Recently, there’ve been several images of 3D printed Final Fantasy VII characters floating around the internet. Having made their way to the front pages of sites such as Kotaku, a friend of mine, Jon Ashmore, decided to contact the creator and order a set of his own… but what Jon really wanted were low-poly models of the characters from the original Resident Evil game. Jon’s a HUGE survival horror fan, and these characters mean a lot to him. Possibly more than any other.
So, after making his initial purchase of the entire playable cadre of FF7, Jon began a dialogue with the creator of the figures – Mr. Joaquin Baldwin. After discussing things with him, Jon decided that ++Good Games might like to hear from him. He was right! What follows is an interview I took with Mr. Baldwin about the complexities of 3D printing, as well as his love for the low-poly characters of our glorious hobby’s past (image sizes were left as-is to better represent Mr. Baldwin’s work):
James Bacon: What is it that you do that puts you in close proximity to a 3D printer?
Joaquin Baldwin: I’m actually an animator, so I have a lot of experience with 3D modeling software, but I have no 3D printers near me at all. I use Shapeways.com, it’s a website where you can upload 3D models and they print them for you (and you call sell prints of your designs too). I think it’s much more convenient, I don’t have the space or money for a 3D printer of real high quality, I’d rather click a few buttons and get the models delivered to me.
James: How did you first get involved with printing 3D gaming characters?
Joaquin: I wanted to have an action figure of Cloud from Final Fantasy 7, but not the super detailed ones they sell as toys, but rather the low-poly, interactive one I actually controlled in the game. That’s the guy I remember and the guy I feel emotionally attached to. They never sold them in low-poly, so I decided to make my own. It turned out very well, so I decided to make the other main characters too, and now I’m preparing a lot of the secondary characters as well… I think it’s more about being able to have something that is not being offered elsewhere, something really unique, otherwise what’s the point?
James: Would you mind explaining the 3D printing process for those among our readership who might not know? I’m aware that it isn’t as easy as building a low-ploy model, and sending it to the printer to print. Is there a lot of trial and error? Small adjustments that need to be made?
Joaquin: The coolest thing is that these prints come out in full color. Imagine a printer putting down a tiny amount of material, one little bit at a time, and building it up and up in layers… at the same time, it drops a tiny bit of a pigment of the right color (like a regular paper printer does), and the object is painted/dyed as it is being built, dot by dot. It does take a lot of trial and error, and knowing the limits of the different materials, and the “design rules” such as the minimum thickness for each material. It also takes a lot of tweaking, such as making the objects hollow to cut down costs (less material is cheaper), and making them balanced so that they stand on their own. And for colored figures, I do a lot of tweaking of the textures not just for placement, but for saturation… Since these are mixed pigments, I tend to oversaturate the colors to compensate for the lack of vibrancy in some muddy hues. I have plenty of bad prints that I never showed to anyone, where I just had no clue of what I was doing and instead created hideous monsters that will never see the light of day.
James: How expensive are the materials for 3D printing?
Joaquin: It depends on the material, but they are pretty cheap for the common ones like full-color and flexible plastics. For example, on these Final Fantasy 7 figures, some small models in the full color material can cost as little as $10, and some big ones (like fat-ass Barret) can be as high as $30. It’s a price by volume, so it’s a bit counterintuitive… think about it this way, if you make a model twice as high, the price is actually 8 times higher (2x2x2, it’s 3 dimensions you need to multiply)… So as long as you keep the models in a relatively small size, like action figures, they are very affordable. There are expensive materials like silver, gold, etc, but the plastics for toys tend to be pretty cheap.
James: What is it about low-poly models that you find so charming? 3D printing has progressed leaps and bounds since its inception, and with detailed models like what’s on offer at Figure Prints, why stick to PlayStation/Saturn era miniatures?
Joaquin: There is an inherent appeal on a higher level of abstraction, it’s probably because the less detail we see, the more of ourselves we can put into it. Also, these characters didn’t even have voices, and nowadays we get games with the most horrible voice actors performing fake, impossibly awkward dialogues… I’d rather play the voices in my head than hear a bad actor play a shitty role for me. These low-poly characters are ingrained in my mind with much more detail than the simple polygons used to represent them. I love how Scott McCloud explains it, he wrote a book called Understanding Comics which deals with a lot of these subjects, for example, check out this image, a tiny excerpt from his book:
James: How difficult are they to find/create? Is there room for something like a low-ploy character from a more recent game, or are textures limited to flat colors? For example, could you print this Garrus:
Joaquin: It depends on the game and model. There are some games that make it easy to export your creations (like Minecraft), some that make it extremely hard, and some that you can’t export at all and you will have to build the model from obscure visual references on a torn VHS tape. If you already have an exported 3D model of your character, it’s not too complicated to make it ready for 3D printing, and the colors can be as complex as your texture map is. That Garrus looks very close to printable, you’d only need to thicken parts of the hair, gun and his Google Glass ™, make him hollow (if you want him cheaper), and pose him in a way so that he won’t fall with the slightest breeze (would probably require making feet bigger and more flat).
James: Are there any plans to create your own characters to print? Is there a Kickstarter in your future?
Joaquin: I have a character from my short film Sebastian’s Voodoo on my Shapeways store, you can find him here. That’s actually how I first got into 3D printing, I wanted to have a physical model of the main character from my film. Other than this guy, I make a lot of weird sculptures (like the Super Mario Mobius Strip pictured above) and many other bizarre designs and creations. They don’t tend to be characters, but rather mixed geeky concepts transformed into sculptures. I don’t think I would have a need for Kickstarter in this, because what I make is what I want to make for myself, and I’d do it anyway even if no one wanted to buy it. Luckily, people like the designs and the extra money I can make from selling prints pays off my hobby, so it’s a pretty sweet deal. I get a lot of requests but my usual reply is “if it’s something I’d buy for myself, I’ll build it, but if it’s something from a game I didn’t even play or care about, I’ve got more fun things to do.”
Thank you, Joaquin, for your time and efforts, and for taking us up on this interview offer. We wish nothing but success for you.
Joaquin’s Shapeways store can be accessed HERE. I know exactly what my first purchase is going to be: