Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: LulzBot Mini 3D Printer

Back in March, Freeside Atlanta won a LulzBot Mini 3D printer during a hackerspace giveaway they were running. We already have one of their older machines, an AO-100, so we were very familiar with their printers and how easy they were to use. I've used several of LulzBot's printers before - I own an AO-101 myself - and I was really interested to see what the Mini brought to the table.

As I said in my Cube 3D review, I really dislike the idea of "just press go" type of machines. 3D printing is still too young of a technology for mass adoption, and pushing fickle equipment on to the unsuspecting masses will put 3D printing in a negative light.

Having said that: the Mini is probably the best printer I've ever used.

The Mini's name comes from it's generally small build platform of roughly 6" cubed. Normally this would really deter me from using it as I am generally printing large costume pieces, but the small printing volume is the only negative I can possibly say about the machine. The machine comes fully built and ready to use, the frame is attractive and everything is very well constructed. It took us about 20 minutes between unboxing and pulling our first print off of the bed.

Included is a LulzBot branded install of Cura which has all of the settings for the Mini included, so the time between unboxing and printing was incredibly fast. There are several preset quality options, and the highest detail option at 0.1mm produces amazing results. You can go under the hood and tweak all of the print options, but the default settings produce great objects on their own.

But really, the two best features are the PEI printing surface, and the self leveling bed.

PEI is a bit of a new development in the 3D printing world. It is an "aerospace grade glass fabric polyetherimide (PEI) composite" that requires virtually no prep to use in 3D printing. It replaces the usual glass print surface and is adhered directly to the silicone heated bed on the Mini. Unlike printing on borosilicate glass, which you need to apply either kapton tape or ABS juice or purple glue stick to really get large prints to adhere, PEI bonds to both ABS and PLA when heated with no additional work needed.

For example, we 3D printed the entire Xenomorph head - around 38 prints total at ~5 hours each - and didn't have anything come detached from the bed and only very minor lifting on 1 or 2 very long prints.

Once the surface cools, your prints will come loose with very little effort, and only large flat objects need to be pried off using a clam knife. Occasionally I will clean the surface with denatured alcohol to get rid of any dust or skin oils left over from the bed being touched while removing objects, but that's the most maintenance I've had to do.

However, after about 500 printing hours being put on it, the surface has started to bubble and should probably be replaced soon. I am chalking that up to having 20 or so people at the space using it, and not everyone treating it as delicately as they should. If you are using it yourself and you treat the machine with respect - and especially waiting for the bed to fully cool down so the PEI releases it's grip - I doubt you'd have the bubbling problem.

The self leveling bed is fantastic, and virtually negates the need for any maintenance and upkeep. Unlike printers like the PrintrBot Play which use a magnetic sensor, the Mini uses electrical signal sent through the print head. In the corners of the printer are 4 metal discs, and the machine uses the change in voltage to measure when the nozzle has made contact.

On my printers at home, keeping the bed in level is the biggest struggle and the cause for any real printing issues I have. When I am building a space gun or some sci-fi armor and I'm planning on putting 200+ hours on the machines for just a single project, reducing the down time between jobs is a life saver. Using the Mini, I know that the bed will always be perfectly level and my props will come out pixel accurate to the 3D models.

The Mini comes with a 0.5mm nozzle, which compared to the 0.35mm nozzle I use at home, I was worried that the print quality would suffer. But between the PEI bed and the self leveling feature, and the rock solid construction of the body and mechanical elements, the actual print quality print for print is some of the best I've seen off of an FDM printer.

I'm debating on whether or not I want to buy one for myself, but I am strongly leaning towards doing so. My only reservation would be to wait until the stand out features of the Mini make their way into the TAZ line of printers from LulzBot, which I'm sure is inevitable. Having a 300 mm x 300 mm printing surface on PEI with a self leveling bed would make them the only FDM printer I'd ever want to use again.

If you want a printer that is reliable and doesn't require frequent upkeep, then I can't recommend this printer enough.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Furiosa's Bionic Arm (Mad Max: Fury Road)

This post originally featured at Tested.com

Last year, I was talking with a friend of mine about some of our "holy grail" projects. I told him that it was one of my dream builds to make a T-800 Endo Arm, as an actual prosthetic for an amputee. You know the scene: in Terminator 2, Arnold cuts off the skin of his left arm to expose his robotic endoskeleton.

I told him how it would be a dream project to build an Endo Arm like in this scene, for someone who is missing a limb. I've met or been made aware of a few people over the years who used their unique body attributes in their costumes, but I never had the chance to connect with someone.
He said he wanted to introduce me to someone. This is Laura.

