Gowanus Monster - Margo Series


The Gowanus Monster.   Legend tells of a beast that haunts the darky depths of Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal.  Unsuspecting hipsters who dare to approach the edges of the canal late at night are thought to have looked into the eye of the beast - then hypnotized by the strange glow of the eyes, have jumped into the canal.  If they are lucky they are washed up near Whole Foods with no memory of what happened...

As part of the Margo Series - the Gowanus Monster is the Aquatic Robotic Vehicle (ARV) that searches for an ancient underwater city - rumored to be located near the Gowanus Canal.  Developed by Mr. Walthersnap, the ARV uses echo location and vacuum tube technology to navigate.

Of course it is parked in the superfund site known here in Brooklyn as the Gowanus Canal.

Printed on a MakerBot Replicator 2x (ABS) and a MakerBot Replicator Z18 (PLA).  Small version (with penny) was printed on Objet Alaris 30. 

INTERVIEW with our designer Sean Charlesworth

1.  Can you describe your journey as a designer - how did you get started and what motivated you?

  I vividly remember the behind-the-scenes documentary for The Empire Strikes Back airing on TV – I was fascinated by the construction of all the models and special effects.  Today, you see that stuff all the time with special features, books, and the internet, but back then, you rarely saw behind the curtain.  From that point on, I wanted to be a 'monster mask maker', but neither my parents, nor I, had any idea how to do that.  I eventually got a BA in Film & TV production and was the Head Repair Technician for NYU Film & TV for the last 12 years.  During that time, I got my Masters in Digital Imaging & Design with an emphasis on 3D modeling and printing.  To be quite honest, while I have always been creative, during my film career, I was an equipment guy, so wasn't creating or designing as much as building and repairing.  For my thesis, I decided to do something crazy and design a 3D printed piece from scratch, which ended up being the Octopod – a highly-detailed, articulated model of a submarine, patterned after an octopus.  The Advanced Media Studio, at NYU, had just purchased an Objet Connex500 and I was able to experiment with multiple materials. I ended up printing rubber and plastic tentacles, that were fully flexible and could be posed and took advantage of the multiple materials to print in black, white and a range of grays.  The Octopod turned out better than I could have hoped and it kickstarted a lot more designing since then.

2.  What was the creative process like for this model?  3.  Any background on why you chose this model? 

When I first met with Rob Steiner about the Margo project, he was a big fan of the Octopod and wanted a sub designed for the villian.  He  left the design pretty wide open, to do what I wanted, so my first version was a bright-orange, mini-sub that had a bit of a WWII feel and it had articulated arms that would reach out to grab other vehicles.  Rob liked it, but kept coming back to the Octopod, so I decided to make a spiritual successor - something that might be in the same fleet as the Octopod.  It needed to be a smaller vehicle, so it could be sneaky and maneuverable, but we also wanted tentacles so it could grab stuff.  After looking at a lot of other sea creatures I decided to pattern the sub after the cuttlefish – I personally call it The Scuttlefish.

4.  Describe any challenges you had in getting a successful print (tricks of the trade)?

 I've been 3D printing long enough, that my first machine didn't do supports very well, so I got into the habit of designing everything to print without them.   Today, the supports are so much better, but I'm still in the habit of designing without them since it cuts down on print time, materials used and post-processing - it can even be a fun puzzle.  The Scuttlefish prints with little, to no, supports, which was a bit of a challenge, but worth it.  Sometimes, this requires going the extra distance and breaking a model into more parts, but it the end you have a better print and have become a better designer. 

 The size of some of the pieces, created a printing challenge, on my MakerBot 2X.  The body, in particular, could easily be printed length-wise on the bed, but would require a lot of support, so I set them on end, which required no support and improved the print quality.  Since I used the entire height of the print bed, when I modeled, I had a cube that represented the volume of the print bed, to ensure I stayed within the boundaries.  The other printing challenge, was the tentacles, which needed to be dynamic, while still printing without supports.  I had to repose them a few times to reduce the overhangs enough for a successful, support-free print.  

5.  What advice do you have for someone interested in designing 'multiple piece' prints?

 Designing prints as multiple pieces is a challenge and creates a lot more work, but it also allows for more intricate prints, optimized print quality and multi-color prints.  Once I have the aesthetic design done, I start the mechanical design, usually working out how the model will assemble on paper.  In the case of the Scuttlefish, it was requested that the top and body fins be removable, so different designs could be substituted, if needed.  I also wanted the option of printing the windows as two parts, so the glass and frame could be different colors.  Sometimes, I will break models into different parts for assembly reasons and sometimes just to have the option of printing in a different color.  Probably, the biggest hurdle to designing a multi-piece assembly, is the 3D modeling skill required - the good news is, there are many modeling options coming out, all with the goal of making this easier.

 The secret weapon for assemblies, is the boolean function, which is a simple 'subtract or add A to/from B' operation.  For example, the portholes were done by modeling the frame, then subtracting it from the body to make a recess.  Now, if I were to simply print this as-is, I would find that the portholes wouldn't fit in the recess – they would be too tight. The problem being, going from digital, to the real world adds enough variables, such as material expansion, surface finish, printer calibration, etc., that you need to compensate for this during construction.  So, when I created the portholes, I made a duplicate, that was slightly bigger and that's what I used to cut the recesses in the body, therefore creating enough tolerance for the original to pop right in, when printed.  You also need to think about how the print will assemble – for the Scuttlefish, I wanted to use little, to no, glue, so most the print assembles with friction-fit pins.  The tentacles needed to snap on and rotate, and I didn't reinvent the wheel by using Thingiverse superstar, Whpthomas' excellent, PLA optimized snap pins, available under a Creative Commons license.

Sean has a background in film & TV and was the head Repair Technician for NYU Film & TV for the last 12 years.  While at NYU, he surprised himself, by going back to school and getting a Masters in Digital Imaging and Design. Originally intending to be an animator, he took a class on rapid prototyping and toy design and that was that.  Sean switched gears to modeling and 3D printing and hasn't looked back, having recently relocated to San Francisco to continue his work.

His thesis, the OPUS V - Octopod Underwater Salvage Vehicle, was an articulated octopus submersible model that he designed, modeled and 3D printed.  The Octopod got a lot of attention at New York Maker Faire and around the interwebs.  Most recently the Octopod helped Sean win Adam Savage's (MythBusters) Inventern competition, the grand prize being a trip to San Francisco to work on a project with Adam. What was originally to be a week long project, turned into 3 months as Sean helped build a piece of the Adam's Hellboy Mecha Glove replica. 

You can read more about the Octopod, Inventern and other projects at www.charlesworth-dynamics.com.

Download the files for this design on Thingiverse.