Rhino and 3D Digital Modelling

Oh rhino, our relationship is a fickle one, at first I ignored you, and then I approached, you were cruel at first but we grew on each other, you let me draw simple shapes and our relationship was easy, then I had bigger ideas and you started to give me trouble, I think we may have to break up after this project if you don’t change.

Rhino strikes this balance of being intuitive and just plain frustrating, it is simply impossible to use if you don’t have access to a catalogue of commands. I appreciate its a very complex programme that requires much practice, I am still learning. as a cad programme tacking basic structures and shapes its great, I would never expect to model anything to complex like a human body or whatever on it. To be honest, through use of Zbrush, rhino and other 3d modellers, I’ve learned each has there strength and weaknesses and crossing through platforms was almost essential for me to achieve my medal at my current skill level. You cant really cheat your way through the design of a cohesive 3d model everything needs to match up and be scaled correctly or the 3d printer just denies its existence. As I’m a complete beginner at rhino I started off by not using rhino,I drew my 3d drawing in Adobe illustrator, and encountered many problems. getting the 2d drawing in rhino was as easy as importing it. The challenge came when each pen line in my drawing registered in rhino as a separate unjoined line, and so if the lines were unjoined they could not be capped, so as a result I had to manually go through the image and connect each line.Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 21.17.06 Though tedious it did work.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 01.33.14

With the figure closed, it capped and extruded with no problems, I’ve also added the medals body to the figure.

What I decided to do was because extruding objects was rather basic and was manageable for me I would make that the basis of my design and would utilise that technique of extrusion to its fullest. So every shape, conformed to this principal, and I started to draw in further shapes. I counted how many steps there were on the heroes journey chart and I designated a slab to each key step, I then looked at placing that around the the medals inner ring. Image001 A brief sketch I did with a Wacom tablet on photoshop with an screen shot.             Each shape is formed from drawing a circle from the centre and joining the lines, this simple premise worked very well for my design. I also altered the heights of each slab to give the idea of stairs, this represents the ordeal of the heroes journey  so  as you would reach the central ordeal of the journey thats the tallest step as its the most crucial and hardest step.

Each shape is formed from drawing a circle from the centre and joining the lines, this simple premise worked very well for my design. I also altered the heights of each slab to give the idea of stairs, this represents the ordeal of the heroes journey so as one would reach the central ordeal of the journey that is represented by the tallest step as its the most crucial and hardest step. I 3d printed this model, with moderate success. it didn’t form perfectly, however I got a read on size of the medal (waaay to big) and how these slabs formed . I had a good idea of what needed to change from this prototype.

It didn't print correctly but was still useful

It didn’t print correctly but was still useful

Firstly the thing was just a behemoth, I don’t know why I thought 100mm would work but it didn’t. Next the slabs, I needed to marry the heights a bit more consistently, and the fact that the figure didn’t form correctly must mean there was a glitch in the GCode or the model wasn’t properly closed.

So taking it back into rhino I began correcting the sizes, I thought about using acrylic fro these slabs so baring in mind the size of the acrylic (5mm) I used that to deduce that each step needed to be 1mm apart in height to get a full variance in height.  

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 20.37.34

Where I went next was to try and remove the slabs and extrude the shapes down to create  these spacings for the acrylic.

front profile

I discovered the render plugin for rhino.

Getting all of these dimensions in order and the front of the design complete. I was free to start coming up with the back of the medal.

Where I started when coming up with ideas was thinking about the heroes journey and remembering that the 2 half’s of the journey were the known world and the unknown world. This reflection of half’s could fit the premise of my medal well.

Im still currently reading the hero with a thousand faces book by Joseph Campbell, there are lots of amazing analogies and sayings in the book but one quote stood out for me the most.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

― Joseph Campbell

Thinking about that cave and how the medal utilises this negative space, and how you can see yourself and the rest of the world through it, I thought that maybe I could create the caves entrance on the rim of the medal on the other side.

I already had an idea of what I wanted it to look like so I did a little research for a reference point, and I found these amazing sculptures by Arran Gregory. These geometric shapes speak of the modern techniques I’m employing to create the medal and the jagged edge of the cave.

I did some drawing

back medal concept 2

My rough concept highlights this geometric edging, how I was going to achieve this was virtually a mystery to me.

So I went on a rhino support forum and asked.

The forum was a great help and i got some great suggestions, I really felt like my query was handled well and I was given a lot of patience being a newbie.

The result of my post on the forum yielded a great response. One response suggested I create shape and use that shape to overlap my medal and cut away the overlapped space.

So thats what I did.

And it worked!

And it worked!

After 7 hours of meticulous cutting I was left with the entrance to the cave. What this did however was leave an incredibly large amount of unclosed edges on my model. I don’t know how this happened and it was a simply breaking my computer to generate the code, I was very stuck on this problem for a few days. So I once again turned to the forum for help.