Laura is a left arm transradial amputee, meaning that she is missing her left arm below the elbow since birth. She's also really into cosplay, and living in Atlanta, she has been a "featured zombie" on The Walking Dead. You've probably seen her in the shambling hordes.

We met and I told her about my idea and what we could do, and she was enthusiastic. I felt really lucky because this really was one of my dream projects! She said she had done a few costumes in the past that incorporated her arm, but nothing really to the scale of what we planned. The idea was to 3D print a CAD design for the Endo Arm and possibly wire it up to an Arduino and some sensors and servos to make the fingers open and close. It was going to be a fun and really challenging build, and I was really looking forward to getting it started.

And then, Mad Max: Fury Road came out and changed everything.

You might have read Laura's blog post on her Tumblr that went viral a couple weeks after Fury Road hit theaters. To quote Laura's blog post, "If I don't cosplay this character immediately I'm pretty sure all my friends will riot."

We had a short conversation at MomoCon here in Atlanta and I asked her permission to build her the Furiosa arm as a real actual prosthetic, much like we were going to do for the T-800 Endo Arm and she couldn't have been more thrilled. Our plan was to finish it for Dragon*Con 2015, and we both couldn't wait to get started.

During our planning for the Terminator Endo Arm project, I took a 3D scan of her using an Xbox Kinnect and a software called Skanect. It allows you to easily get a rough 3D scan of a person or an object. It's not high enough detail to look photo realistic, but it's enough to get basic proportions. I use this myself to scale Pepakura files and do other digital sculpting where I need to have the proportions of a person or a thing. We tried getting a 3D scan of Laura's arm and the results were all right. It was just enough to use for scaling and "subtracting" her arm from the Endo Arm model.

When we shifted gears to Furiosa, I decided the first thing to do was to get a plaster cast of her arm, because the prosthetic would have to actually fit her, and there was no way for me to "try on" the prop myself while building it. After an afternoon at the shop, I had one of the weirdest casts I've ever made, but it was exactly what we needed!

At this point I got a lot of help from Adam Greene of Pixelbash Props, who took a higher detail 3D scan of the plaster cast, and assisted by creating the 3D model used for the build. Laura and I agreed that we should 3D print the arm to cut down on as much weight as possible. I was worried that if it was too heavy that she wouldn't be able to lift it, or she would become fatigued after wearing it for a short period.

The pieces were 3D printed on my home 3D printer, as well as the printers at Freeside Atlanta, the non-profit hackerspace that I work from. After a few long prints--a total of about 30 hours print time--everything was ready to be cleaned up and assembled.

The process of cleaning up a 3D printed prop is pretty simple: Rough sand the surface to get rid of some of the print lines, then (in the case of an ABS print) use "ABS sludge"--a thick mixture of acetone and ABS--to coat the surface. This acts like a body filler and will help fill in the remaining gaps, but as the acetone evaporates, the ABS bonds to itself, so you have a single rigid object. The part is then sanded again with a finer grit sandpaper, and coated in a thin layer of spot putty to fill in any remaining pits or print lines. After that dries, the excess is sanded off, and then primed for painting.

Once the 3D printed parts were cleaned and roughed together, I designed and laser cut the mesh screen for the fingers. It was cut out of 3mm acrylic and heated with a heat gun, and then bent to shape around the fingers. Since building this I've discovered the actual prop likely used a motorcycle exhaust baffle, but the acrylic worked out great for us as it was lightweight and readily accessible.

There are two wrenches in the arm, one attached to the "pinky" finger and one lashed to one of the forearm pistons, that needed to be fabricated. I rummaged through the autobay in the shop to find a couple of wrenches that were of suitable size, and then molded them in Mold Max 30, one of the molding silicones that Smooth-On produces. I wound up casting these out of Smooth Cast 320, but my original plan was to use a light and flexible foam. That turned out to be unnecessary since the resin ones were small and light enough to not cause issues.

The hand and the finger grilles were hit with a primer, and then a base coat of matte silver. I then did a light dusting with a darker metallic paint for the the lowlights and to bring down the "shiny and chrome" factor. After all, Furiosa's arm is a functional piece of equipment and has a lot of wear and tear from being out in the Wastelands!

Laura came in for a test fitting, and for us to size and finish the strapping system for the arm. Scrap leather and spare belts were cut down to size and riveted together for the harness. Laura sewed the shoulder pad which goes underneath the pauldron, and we attached those together.

