Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pip-Boy 3000 (Fallout 3) - From 3D model to completed prop

A month or so ago, I found this 3D printable Pip-Boy 3000 from the game Fallout 3 on Instructables. I've always been a fan of the Fallout series - nuclear apocalypse is my favorite kind of apocalypse scenario! - so I had it on the backburner to go ahead and try printing. When I began this project I was preparing to be attending Atlanta Mini Maker Faire as a presenter, and I wanted to have some simple-ish pieces to show off and pad out what my booth will have. And with that, I decided to go ahead and give this a shot.

For those of you unfamiliar with Fallout 3 or what a Pip-Boy actually is, it's essentially a wrist mounted computer that the player uses throughout the game. It's an incredibly iconic piece for anyone familiar with video game props. The modeler did a fantastic job and printing the pieces was very easy.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to address some really common issues that I see in the prop making community with 3D printing and prop building. I see a lot of people who are unfamiliar with the process calling 3D printing "cheating", or taking the fun out of building by not having to do any work, or complaining that people will one day soon be able to simply download and press a button to have their favorite props. Ignoring the fact that I don't see why that would ever be a bad thing, I want to show people what the actual printing process is like and how it is not the magic bullet that those unfamiliar with the process might think it is.

Typically for most of my builds which incorporate 3D printing - which is basically all of them, to some degree - I do the majority of 3D modeling on my own. Either modeling something from scratch, or rebuilding an existing low resolution model that was ripped from a game, or fixing up some existing models out there. Normally this process can take several weeks depending on the complexity of the prop. But this Pip-Boy is the first thing I've printed where I literally just downloaded the files and started printing.

Regardless of the genesis of the files, once you have them you have to run them through a process to generate the tool paths for your 3D printer. From there you load the file it spits out in your printer, and off to the races you go.

This is a piece from my Ultron 5 build; it's not related to the Pip-Boy print, but it's one of the better mid-print photos I have.

A few hours later, you get this. Here is 1 piece out of 15 that is pulled straight off the printer with zero clean up work done it it. Far from a "press print and have a prop" scenario.

Click for larger!

The "spider webbing" that you see in the middle is caused by the printer's print head oozing out plastic while it moves around from one end of the prop to the other. It looks super gross, but you can clean it up with maybe 5 minutes of sanding. You're also seeing the "raft", which is a thin gridwork layer that the actual object gets printed onto. While printing with a raft is not necessarily required, I've found that I am able to get consistently better prints when using one. The downside is that you have to cut and sand off the remnants of it, but it's a small price for making a better quality print. You'll also need to sand down all of the surfaces to get rid of the visible print lines that the printer leaves. Here is the back half of the Pip-Boy (printed in 3 interlocking pieces) in various stages of cleanup.

Click for larger!

Click for larger!

At this point in the process I've spent about 12 hours of work cleaning up, and around 30 hours of 3D printing. I have the 6 pieces for the front and back half all printed and are currently being cleaned and smoothed up before bonding them together. I also need to use some spot putting to fill in some areas where I got a little over zealous with sanding and poked through the printed surface.

The next step in the process is joining all of our pieces together, or at least the biggest ones that need to be joined. For this model, the largest sections are the front and back halves, each printed in 3 prints. The reason these had to be split up is because most extrusion 3D printers can't accommodate a 10" tall object, and the ones that can may have troubles with warping or lifting. Any sort of these problems is really bad news for a print since it means you wasted print time and print material.

This model has nicely designed tabs that align the 2 parts, so after some minor cleanup, the two join together very smoothly. I use regular ole cyanoacrylate to join the two inner faces, putting glue on the inside of the tab slots, and around the face of the joining halves.

Click for larger!

Click for larger!

Click for larger!

I let that cure for a few minutes and the two parts are inseparable. There is a little bit of spot filling to be done, since one half may have had the edge rounded slightly while sanding the print lines down, but that's fairly short work.

In addition to manually sanding down surfaces, I also give the pieces a quick brushing in acetone. Acetone is a solvent that reacts very well with the ABS parts, melting and smoothing them down in to a more uniform shape. It's also interesting how the acetone reacted with the ABS surfaces based on whether it was sanded down or fresh with print lines. The deep black, very reflective areas were the fresh ABS and the other areas are where it was sanded down prior to washing.

Now that I've finished the main body, I'm moving on to the screen and cover. These parts are quite a bit more detailed, and were a real pain to clean up. You can see where where I'm gluing together the 6 or 7 pieces that make up the upper part of the cover and it was a real chore. You can also see on the one side where the raft hasn't been perfectly cleaned off yet either.

When working with the LED holder that goes on front, I was unhappy with the print quality with it because it has a number of overhanging parts. I decided to go ahead and print a new one on one of the 3D printers that Freeside Atlanta has. It's a giant homebrew printer and the prints that come out of it are way better than what I was seeing before on the Cube 3D printer.

This part will need to be acetone washed, but thankfully the print is nice enough that I won't need to do much work on it after. Yay for round parts!

As far as the rest of the pieces, now 3 large parts total, they're being primered and will be getting the usual sand-and-fill.

This brings me to the current state of the Pip-Boy. I gave everything a quick hit of paint before AMMF to display it, but over the next week or two I'll be finishing everything up completely and making everything look nice. One of the guys at Freeside calls me a perfectionist because I am worrying about smoothing out and filling in the gaps on the inside even though "nobody will see it". Amateur! The next installment will cover the molding and casting process.

If you are interested in a pre-order for a casting, check out the listing on my Etsy store.

Thanks for reading!
About Michelle Sleeper

I am an Atlanta based artist making props, weapons, and armor from my favorite video games and comic books. I am interested in 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC, and all manner of digital fabrication. I am involved in the Atlanta hacker / maker community, doing everything from Arduino art installations to maker education.

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