Let me preface I never expected more than advice, but someone was nice enough to take a look at my file and lend a hand, aesthetically it looks no different but he was nice enough to close up the edges as I didn’t understand. Not to mention I was on a deadline.

Closing up those edges took my file from a 350mb file to a 17mb file. Generating the code on MakerWare was working now.

This was the result after rendering.

This was the result after rendering.

Now I have a problem yes my model is printable and refined. Is it my final medal? nope. My final medal design was to use acrylic for the slabs instead of whats already there. So I needed to add this same edging to my other model with the slabs extruded down into the meal to create the spaces for the acrylic.

This was a genuine issue, as I didn’t want to post a secondary problem on the forum and I also didn’t want someone else doing my work. So what I did was explode the extruded down medal removed the bottom base and then exploded the refined medal, took the edging from the base copied and pasted it over then snapped everything together. It worked like a charm!

Rhino really displaying its versatility to me.

Rhino really displaying its versatility to me.

But I had more unclosed holes in my work. Damn!

At this stage, I’m there, I can walk away happy and i can print the thing and creases can be ironed out later on.

No. Theres more.

Whilst researching for my drinking horn project I came across a designer maker named Jennifer Gray. Gray utilises a 3d and traditional approach to achieve her work and referred to one of her programmes as a modeller of “digital clay”. as hard as I searched I could not find a match to the programme she used, so I decided to email her. She was nice enough to respond.

Dear Claudio,
Apologies for my slow response.  I have only just returned to work today after the Festive holiday.
I use a combination of computer programs along with hand-making to produce my work.  The mixture of programs used vary with each piece.  I mainly use Rhino, Magics, Solid Works and digital sculpting through Pixologic.
I hope this helps.
All the best for your studies,
Jennifer Gray MA RCA
Designer Maker
Merely having a response from Jennifer made me feel very good. It made me want to try even more. So I started to model in Zbrush.
Zbrush talks to models in a very different way to rhino and is much more forgiving.
I utilised one of the default tools and just played, I produced this geometric face that I liked, and I produced it with ease as well.
Medal clay
So all this 3D modelling has taught me a great deal, and is definitely going to be the way forward for my future practice. I need to challenge myself with more complex projects to utilise more of the tools in the programmes.


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Principally illustrator certainly has its similarities to photoshop, belonging to the adobe family some tools do cross over well. Some however do NOT, why there is no simple eraser tool is frustrating, while I’m sure there is a valid reason for this, for now its a lot easier to sulk about it than go looking for an explanation.

Moving past that Illustrator had the correct suite of tools for what I was trying to achieve, mainly because of the live trace function and working with the laser cutter requires precision in dimensions and scale. Illustrator files also play well with Rhino.

Using illustrator for this project was certainly a learning experience, so it was important to

Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatourset my expectations and navigate as many problems with as little tools as possible, as to not over complicate things for myself.

The Vitruvian man

I had decided to go with The Vitruvian Man for the base of my image design.

The Vitruvian man was Leonardo Da Vinci’s study of mans form as a mathematical exercise. this study helped  identify how the human design has a close relation to nature, not only did the Vitruvian Man heighten this possibility but also highlights how art connects to science and architecture. Perfect proportions that govern our world all interrelate and there by help establish order and congruence. The Vitruvian Man is a study on how the physical being has structure and consistence, where form and shape organise themselves into our very beings. What this represents for me in the context of my work is our deep relationship with the world around us and the things we experience in our lives. How we have shaped the world through dedication, learning and our fierce ever growing ability to grow and strengthen our bonds with each other. And also how the world shapes us through challenge and opportunity. This is the process of the heroes journey working in harmony with all that is governed in the world, this is the perfect representation of how I want the figure in my medal to be portrayed. This also means I don’t have to take pictures of myself half naked in my bedroom looking like an ass.

Using illustrator to create my image

Ok so I have my image, now time to create my CAD file for the laser to recognise and to eventually import into Rhino.

The main tool I worked with was the pen tool, and employing a technique I’ve used for photoshop painting in the past I imported the image image lowered the opacity and locked it in place. Then created an new layer on top to draw around the image neatly. Doing this allows me to create a clean version of the image as well as picking and choosing which aspects of it I want to incorporate into my design.

Tracing around the Vitruvian man was simple enough, though I did make a few adjustments as the drawing didn’t work properly taking only one aspect of the figures pose. Not to mention the head was just simply shaped to much by the hair surrounding it so I couldn’t take the head.

Now I did consider not playing around with the image as I didn’t want to violate the original spirit and intent of the image, however for arguments sake I figured what the hell.

So I looked at altering the hands first, my design was to illustrate the sense of tension and relative connection to the world, its not about being crushed by the world around you its about finding harmony, and conveying that in a physical manor. Its a situation we all find ourselves in from time to time, allow the situation to over come us, or to push back, and take control, discover the answer and seize the opportunity to grow.