For the support pistons, I used some 6mm fiberglass rod laying around the shop, and 3D printed connecting joints for them. Those were then bolted on to the 3D printed arm, giving the wrist a range of motion. In other words, Laura will be able to pose the wrist.

The two wrenches came out really well. The small one was attached to the pinky finger, and the other was wrapped tightly to one of the support rods with some leather cord. Fun fact: I believe the leather cord is there to cover up the manufacturer of whatever wrench the prop crew cast off of, because it's placement is exactly where you would expect to read "SNAP-ON" or something. So, I followed suit and covered up the name with the leather.

Then it was on to weathering, which is my favorite part of any project. I did a few light washes in black and various tones of yellow, orange, and brown, but I wiped most of it away to keep it looking metallic. The movie has an orange filter applied to most of it, so I relied on B-roll and behind the scenes photos for true to life colors. The arm isn't rusted as much as it is worn down and dirty, but I did apply some light rust around the bolts that connect the finger grilles and the other hardware attachments.

The shoulder was designed in CAD from looking at stills from the film, then laser cut out of EVA foam. There is what appears to be a model plane engine on the front, so I grabbed a random DC motor from the shelf and glued that in. The pull strap I quickly 3D printed based off of product photos for a weed wacker. Then the whole pauldron was weathered as well.

There are three cables connecting the shoulder to the arm: a braided metal hose, a clear/yellow tinted tube, and a brake cable. I got similar looking things of each and bolted them on to the arm, and attached them on to the shoulder end.

She also wanted me to make the belt buckle emblem, which I quickly 3D printed up, and cleaned and weathered. I grabbed this model off of Thingiverse, which you can download here.

I met up with Laura at Dragon*Con and delivered the prop to her in her hotel room. We did some final fitting of the prop on Saturday so she could wear it to the costume contest, and to make sure everything was 100% for the big Fury Road photo shoot on Sunday afternoon.

That about wraps it up! It was an incredibly fun and rewarding build and I'm happy I can scratch one of my dream projects off of my list.
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Friday, September 11, 2015

Dragon Con 2015 Wrap-Up

Another Dragon Con has come and past and I was extremely busy this time around! I'll be posting more in-depth recaps and build logs, but for now I just want to say thanks to everyone I had a good time with and that it was a great weekend for me.

The Colonial Marines & Xenos project was finished and I'm very happy with how our costumes turned out.

A photo posted by Overworld Designs (@overworlddesigns) on
 Thanks to Norman Chan at Tested.com for these photos.

The Furiosa prosthetic was a big hit as well. I'll be posting up more about this later, but for now enjoy these photos!

I didn't finish my Vi costume in time, but I did manage to meet Frank Ippolito!

Check back soon for more! In the meantime, follow me on Instagram or Facebook:



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Monday, July 6, 2015

Group Project: Colonial Marines (Aliens)

Alternate title: What I Learned While Managing A Group Cosplay

A few weeks after Dragon Con 2014, I was talking with Adam Greene of Pixelbash Props about what the "cosplay community" really was, and how people connected - or didn't connect - outside of conventions. Specifically, we got on the subject of how Dragon Con can attract tens of thousands of people - many from the Atlanta area - and yet there doesn't seem to be any large group or gathering of cosplayers out in the real world. I assumed that either A.) there was an existing group / meetup and we weren't aware of it, or B.) it didn't exist. Being optimistic, I believed the second option and we created a monthly social event at Freeside, creatively called the Atlanta Cosplay Meetup.

After meeting for a few months and making a lot of new friends, we started talking about the possibility of doing a group cosplay. A project we could all work on together! I'd never done a large scale group project like that before and it seemed like a great challenge and a lot of fun. After some debate, we settled on what seems like an obvious choice - Colonial Marines from the Aliens franchise.

The plan was to break the costume down into manageable chunks and spread the work out amongst the group. We decided to use Pepakura for the majority of the armor segments, with some sections 3D printed to be molded and cast. There is an open door policy at the public events at Freeside, so we anticipated a lot of people who would come to learn who would have little or no experience using these techniques. It would take us a while to really form a core group of people who were apart of the project, but we quickly moved right into building.

In order to speed up the tedious pep process, we utilized Freeside's laser cutter and went with cardboard rather than card stock. This made it a lot easier to get the basic shapes down and assembled, which was good because at the start of this project, no one had ever used Pepakura before! The first few build sessions consisted of cutting out the cardboard pep pieces, gluing them together with hot glue, then coating them with fiberglass resin for strength. Once everyone got their hands dirty putting together the Pepakura pieces, the process went really quickly.

