When I lent my services to a collegue who was working on a film about 12 years ago, I was introduced to the world of cnc. I remember watching this huge machining centre milling out a slab of mdf and turning it into a fantastic set of gears. I knew that it would have taken me hours to achieve the same thing with traditional power tools. I decided then that I would invest in a cnc router for my own business Oxenham Design. At that time I could turn on a computer, but even to check email seemed like a crazy set of operations. I persevered and learned every piece of relevant software I could get my hands on. I am now fortunate enough to be using Vectric's ASPIRE software, and Techno cnc routers, which has helped us to create some amazing projects, both in part, or in full. I thought that this blog would be a great place to share "behind the scenes" adventures with the software, materials and equipment we use, as well as the projects we build.

Monday, 29 April 2013

The weekend was a long weekend-long hours that is!

 I'm not sure that this particular procedure is covered in the Techno cnc manual that came with the machine :) After the Sponge Bob ocean base, The Z-axis was too high to cut anything else, so I had to drop it back down to where it was usable. It didn't take long, but it was a little freaky to do!

The Gotham City backdrop got cut out on our Techno cnc. Pretty fast at around 4 minutes per panel!
The 24 inch moon seemed to just roll around and get in the way for the most part. It did live on a bucket, until someone stole it for making scenic mud. Probably that Jody and Anna!

We textured the styrofoam moon ball by dumping sand on it and flaming it with a propane torch. The sand makes a great heat shield, while melting the exposed areas. A super fast way of texturing!
The Dino-Riders base got carved up as well. This was pretty quick with the reciprocating saw and an 11 inch tree limb blade.
Look, it's the painting/tree fairies working their magic on the dino base. We tinted the mud with the base color of the set, then parged it on. We basically treated the surface the same way we do our faux concrete. Wait till it tacks up, then run a textured roller over it, then knock it down.

The background rocks got their base hard-coat as well. This is kind of fun slapping it all on, then rough smoothing it out. It does take longer than you would think! The very chiseled look compliments the style of the toy perfectly. These will all get glazed and dressed on set.

The truck showed up at around 11 am this morning, and we were able to get everything except the tools loaded. They'll ride with us in the van.

By the end of the first set-build day, we were exactly where I hoped to be in studio. I did have to come back to the shop and build a couple of last minute things for tomorrow, so there wont be much sleep between now and the 5 am alarm clock persistance!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Some color is happening!

I returned from my morning delivery and material run around 1pm. Doing Toronto runs always bag me out. I just want to have a nap when I get back!
When I got back, Jody and Anna had the mountain top all hard coated. We mixed in a dark grey latex to the durabond, to help with elasticity and adhesion. Looks pretty good for a base coat I think.

The girls also textured the base plate the mountain top sits on as well. Very little of this will be in frame, so we don't have to have a lot of detail to this part. Most of the detail will come from real gravel and rocks. No hard-coat on this stuff either, just painted foam.

I started the last files for the Sponge Bob set as soon as I got back as well. These ran for pretty much the rest of the day. Our Techno cnc worked through his lunch, and didn't take an afternoon break either, damn I love that guy!!
While I was out, I picked up a 24" styrofoam sphere that will hang on the set as the moon. This basically comes as 2 halves that you have to glue together. I used sprayfoam for this, taping the seams to keep the foam from pushing the halves apart. Before I glued them up, I placed a 4" disk inside, bolted to an eyelet that sticks out the top for hanging. A little overkill, but the moon crashing to earth would be a story passed down for hundreds of generations! This will get textured tomorrow, and painted(I hope)
This was the disaster area at 7 pm! I've luckily rented the neighbors shop for the weekend, so we will have a place to store all these pieces until we load them up Monday at 10am for their trip to the Studio.
The next couple of days is going to be interesting I think!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Styrofoam-The best and worst stuff ever!

Today we plunged headfirst into the styrofoam work for the 4 miniature sets we're building.
The Batman mountain got sculpted using various chisels, saws, and whatever else that worked. This is actually 3 layers of 6" styrofoam. You can see the "mountain road" winding it's way up the side.
This will get covered in our scenic mud, then painted and glazed. We have to keep the top as flat as possible, so the toy play can happen. The other side actually has a cut-away piece, so the kids can get as close to the action as possible.
For the Spongebob set, the actual set is a kidney shape, that needed to be textured like the bottom of the sea. I found a tile-able texture online, and scaled it to the 12' X 8' kidney shape. The set will get broken into 3 pieces, and finished at the studio on Monday. I probably could have carved it by hand, but our Techno cnc will mill away, while I work on the stuff the router isn't doing.
 I toolpathed it with a 1/2" ballnose, at 550 ipm, with 100 ipm on the Z axis. It didn't run nearly that fast in real life, as there was a fair amount of texture in the file. If I smoothed the model in Aspire too far, it lost a lot of the ridges, so this was a bit of a compromise.
I ended up having to bump up my Z carriage up to the next set of mounting holes to accommodate the 6" slab. I also set the machining boundary to the edge of the kidney shape. Sadly I don't have the travel or cutter to be able to cut the part out, so we'll use the border of the relief as a cutting guide with a reciprocating saw.
So far the first piece looks great! I had no reasonable way to hold the sheet on the machine, so I ended up using 2, 50lb barbel weights to stop the styrofoam from sliding around. It worked very well!

