Our Latest Cover Story

For the cover of our latest issue, art director Nathan Gale worked with MetWorks technology studios to create a stunning portrait of illustrator Marion Deuchars. Here, he explains how he came to work with three-dimensional printing and, for the first in CR’s history, create a cover using “rapid prototyping”.

CR cover Nov

For the cover of our latest issue, art director Nathan Gale worked with MetWorks technology studios to create a stunning portrait of illustrator Marion Deuchars. Here, he explains how he came to work with three-dimensional printing and, for the first in CR’s history, create a cover using “rapid prototyping”.

The idea for the cover came from Sean Ashcroft’s piece on MetWorks that was running in the November issue, explains Gale. Metropolitan Works Digital Manufacturing and Workspace Centre, to give it its full name, is the UK’s most comprehensive collection of digital technology for the creative industries. Among the technologies it offers are five-axis routering, SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) rapid prototyping, 3D printing, 3D laser scanning, laser cutting, and digital printing.

For CR, this was a great opportunity to produce something specifically for our front cover, and we’d been wanting to use the process of rapid prototyping for some time. It can be a complicated and expensive process to use, but it’s one that has genuinely exciting potential.

As Ed Alves, technician at MetWorks, explains, “The process we use is called SLS (selective laser sintering). It works by taking an .stl file (a 3D CAD file) which is sliced into .15mm cross-sections. The SLS machine builds the model in an additive layer process. A .15mm layer of polyamide powder (nylon) is deposited on to the building platform of the machine. A laser then melts the first sliced layer of the model into the powder. Another layer of powder is added to the bed and the laser melts the next section to the previous one. This process continues until the part is finished. There are a lot of different RP technologies but they all work basically on the same principle of building up a three-dimensional model out of two-dimensional sections.”

When it came to deciding what to use as an image for the process there was a clear choice as, coincidentally, I’d just finished working on another three-dimensional project, a portrait for the forthcoming book, Two Faced. Darren Firth, the book’s editor, had approached a wide range of creative people, including art directors, photographers, illustrators and musicians to create portraits of one another. I had been paired with illustrator Marion Deuchars and my solution was to produce a three-dimensional halftone patterned image of Marion’s head.

Working with 3D designer Matt Ratcliffe, Marion’s portrait was initially rendered from a single forward facing photograph. An outline of a halftone screen pattern was then added as a skin and the piece was animated as a full 360 degree rotation of the head.

Marion scan

The logical progression was then to develop Marion’s portrait into an actual three-dimensional object. After discussing the idea with Ed and communications manager Tina Price, who had kindly arranged for MetWorks to be involved with the project, it was decided that we would try to use the same file and extrude each circle from the halftone pattern inwards. Unfortunately, it soon became obvious that this process was just too time consuming – mainly because the pattern had been applied as a “skin”, which meant that each circle would have to be hand placed for the extrusion to work. Another idea we talked about was to only build the front part of the face from spokes of varying length – a much more simple idea to produce, but one that retained the basic aesthetic of a halftone screen.

Ed set to work using the original StudioMax file. He explains: “First we took the scan of the head and made it a closed entity. Among other cad software packages, we use one called Magics which is a .stl editing software. It allows us to edit surface models as if they were solid models, but to be a usable .stl the file must be a closed surface. We then created a matrix of the 600 spikes. We overlayed the head scan with the spikes and booleaned the two models so we were left with only the areas that were comon to the two models.” Once the render was complete, Ed sent us low res images of how the piece would look. The actual build time of the model was about 30 hours, then there is then a 12 hour cooling down time afterwards. As Ed goes on to say, “It may not seem that rapid, but what you end up with is a fully melted functioning plastic part, and you are able to create complex geometries that couldn’t be created any other way”.

Marion scan
3D model

The next step was to get the build photographed, and Jenny Van Sommers was the natural choice. We’d worked with Jenny before (to great effect) and the simplicity and cleanness of the white plastic form seemed like something that would suit her approach. We were slightly worried about some of the spoke ends being a bit rough – especially in the hair area – so Jenny decided to shoot the face straight-on. We’d also talked about using coloured lights to add some interest, so Jenny used four different coloured pastel colours to highlight the face and give it added detail.

When you see the actual cover, it’s pretty hard to determine what the image actually is, apart from being a beautiful, abstract texture. But stand back, or view the cover from a newsstand and the picture suddenly becomes clear.

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