From here we applied bondo body filler to the surface of the parts to smooth them out and sculpt them into shape. This is by far the most tedious part of the build, and we spent most of our build days working the bondo into the correct shapes. The "bondo minions" made quick work of everything and the armor masters looked really great.

One of the machinists at Freeside helped by lathing up some grenades. We'll eventually mold these and pour cast copies.

Meanwhile, Adam was working on 3D printing the Pulse Rifle and some of the armor bits. The Pulse Rifle was taken from the Aliens: Colonial Marines game and put through a process (which I will detail more soon!) to increase the detail level. It was then sliced into sections to fit into the various 3D printers we have access to, and printed in parts. Once it was fully printed out, it was assembled and several work days spent cleaning up the print lines so it wouldn't look like a 3D printed gun.

We were also working on a couple Xeno costumes as well. Kevin was working on the Xeno head sculpt.

Valentin worked on a mechanism to make the Xeno tongue action work in a really dynamic way. The tongue mechanisms were laser cut out of acrylic with a few 3D printed bits, all driven by a geared DC motor and controlled by an Arduino.

Going back to the Marine armor, once we had our masters finished and ready, we were going to vacuum form several of them and slush cast others in resin. Molds were made of all of the parts, and for the vacuum forming we poured plaster into the molds to create the forming bucks. Here, Adam is working on pulling copies of a few parts of armor.

Other molds had Smooth Cast 65D resin slush cast in them in several coats, to create the armor bits. We had a few duds due to some incorrect resin measuring, but that's the price of learning!

Meanwhile we cleaned up the vacformed parts. We had to cut off the flashing and trim up the edges, and set them all aside to get ready for paint.

The Pulse Rifle was also molded up in probably the biggest 2 piece block mold I've ever seen. This was used to rotocast and back fill with expanding foam to create a light weight, rigid prop. We actually wound up taking the mold to MomoCon and did a live casting demo at the booth!


We were down to the wire building and painting armor. About a dozen of us worked in teams painting on base coats, then doing the camo patterns. Each set of armor consists of about 15 pieces and each had to be painted.

The last 2 days before the con, we got very little sleep! Here, Adam and Elliott passed out in the living room.

Wednesday came and went, and unfortunately we simply ran out of both time and steam. There were some issues with the Xeno head sculpt as well, causing it to crack before we could get it molded. Thankfully this was found before we spent the time (and materials!) molding it.

The good news is that MomoCon was a huge success. We had a lot of fun at our booth and we met a ton of people. We got to show off our work and Freeside, and introduce a lot of people to the idea of a hackerspace!

It was a really long weekend.

As it stands, the project is nearly complete. We need to fabricate a few more sets of armor and do some painting, then put everything together. We'll be together at Dragon Con, so be sure to check back for photos in September!
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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June Project Updates

With less than 70 days left to Dragon Con, I wanted to post up an update on my current works in progress before I don't have any free time!

The main event this year is Vi. I feel like I've been working on her for months and months now, but the reality is that other projects got way in the way and had to put it on hold for a while. Thankfully I'm back in full swing now! The goggles are finished and ready. The legs are fully 3D printed and currently being cleaned up. The backpack and shoulder armor is being 3D printed at this time and will be finished in a few weeks. I've commissioned Katja Von Designs, the woman who made my Princess Peach dress last year, to make the jacket and corset.

My custom built 3D printer is very nearly finished. At this point I have everything I need, and I just need to machine some of the aluminum parts before it's ready to start being used. Finally!

In my spare time, I've been slowly chipping away at a handful of helmets I have from Shawn Thorrson - the Iron Man Mk 3, the War Machine, and the Iron Man Godkiller. I've had these for a while and I really should finish them and have them available to display!

I'm also trying to get a couple new Ultron 5 helmets out the door!

I also recently picked up an Ant-Man helmet from a friend and I'm trying to get that ready to wear to the Ant-Man premiere next month.

Very shortly I'll be starting on Furiosa's bionic arm for my friend Laura. As you can see, she's already really excited to get started!

A photo posted by Laura (@vauuughn) on

Someone asked me recently how I achieved the metal look in some of the things I've built, so I wanted to share that here. I use these three Rust-Oleum paints for the base of any grey / silver metallic paint job that I do:


The Aluminum is used as a base coat, and the Matte Nickel and Charcoal are applied in varying layers to give different looks. For example with the Gravity Gun, I alternated light coats of each color to give a worn metal look.

More soon.
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