So the hands, they needed to look as though they were making contact with the inner ring of the medal, so I took photos of my hand trying to convey that myself by pushing my hand into my bedroom wall. Once I took an image that worked it was but a case of resizing, rotating and positioning the hand to be traced around.

Pic 1

Drawing with the pen tool caused my drawing to be made up of individual lines that I could group together or remove as I see fit (this would later become a problem in rhino).

Pic 2

I had to adjust the wrists a little to connect up my hand to the other image, I also duplicated the hand and flipped it to put it on both ends of the figure.

The result was pretty damn great, if I do say so myself.

Next was the head, The Vitruvian mans head just wasn’t going to work, to with the eventual goal being to bronze cast the medal, it would have become to awkward to

differentiate the hair and the face. so step one, make him bold, step two, find a better head. I did try and take a picture of my own head looking up, but it was just to difficult to draw over my head trying to workout how I would make myself bold, it just didn’t work right proportionally either.

Pic 3

So as simply as I could put it, I googled around and found a suitable fit, I traced over what I assumed made the main areas of the face and went from there. This would later require further adjustment.

With the figure complete, I had a workable CAD file that I could use the laser cutter to create some basic prototypes with. These prototypes were able to give me an indication of general aesthetic, size, comfort in hand etc.

Pic 4

So with this first prototype, I was able to identify a number of problems, the detailing inside the figure, wasn’t working, the hands taper into the thinner fingers and was just burning away in the laser, so I needed to fix that. As for the head, or lack thereof, due to the laser simply having a hard time trying to distinguish all these fine lines in an area thats simply to small and compact. The result was that basically the laser would burn the head off.

Pic 5

After really (over) thinking on it, I did feel that it was lacking that tension in the arms, no real struggle was apparent and didn’t fit the context of the piece.

So I looked into changing it.

What I ended up doing was taking a picture of myself holding a dumbbell in the air out to the side. and then applied my basic tracing method again, I did the same with the hands as I previously did, except I looked at making them flatter so that where they made contact with the inner ring of the medal, they had more material to engage with.

All in all, what this was above anything was a learning experience, I feel like practising on these programmes doesn’t work for me as I really am not meeting an end goal, however when I want to learn or do a specific thing, I go looking for the best way to do it, be it photoshop, illustrator or rhino.




Magic Mirrors

Whilst researching ideas for my medal, I came across a concept known as magic mirrors. What they appeared to be were mirrors with a design on one side and a reflective mirror surface on the other side. But wait! theres more! the mirrors when light is shined upon them cast an image. This image usually contradicts the design on the other side and further more was used as a form of concealment. This concealed image was only to be known and recognised should the user choose to see it. So in other words you would have to know of it if you wish to find it. What this speaks of, is rebellion or an innate form of anarchy. this idea that you would have to conceal your personal belief out of fear of punishment or death, speaks of the changing of times and how the seeds of a western belief system such as Christianity can take root, and further grow in a country with pre established beliefs like japan or china.

What I love about this is that the archaic method of producing these mirrors is through sheer graft and technical skill. I saw this technique demonstrated in a documentary I watched, where they polished the back of the mirror with a sword and smooth stones repeatedly for months, to slowly reveal the reflective image.

what I also discovered in the documentary was this early mirror technology, paved the way for technology such as silicon wafers used for things such as solar panels etc. all pioneered in japan

I think this is fascinating and a clever concept to look further into for my medal idea. Maybe I could raster etch a design on the back of a mirror or piece of mirrored acrylic so that it would reflect when light would be shined on it.




BAMS Research Russian Olympic Medal


What first came to mind upon being told about this project was an article I had seen a few months backon gizmodo.com. It was about the new Russians winter olympic medals. now admittedly my interest in the Russian olympics is pretty small, in other words not an iota of. But what brought my attention to this article was a particular word in the headline.


say no more, I’m yours.

Its not often you would see the word meteorite and olympics in the same sentence, so that was rather enticing. What I was to discover was that some of the medals would incorporate the meteorite into the metal of the medal. Now thats just cool! full stop.

A material that has come from space only to land in your hands is a very encapsulating thing, it makes the universe feel a little bit smaller, and us a teeny bit bigger, how wonderful it is to hold something that can draw those kind of feelings out (I do say all this having never actually held the thing, but I have many times, in my dreams)


What this medal provides for me is a basic idea of aesthetic and design principal that I want to transfer into my own design, what really stands out to me about this medal, are the clean lines, fine detailing and most of all its use of negative space. How these seemingly random assorted patchwork shapes inside provide this elegance and also playfulness. They remind me of these patterns called Zentangles my girlfriend used to draw. I also feel that being able to caress the different textures and materials in your hand makes the act of simply holding the medal feel almost like a journey or an adventure for the fingers. This little object in your hand suddenly becomes so much more than a medal, it can tell a story.