Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Ants/Pants Part 2

With a few delays I finally managed to 3D print the Arachnid fighters. Apparently the browser software (IE) that accesses the Vflash had updated without my knowledge. Of course, the Vflash software had not updated, so there were some compatibility issues all of the sudden. This had to be solved before I could upload any files to the 3D printer.

Once that was solved it was a quick build, only taking about 1.5 hours. Here they are on the pad:

There were a few small issues. The gun barrels were too long in a few cases and some of them were too fragile to print properly. I was pushing the limits of the printer here. To make them look even I had to trim them to the same size. After cleaning and mounting the fighters on the stems I realized that the two smaller ones didn't have enough material to drill into very well. I managed to mount them well enough but it wasn't as easy as the others. To fix the CAD design, I went back and added more material underneath, and significantly shortened the gun barrels. I didn't reprint them, and painted the ones I had.

I updated the CAD files and fixed the minor problems in a few moments. (The shapeways versions are the updated design.) Many of you will spot the lesson here -- always make a prototype! One of the best features of 3D printers is the ability to create a "rapid prototype" for a comparatively low cost. If you can imagine the heartache of manually sculpting an object for days/weeks and then discovering it has some errors ....

With a quick coat of primer, and then some paint, they came out looking like this:
 The compound-canopy was painted red to look like eyes, and the body is shaded grey with ochre markings. The engines glow green, but you can't see that here. Here are the fighters below:

You'll find close-ups of each type in my shapeways shop.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Ants in my Pants

 I've been working on these ones for a little while. It took a long time to find an idea that I liked. I had started these long before the human fighters, probably around the same time as the Aggressor faction.
This next faction is based on bugs -- giant space bugs. They are a pretty popular motif for aliens in Sci-Fi series. In Firestorm Armada this trope is used by the Relthoza faction. I like the design of these vessels, I find them rather original.
Here's an image of their large vessels from the commercially available box set:

Why was this one so hard? Well, Insects/arachnids are not like humans at all.  I found it very difficult to "get inside their heads" Ick!
I went through numerous doodles of flying scorpions, multi-pods, and pointy origami nightmares. In the end I settled on using some similar triangle shapes. The fighter's orientation is horizontal rather than vertical like the ships. I felt that was needed. The launch bays on all the large vessels are long horizontally so it seemed to make sense that the fighters would fit through the door. The compound-cockpit design is reminiscent of the compound eyes of a spider. I think I'm happiest with the assault boat -- the one with the clamping mandibles. It would grapple on to an enemy vessel and then unload it's assault teams through the 3 frontal tubes.

Here's the first attempt:

I printed a few test parts and they turned out okay. The original designs were too large and needed to be scaled down. Some of the guns didn't turn out either, so they had to be thickened. The image you see is the adjusted models. I haven't 3D printed them yet ... wait for part 2!

Before I print them, if anyone has any suggestions or ideas, now is the time! It's easy to rearrange the electrons of the CAD file.

UPDATE: PART 2 is ready!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A little closer to home

I was fairly happy with my fighter designs. I had been showing them off on the Spartan Games Forum and most of the other nerds were full of praise. There were many requests to purchase copies of them, so I directed those to my Shapeways Shop. There are 6 main factions in Firestorm Armada, but my collection consisted of only 3 of them. Some of the forum-goers were requesting designs for the other fleets. I decided to create some fighters for the Terran Alliance.

The Terran Alliance is really the "generic" fleet. The vessels look very much like Battlestars from BSG, with some Star Destroyer influence as well. Here's a photo from the box set:

I found them a little dull, but they definitely match the common human sci-fi trope. Within the game, the Terran Alliance has a historic presence, like an old empire -- perhaps like the Byzantine. The craft are described as older designs that are tried and tested. I thought the fighter craft should match the ideals.

For the fighter craft, I did some "research". I use the term loosely here, since all I did was watch movies and TV shows. I thought what would work best would be designs that matched familiarity of the large vessels. So I came up with the following designs:

Those of you familiar with Sci-fi will quickly recognize some of these components. Inspiration came from Battle Star Galactica, Aliens, and Star Wars to a lesser extent.

