Here be dragons...

Here be dragons...

In Febuary of this year, I decided to sculpt a dragon. I like dragons and I think it is fair to say that most people do. I called her Adalinda the Singing Serpent and uploaded her to Thingiverse. She proved to be pretty popular at time of publication: people posted makes (which is always gratifying for an artist), told me how pretty she was and (importantly) how easy she was to print.

Where possible,I try to build support-free models that are easy to print.  I know from experience when learning 3D printing, it can be hard enough to produce something recognizable, let alone perfect.  It just adds to the frustration if you then have to complete post production work. I feel that a support free model is working more with the printer and the technology. There is something very cool about printing a model and just taking it off the bed and saying "Here you go. It's done". It's a good way of convincing 3D printing naysayers of the awesomeness of the new hobby you are pouring your time and money into ("How much did you spend on that??/Are we likely to see you anytime soon??" )- well, it probably isn't, but here's hoping. I enjoy building these support free models because it's a challenge to avoid problems without compromising too much with shapes. I want the model to look as if that is how I imagined it - even if I have had to re-think its structure a few times.

A dragon is a great challenge...

Below is a painting of Tolkien's Smaug by the Hildebrandt Brothers: what I would call a classic dragon in a typical pose. There are many beautiful dragons on Thingiverse, but the classic style dragons I've seen on there all need supports. To be fair, classic style dragon poses and shapes do not lend themselves to support free printing. The example I have provided is one of my all time favourite dragon pictures, but from a model builders perspective it would be impossible to create this as 3D printable without requiring support and/or assembly and stay true to the form described in the painting. Here is the same Smaug, but I have highlighted areas that would prevent a model based this picture being supportless.  Please bear in mind this analysis is far from exhaustive. The most important things to remember are that most domestic 3D printers have an overhang restriction of 45 degrees and you can't print something in mid air. The lines in green show the immediately apparent problem areas with this Smaug. When starting a design, I usually sketch the basic structure and then visualize the printing process, identifying potential issues. Sometimes this leads to re-design and sometimes (if I am really attached to an idea) I'll create a very quick and simple version of the model with the angles and make a test print to see if I am going to get away with something. I really recommend these testing methods as a preferable alternative to reworking a finished model.
In my mind, I had a choice: design my dragon with some scenery to act as a support (for example, a mountain to curl around) or give it a reason to be posed in a way that dragons usually aren't. If I am going to change the established style of something, I try to create some kind of plausible reason for it, no matter how fantastical the premise. It's probably very unnecessary, but it's what I like to do.  A trick with support free models of entire living creatures is to pose them lying down or sitting and if they have a chin which has an angle greater than 45 degrees then to have them looking up (or wearing a high collar or something to act as a bridge).  so, I had to find a reason for this dragon to look up rather than looking down as most dragons seem to do.  My first idea was to create a dragon shaped vase with the story being that this was a breed of pygmy house dragon bred specifically to look decorative in the home and hold flowers if its owner required it.  The initial "draft" had head which looked straight up and the open mouth, throat and stomach were to allow a small plastic stemmed flower(or a real one if you printed with ABS and sealed the interior with acetone) to be placed in its mouth. It was a very silly idea but I thought quite amusing. I also experimented with a "torn" wing effect.  However, when I saw it printing, I decided I didn't like it very much.

I decided to change the story and rework the model. The dragon would be female and she would be singing. Dragons are supposed to be capable of anything a human is, so singing did not seem beyond the realm of possibility. I also liked the idea that she'd lost her love and chose to honour their memory by singing once a century. Sort of makes her seem a bit more approachable than the usual highly intelligent, wealth hoarding lizards who see lesser beings either as a source of income or dinner. To this effect, I feminized the model by slimming the neck (it no longer had to be wide enough to accomodate a flower), softened the face by reducing the size of the muzzle (you have to be careful with dragons, otherwise they can up looking like cows). I made her feet smaller and more dainty and slimmed her torso. I also angled the head as much as I could so she didn't look like she howling at the moon but would still be printable for the majority of people.

I had to do something about the wings though. I'd got the idea of torn looking dragon wings from a book cover, but whilst they looked great rendered in acrylic paint, in plastic they just looked lumpy and as if my printer was badly calibrated.  I looked back at my classic dragon pictures, but knew the bat wing was not going to work too well because of the angles in the "arches" of the wing (see the highlighted Smaug). However, I really liked the curves and experimented with each wing section curving upwards and transferring the "arch" shape to following this upward sweeping curve. It looks "dragony" and would still print easily.

I was pretty pleased that I had created a model which had enough detail to look as though she was designed with care (the bands on her stomach, her claws, eyelids etc) but not so detailed she wouldn't scale down well. I do appreciate that not everyone has all the filament in the world and printers capable of printing to large sizes like I do. However, the area where I feel I compromised to the detriment of the model, is her back legs and tail. Printable models have to have a flat base which meant her tail and back legs would have to touch the floor. Usually, with a lizard, the legs are slimmer and raised up but if I did that she would need supports. One person has pointed out her "bunny" legs and I have to say I can't disagree with them. Still, she fit the criteria I set for myself.

Adalinda is my most popular model to date. On 3rd April, Adalinda was "featured" on Thingiverse and she even appeared on CNBC! Blink and you'd miss her, but I was really pleased. Problem is, what to sculpt next?
Posted by Louise Driggers

Louise Driggers

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