We also had a meeting with the art director today, so that took some time, but all in all, I'm happy witht the progress today.
Tomorrow I deliver some more stuff for the TV show The Amazing Race, then picking up a pile of material, then working at the shop. Busy day Tomorrow!
Jody and Anna will be hard coating the batman mountain, and hopefully I won't keep them waiting too long on materials.
I never thought I would build a mountain, and the bottom of the ocean all in one day :)


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

It's Becoming Very Tropical in Here!

The tree's were the main focus again today, some of the sets got changed a little, so Jody and Anna just worked away on palm fronds.
The craft paper got bulk painted, this will get torn into strips and wrapped around the sticks we're using for tree trunks.
Their thumbs are lookin pretty rough from using the scissors all day. I'm glad I'm the king and rule with an iron fist, making the peasants work for my ultimate gain. Muu Haa Haa Haa!

I was stuck prepping what drawings I could for our Techno cnc. Trying to figure out the best ways to eliminate seems in the 8 foot X 12 foot sets.

On the bright side, our 12 pcs of 4X8 X6" thick styrofoam sheets arrived this morning! Woo Hoo!

That's about all that happened today. They added a couple more things to the NDA tv show, so I worked on finishing that today as well.
Soon we're going to be 'Full Steam Ahead'. The Art Director Allen Fellows is coming to the shop tomorrow, so we'll nail down the last bit of stuff then.
Wow Monday is coming quick!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Set building (In Miniature)

Today we started the build for an upcoming kids toy commercial! I love miniature setwork!
We worked the whole weekend finishing the bits and pieces for the NDA TV show.
Jody finished the last of the welding for that, so it's just paint really now. I'm diggin' her "Ghost Rider" visor!

The first miniature set is 8' X 12' and is a tropical/desert dinosaur set. This will be sculpted styrofoam, covered in scenic mud, with rocky pop-outs all over. We'll be keeping the center space free for the dinosaurs to move around in.

We're building about 15 miniature palm trees for this set. Don't know if we'll use all or any yet, but they take awhile, so we got started on them right away. Jody and Anna spent an awful lot of time cutting the palm bows from heavy-weight paper.
We're using thin wire taped down the back of the leaf for support, and to pose the leaf on the tree.
These were the first color run, just to see how they might turn out. Because the palm leaves are paper, the color is very deceiving after it has absorbed into the paper and dried.
The fronds were then cut into the overall leaf shape.

The bark was done with long strips of painted and ripped craft paper wrapped around a cedar stick.
So far the tree test has been pretty good!
Now onto the other 14 trees X 14 branches each = 196 that need fronds cut into them. Thank goodness for the miniature tree fairies! They're the same as the painting fairies, but they make trees now instead.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Modelling a Simple Item


I wasn't able to post this simple tutorial until tonight due to work. This will be a simple tutorial based on a household item. This one will be very simple, and allow you to get a little familiar with some of the tools in Hexagon.

I'm going to create a basic drain plug for a bathtub drain! Simple and fun, and won't eat up a whole day of your time!

I will call the tools by name and show an icon where-ever I can remember too.

So lets get started:

I don't have any particular drain-plug in mind, so we'll invent it as we model, based on any generic plug.

The first step is to create a cylinder with 16 points (or sides) and 2 sections. This should give us enough resolution to do what we need.
Up in selection tab is where we can choose to use the edge selection tool. You'll notice under it are the options for loop, ring and between. Remember these.
If we select one edge on the bottom, then hit the LOOP select option, the software will select all the edges on the bottom of the cylinder. Then if we grab the yellow box on the universal manipulator, we can scale the bottom edge loop in a little. This is going to be the part of the plug that goes into the drain hole.

Next, select a top edge, then 'loop' select the entire ring.

 If we grab the center yellow handle on the manipulator, and hold the CTRL key, we'll extrude those edges outward evenly. Again, this is all visual.
While still holding CTRL, grab the green arrow and move it upwards a little. This will extrude the edges up.
Lets move back to the bottom of the plug, and finish that up. LOOP select all the bottom edges, then using the yellow handle on the manipulator and CTRL, extrude them in a little ways to give the plug some thickness.
While still holding CTRL, extrude the edges upwards with the green arrow on the manipulator.
Again, use the CTRL key and the yellow handle on the manipulator to scale the edges inwards, until a small hole is left open.
Under the VERTEX MODELLING tab, select the CLOSE icon. We'll use this to close off the little hole we just created.
Once we select the CLOSE tool, any open portion of the geometry will be highlighted in white. We just need to click the highlighted hole we want to close. You may have to rotate the model using ALT and the Right Mouse Button (RMB) and rotate it for a better view to get the software to select the right hole. Once the highlighted hole opening turns red and is filled in, we have to end the tool by pressing the VALIDATE button on the right side PROPERTIES palette.
Now lets select the newly closed hole polygon, and holding CTRL, extrude it down a bit. This will give a small nipple that the plug I used for reference has.