They printed out very well on the 3D printer, and didn't require any modification.
Here are some painted examples:

Friday, 5 April 2013

Bigger Fish in the Sea

A set of fighters for the Aquan Fleet was my second project, this time I wanted to tackle something bigger. I quite like the original Aquan sculpts by Spartan Games. The fish-like appearance reminded me of some of my favourite vessels from Star Wars, but the smooth lines and an "alien" look usually wins me over. Here are some of my painted versions of their models:

As the game Firestorm Armada grew, so did the number models available. Unfortunately the new Aquan Fleet releases were quite different in appearance from the original models. The detail on the model was greatly increased, but this had a negative effect on the smooth fish-like appearance that I was so fond of. A couple of Spartan's renders as an example (courtesy of the black ocean):


Nice looking designs, very good work, but they missed all the character of the originals, I felt. Was it a new sculptor? I never found out.
So as you can probably guess by now, I decided to design my own replacements.

I started with the Destroyer first. In-game the destroyers are specialized long-range vessels with cloaking capabilities. More analogous to a modern submarine. They tend to be slower than the typical cruiser. This specific destroyer has powerful side weapons, and weak frontal ones. The Destroyer model didn't reflect that very well. It looks front-oriented, with very little weaponry displayed on the sides.

Looking at real fish for inspiration, I thought the flounder and the mola-mola had some potential. I liked the shape and thought that the powerful side weapons could be best represented by oversized orbs (mega-lasers) since the weapons are usually portrayed as small protruding spheres and ovals.
This was the final design:

There was another unsuccessful design which looked similar, but didn't turn out very well. It was an experiment in new software, but the biggest problem was the size of some of the details. The engines and weapon ports were too small and needed to be increased. The second version, shown here, addressed most of these problems and added a few more details. I 3D printed 3 of them (a full squad) and painted them up to match the rest of the fleet.

During the build there was a little "wiggle" and you can see the effect in the mid-section of a few of them. This is a specific drawback to the Vflash 3D printer system I use. The models are built upside down, and gravity can be your enemy as the build platform moves. Sometimes the layers of material end up slightly misaligned, causing the stepped effect. A little sandpaper and body-filler can solve the problem, but some areas are hard too hard to reach, or too deep.

The next model to tackle was the dreadnought. A "dreadnought" in this game is simply a larger-than-usual battleship. In the case of the Aquan Fleet, the dreadnought is also a carrier vessel as well as a fighting vessel. The design that Spartan Games came up with left me cold. It's a big departure from the originals. Tentacles? Why would a space ship ever need tentacles? It looks a lot like a gicantic squid of sorts, and resembles this Romulan ship from the new Star Trek in concept:

Cool, but it just doesn't match the theme, in my mind. I went a different way, sweeping the ship backwards instead of creating a giant mouth. The Spartan design placed the launch bays in the front, creating a giant shot-trap, practically inviting the enemy to target the weakest part of the ship as it approaches. I put my launch bays towards the rear face, gave it 3 sides to maximize surface area for weapon pods (to match the in-game statistics). And voila!

It was a tricky CAD design, that required plenty of planning. However, with more experience I'm now able to get a little more detail in, like panel lines and such things.

The build was troublesome. When I printed out a 1:1 paper version of the above image, I thought it looked too small. So I bumped it up by 10%. Big mistake. When I 3D printed the model it was way too big ... It looked out of place. I scrapped it, and reprinted it 20% smaller, again a mistake. Sheesh. This one was too small! I reprinted it a third time -- at the original size I had designed it and it was perfect. I guess the lesson is "don't second guess yourself" but I second guess myself all the time and usually it helps! The build:

Here it is painted and based with some fighters for comparison:

And here it is with the other Spartan Games battleships for comparison:

Both of these designs are available from my shapeways shop. They are a little expensive compared to the Spartan Games models, but I may look into casting them someday which would greatly reduce the price. I have a lot to learn before I can make high quality castings, so it may be while ....

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Another Carrier Vessel

I was very happy with my first carrier vessel. I wanted to add another slightly smaller vessel of similar style. It followed the same star ship design concepts as the first using the same construction elements as before -- armoured outer belt with weapons, inside surface has the vulnerable openings for deploying fighter craft, with a bastion/tower command section inside. I thought I'd change it up a little so I put the bastion towards the back of the doughnut. I had a few sketches and I knew where to begin. After some initial CAD work, this is what I ended up with. rather than being a horseshoe, this one looked a little more like a canoe.

I added a few details and 3D printed it. It took about 7 hours to build and I was able to fit 2 of them on the pad. The build went well and most of the detail was retained, but I wasn't happy with the design. The bastion at the back didn't work as well as I thought it might. You can see the result below with some paint slapped on.

I was unhappy with it and I wanted to make some changes. Back to the drawing screen!
One of the big advantages of 3D CAD software over hand-sculpting is making changes. Just like altering a paragraph in a word processor, you are able to go back to the original file and add/delete to the work you have already done rather than start all over again. Once you have made changes, you can reprint the file without any more trouble or waste. 

