SIGGRAPH: Custom Is The New...Custom

Posted By John Parenteau on August 08, 2012 05:09 pm | Permalink

Booth 1

"So if you just hit the button on the right, it displays the graphic interface that allows you to manipulate the nodes on an individual basis in real time..."


Booth 2

"Our system is unique because we use less tracking markers and a larger volume that allows for a wider detectable range, and thus a smaller margin of error after processing..."

double ugh.

I set out on a journey at SIGGRAPH 2012, not to find out what's new in the world of 3D animation, but rather to find out what was undiscovered. I'm not knocking the technical innovations from the very talented companies on the floor. But I'm of the mind that everything out there is really just further development of the same technology we've had for a number of years. Sure it's faster, more accurate, more flexible, easier to use and more realistic. But is it new?

Decidedly not.

So I told myself, "self, you go walk the floor, look at every booth, and find 3 things out there that were truly new."

I only found one.

When I ran across the Shapeways booth, at first I thought it was just another 3D printing service. I'll be honest. The idea of 3D printing is pretty amazing. I still love it. But it's definitely a technology that is not accessible to little ol' me. I can buy a 2D printer for $50 at Staples. I can't buy a 3D printer for less than $8,000 or so. And then my thoughts run to those darn ink cartridges! I mean if they suck for 2D, how much would they suck for 3D? Do I have to shake the entire machine when the colors aren't right? Will I get 3D ink on my hands? Is that a whole other dimension harder to get off? 

But I digress.

Their front table was filled with a lot of little objects. Some in plastic, some in metal, all with some unique design that felt very bespoke. On the wall they had three signs: Create, Discover, Community. I was intrigued. The idea is that you can design your own object, pretty much anything from jewelry to a shoe to a child's toy, and send the model to Shapeways. They will print it in anything from plastic to silver, and send it back. All within a couple weeks. And the price is based on material alone. I asked for more explanation and was told that at a jewelry shop, if you asked for engraving inside the ring, they would charge you somewhere around $50 to add the engraving. But at Shapeways, the addition of an engraving decreases the cost (by about $5) because it slightly reduces the amount of material they have to use. Prices range from low to not too bad, such as a plastic ring running about $6, and a silver ring about $50. All within reason. 

And not all the designs were simple. Some of the works were latticework chains dangling freely, intricate children's toys made out of tiny parts... very complex stuff that I was told was printed from a single model. Very impressive. But like any 3D printer, they do cool stuff and are exciting.

But what's more exciting is the world that Shapeways is creating. With the Create pages, they give you not only a resource to send in your own models, but if you can't model they provide tools for even the novice to create your design. In the Discover section, you can find some amazing works created by a myriad of artists that take part in the service. Under Community, you have the opportunity to chat with fellow designers, share concepts, discuss and attend events. They have created a unique community of custom designers that has a strangely familiar flare.

In the early days of the pre-industrial age, the only products you could get were custom. Everything was hand made, and made just for you. Those days went away in the industrial age, where mass production and cheap prices replaced the value of an item made to your specifications. Shapeways has brought back this sense of custom artistry by providing a potential world of designers an inexpensive and fast way to create whatever you can imagine. Better yet, the prices are aggressive enough that you could start the business you always dreamt of, designing and selling those custom ceramic kitten paw holders, just like the pros! 

Check them out. Pretty amazing.

John Parenteau is with Pixomondo. Check out the Website at: