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Cardboard Creatures – Phase Three – Design for 3D Printing

“There are 3D people stuck in a 2D world” – Katherine Douglas, Choice-Based Art Education in the Classroom (TAB), (Douglas & Jaquith, 2018)

“…especially in school art classes.” – Mona Lisa Lives Here

I am blessed with a son who participated fully in an entire childhood filled with art making experiences, from extra-curricular classes I offered at our school or other schools after school or workshops I ran during the summer. He willingly explored all mediums, and although he never really claimed to be a good artist, he did some pretty awesome work. He was a LEGO guy early on and could build and construct with pretty much any material. As a matter of fact, one time in middle school, he and a few friends received thirteen break detentions for each of the plastic forks they used to construct a model of the sun from an unwanted apple at lunch, using 3 for the tripod stand and 10 poked in all the way around the middle for the rays.

While I’m not condoning wasting an apple or the plastic forks, I do know this sort of activity fit my son’s nature and interests. I think it’s because of this, the quote above by Katherine Douglas resonated with me at TABweek in the summer of 2017. As a child, my son was a 3D maker in a 2D world. I believe many of my students think in 3D and lack opportunities to exercise that propensity.

In this post I’ll share the recent work of my students who were introduced to 3D modeling a few weeks ago. They had hand-crafted Cardboard Creatures, which were then used to star in stop motion/green screen animation videos. The Cardboard Creatures were also used as models for 3D design. This is the last of the three posts about the Cardboard Creature project. The first post – about Phase One – Making the Cardboard Creatures is here. The second – about the stop motion/green screen videos starring the Cardboard Creatures is here.

It has been six years since I started exploring the artistic creation potential for 3D printing in the classroom. When a grant opportunity (from MakerBot and DonorsChoose) presented itself in November 2013, I jumped in quickly and it was funded within 24 hours. 3D Printing in the art room (outside the engineering lab) was unheard of in 2013. However, I could immediately see its potential in my middle school art room because I had students who were 3D thinkers just like my son.

2013 MiscoeMakerCrew

Initially I formed an after-school group of students (the MiscoeMakerCrew) to learn this new technology with me. Printing was one thing, designing models was something else altogether. When we first started designing for 3D printing, we tried Blender, an open source program for 3D creation, which is amazing, yet too complex for my then fifth and sixth grade MiscoeMakerCrew. These polite, compliant kids worked for an hour in our computer lab to try to create with the program. They were uncharacteristically quiet and by the end of our time that session, I could see they were frustrated and annoyed by the complexities of the program. Then I found 123D design by Autodesk – an app that worked well on the iPads the kids were already using. Unfortunately, after a few years, Autodesk discontinued the app, moving to online platforms such as TinkerCad, which we tried at a time when our WiFi was unreliable, so it wasn’t successful. Meanwhile, Morphi app was being developed by Sophia Georgiou and partners. It is kid-friendly, intuitive, has some pretty great features and we’ve been using Morphi on iPads ever since.

I introduced Morphi to the students this year on the day before Halloween and on Halloween. The skill builder intro project was to create a Jack O’Lantern using the app. Creative constraints and objectives included using primitive forms only, subtracting one form from another, and changing the color of the model. It was a one day, 45 minute activity to familiarize the students with the app. It was a good introductory activity with minimal stress and a focus on exploration rather than mastery. Some of the kids took it pretty far.

Holden P.’s Jack O’lantern with iPhone

Once my students had explored the app and finished their stop motion/green screen videos, it was time to mimic the design of their Cardboard Creature in a 3D model using Morphi. It is important to note that the model should reflect the completed Cardboard Creature, not the original design for it. This is because original designs were modified due to the limitations of working with cardboard. What resulted were primitive 3D forms of cardboard such as rectangular prisms, cubes, spheres, cylinders, and triangular prisms. This coincides perfectly with the primitive forms in Morphi app.

Primitive forms used to model a Cardboard Creature

You may have noticed that the giraffe above is in the company of giraffes. This was the other component of this phase of the project. When students were ready to take a photo of their finished model using the in-app camera, I encouraged them to eliminate the background (transparent like a PNG) and the grid. This way their model could blend into a background of their choice. This was yet another way to mimic the green screen process, but we used layers in Autodesk Sketchbook instead. Yes, another concept introduced through this project!

Brynn D.’s first photo with background

And then she turned the model in Morphi and took another photo of the backs of the models

An aerial view

And using scale and transform controls in Sketchbook

Fantastic job, Brynn! Many students showed tremendous imagination as well in placing their models in natural or supernatural surroundings. I really love every one of them!

Once these models were finished, the big Cardboard Creature project was also complete. Sigh. I hated to see it go. We had spent a month in all on the project, which translates to twelve 50 minute classes taking place every other day. I loved the focus my students brought to each of the three phases of the project, and the familiarity they developed with their Cardboard Creatures through all of the manifestations along the way.

Ella, Kaycie, Jayden, Emme

3D Design and imposed background though layering in Autodesk Sketchbook

Reflection

I think this project scratched the itch of the 3D thinkers in my classes. I also think this project gave the 2D thinkers a chance to look at the world and their potential as artists a little bit differently. Most importantly, this project was open ended enough to include an abundance of imagination and creativity, yet a multitude of skills were confronted and developed. Lastly, this project sustained the attention of nearly 200 11 and 12 year old children for an entire month as they tried new things and added to their toolkits as learners, artists, and makers. Mostly, it was really fun.

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