Some of it could be painfully obvious, but too much of the press around this topic is only about new equipment, new materials, and company politics.

Screw that. There’s plenty more stuff you need to worry about or at least think about before you dive into the field. These were just the things off the top of my head that I never really heard anyone address honestly:


  • You better know how to model. Cleanly making good polygon models is beyond important no matter what software you use. Ever wonder why so many 3d printed models look so crude, clunky and faceted? It’s just easier for people to handle, for cruder machines to print and many slicing programs to handle.
  • Slicing software is not all created equally. Some programs have pretty crude visualizations of the toolpath of your printer. If you don’t know, a slicer program is the software which literally generates the instructions a printer needs to build your model a layer at a time. I like software which allows me to closely and completely see each of the thousands of layers of the slicing easily. Sometimes you can see exactly where problems will occur and you can adjust for problems.
  • If you built plastic models, have some woodworking skills, any kind of real craftsmanship and steady hands you are at an immediate advantage over most people with 3d printers. Having the ability to add another layer of finish to your 3d prints is huge.
  • No amount of money you spend on a 3d printer will make you a good designer. Don’t know anything about 3d modelling or CAD? Never pushed around tons of polygons? Don’t have skills in design and constructive solid geometry? Chances are you’re just going to be stuck downloading other people’s models and hoping they fit your needs. Just like 2d printers didn’t make people good designers, 3d printers don’t make you an inventor or maker. Well, it is cooler to your friends but that novelty without design chops is seriously overrated.
  • Get used to print failures, they happen. and worse, you won’t notice simple mistakes until they end up costing you money and material. Plenty of copy editors will attest to the fact that things went to print with terrible mistakes. It happens. But in 3d printing, seeing those mistakes manifest in the third dimension is demoralizing on a whole new level if you let it get to you. But if you are used to experimentation, like iterating and experimenting, or just tinkering then you should do fine.
  • If you live somewhere with seriously hot summers, be prepared for a utilities spike. I ran two printers nearly all summer long and saw my highest power bill ever for at least one month. The difference between last year and this year even with a rate increase was noticeable. This kind of equipment needs reliable power and if you can, dedicating an uninterrupted power supply is a given if you plan on using these things for something critical to your home business or workplace.
  • For now, nothing you print will be as high quality as the same object injection molded from some cheap manufacturer in China. Just look at even the cheaper toys at a supermarket checkout – there isn’t a single Kickstarted campaign indie funded ANYTHING that can come close to the quality of some of the stuff you can get mass produced in China. At least, NOT YET. But there is something far more interesting and novel about things you 3d printed for a specific purpose or request. I know people love the inexpensive stereo lithography DLP printers coming out now – but think about this. Resin models printed on these SLA printers cost 10-100 times as much per item as the exactly same thing injection molded by an experienced manufacturer. But you can customize faster. At least FOR NOW. To paraphrase Seth Godin, is the cost of NOT MAKING something HIGHER than the cost of you MAKING something.

Still want to get into 3d printing? You’re nuts. Just like me. See you at the funny farm.

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