Here's the modified rendering. You can see the bastion is separated and moved towards the center of the doughnut. 

Unfortunately I had already made 2 of them and I didn't want to throw them out. The material is expensive. Instead of reprinting the whole thing, I made a custom part that would fit into an area of the models that I would remove by hand. I'm a model maker after all, so I have the skills and tools. 
I printed the new part, cut off the modified area with a jewelers saw, and then glued it together. The joint needed a little body-filler and sanding.

Here are the two finished models:
The final design is available for purchase from shapeways. It is known as the "Rushi Fleet Carrier" and is a little smaller than the "Rushi Battle Carrier". Take note, the model come in three parts and you'd need to order them all to put it together properly. This will permit customization at a later date -- perhaps an alternate bastion for a command ship or special-purpose vessel.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Bad Guys and Aliens

After setting up a Shapeways shop, I decided to fill in the ranks with some new designs. My Dindrenzi Fleet (bad guys) didn't have any fighters, and I had acquired some new ships for a mixed alliance of aliens. So it was back to the electronic drawing board for some more designs.

The Dindrenzi

These guys are the aggressive invaders, and arguably the bad-guys in the storyline. Their ships have an attractive slab-like construction that reminds me of a WW2 Tiger tank. I wanted to make sure the fighters mimicked that look.

Right from the start I knew my fighters were going to be mostly square looking, with box engines and a longer layout. I only created 3 styles, partly for some difference, partly because the latest updated game rules made one of the four fighter types relatively useless.
These designs are very simple shapes, and they 3D printed fairly well. A little paint and they matched the style of the commercial designs rather well.
You can find them in my shapeways shop as the Aggressor faction. Even if you're not into buying them, there are more photos and a spin-around animation with each. It acts as a free gallery too!


The Aliens

The ones I'm calling the Aliens are a mixed alliance of minor faction non-human creatures. They don't typically deploy large fleets of their own, instead banding together to form mixed fleets. I really enjoyed the opportunity to play with different styles here.The names have been changed to keep me out of trademark trouble!
I did not produce a full range of fighters for each minor faction. They just didn't need it game-wise. These guys are also scattered about the shapeways shop under the names listed on the CAD renderings. Did I mention it was fun? Maybe I did. There are more on the way, and the next post features some more large ships.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

What is Shapeways?

I've mentioned it a few times, but I should probably explain what Shapeways is. Shapeways is a company that provides a 3D printing service. They have a big selection of 3D printers that can do different things. What you do is upload your 3D CAD design to their website, it gets checked, you then select the material/process that you want to use, then Shapeways prints out your design and mails it to you. This is all for a price of course. There are a few other companies that do this, even some with storefronts like 3DPhacktory in Toronto.

What's interesting is the Shapeways store. If you have some designs that you'd like to share or sell, you can open a Shapeways store within the framework of their website and peddle your creations without ever having to go into production in the traditional sense.

It's really very simple. You upload your design, add some photos, a description, etc to dress it up. You can add a mark-up to the cost of printing the object, which acts as your designer's fee. Shapeways handles customer service, production and shipping. They offer a variety of print materials from plastic-like-resin, nylon, sandstone, metals, wax, and ceramics. It's very convenient, and the advantages are obvious.

The drawbacks are higher cost. A 3D printed object is generally more expensive than a cast object, so you can't really add a big mark-up since you can easily price your designs out of your market's budget. Some people just like to share, and some objects have no mark-up. Some people also offer their CAD designs for free download.

After struggling with pricing sets from my own 3D printer, Shapeways seemed like the ideal solution for selling my little space fighters. It was around this time I was getting the most requests. If I was going to run a set on my own printer, the sale would have to be more than $20 + shipping or I'd lose money. Once my time and effort was calculated, it wouldn't really be worthwhile printing anything for less than $50 -- which is a lot for little space fighters! From Shapeways I could provide sets of 10 identical fighters for around $5 per set. So I set up a shop! Cheaper for the buyer, more printing options, less work for me.

I had tested my designs on my own 3D printer, but I ordered a few samples from shapeways to see what they'd look like. I don't want to sell crap, plus I wanted to have an idea of what the different materials did.

They all turned out rather well. The Strong White Flexible is the most economical option. Frosted Ultra Detail is very high quality. In fact it's so good, that the parts turned out better than many metal castings I've seen -- the edges are clean and crisp, and the details are very fine.

So if you are in to designing your own things, Shapeways (or some other company like it) might just be the way to go.

Here you can see the same samples primed grey. The SWF is a little grainy, but not bad for it's size.