Now, lets see how our model looks when we smooth it out:

Under the PROPERTIES bar at the left, there is the number selection for smoothing. I only ever smooth to the number 2 while modelling something, this gives me the look, without bogging the computer down with too many polygons to calculate!
I really like the underside of the plug with the nipple, but the very bottom portion needs some resolution to better define it.
Lets turn our smoothing off for now. Just simply select the #0 under smoothing. This will let us work on the low resolution model. Anytime you can work with the low resolution model, the better and simpler it is.
Let's select 2 edges and press the LOOP selection, you should get what I have above.
 Under the VERTEX MODELLING tab, you'll find the EXTRACT AROUND tool under the EDGE TOOLS fly-out palette. It's the one with 3 lines.
 Now we just have to drag out a new set of edges. Keep the fairly close to the original. This will add resolution to the bottom edge, keeping the corners fairly sharp.
If we select the #2 smoothing again, we can see how sharp the bottom of the plug is after adding the edge loops. Much better. However the edge of the plug that sticks out above it needs some resolution as well. Lets take care of that now.
Put the smoothing back to zero, and loop select my highlighted edge. Then we will do exactly what we just did using the EXTRACT EDGES tool again.
Now we'll have 2 new sets of edges on each side of our originally selected edge loop.
After applying #2 smoothing, the edge looks nice and sharp. The final edge to tackle is the next one out. It's totally rounded, and needs sharpening.
The exact same process as the last two steps is applied again. Now we have some good definition happening!
Let's move back to the top of the plug. Select one of the outside edges, then use LOOP SELECT to highlight the whole edge.
Using CTRL and grabbing the yellow center handle on the manipulator, extrude the edges in to where the little handle on the drain plug would start in real life. About where I have it located now.
Use the green arrow on the manipulator to drag the select ring up a little. This will give us the dome look to the top of the plug.
If we smooth it now, we have that great mushroom dome happening to the top of the plug. Perfect!

The plug that I have has a set of circular ribs around the top for whatever reason. We'll duplicate those as well.
We're going to select one of the highlighted edges above, then beside the loop select feature, is the RING SELECT feature. This will select all the edges on the same loop ring on the model. It should look like the above image. Now we're going to connect all these edges with an edge loop. This will give us some edges for our ribs.
Under the VERTEX MODELLING tab is the CONNECT function. With all the edges above selected, and hitting the CONNECT tool, you'll see the new edge loop added. It adds it right down the center of each edge.
Here's what you should end up with. Now were going to do the same thing a couple more times:

We just keep RING SELECTing  our edges, and CONNECT them with the CONNECT tool. Ive added a total of 5 new loops. You could do as many as you want, or none. This is all visual anyway.

Now we want to select all these new loops to create the ribs. Again, it's faster to select one line of each loop, then hit the LOOP SELECT feature. This will select all the edges we want.

If we select the EXTRACT AROUND tool under the VERTEX MODELLING tab, we can add edge loops on either side of our selected edges.
Now if we pull the center selected loops up a little bit with the green arrow on the manipulator, we will have added our ribs like on the real one.
With a level 2 smoothing, it's really coming along!

Now for the handle part with the hole for the chain loop!

This is a very important step to make sure we're working on this properly! In the upper left corner, make sure your in the WORLD co-ordinate system. Second is to look at the red line i've drawn on the model. This is the center of the model which we'll need to be familiar with to make sure we select the proper edges in the next step! It's easy to identify the center of the model by looking at the bounding box edges around the model.

We want to select the six edges of the whole, leaving the very last edges at the top and bottom unselected. Now if we grab the blue square 'scale' handle, and move it towards the center of the model:
We'll end up flattening it right out. This will become the basis for the right side of the handle that sticks up.
Now let's do the EXACT same thing on the left side of the plug. The square opening looks a little wide for my liking, so lets narrow it in a little.
Select all the flat edges on each side of the plug, then use the blue 'scale' cube on the manipulator. This will puul the edges into the center of the model. Just adjust them a little, to better proportion the handle base.
Lets CLOSE the hole with the CLOSE tool under the VERTEX MODELLING tab at the top.
Don't forget to hit the validate key to close out the tool.
We now have to add some resolution to the newly created polygon that filled the hole. It would be considered one giant N-GON, meaning a polygon with more than 4 edges. This will be very unpredictable when we smooth the model, so we need to fix it now.

We going to now use the FREE TESSELATE tool that's found under the VERTEX MODELLING tab at the top of the screen.
 This tool has a little yellow box that defines where it is positioned. If we hold the shift key, it will snap to the available points on the model. Were going to split the large N-GON we created right down the center. You have to hit the validate key after every section connected.

Now we need to connect the remaining edges to each other. Move from one point to the opposite point, then validate the tool.

Just keep repeating the process to connect all the edges so they look like the above image.
Now we can select all the newly created faces,
And using the green arrow handle and the CTRL key, we can extrude them upwards to create the handle for our drain plug.
We now have to set up our model for the hole in the handle. Lets RING select all of these edges, then connect them with the CONNECT tool we used before. This is found under the VERTEX MODELLING tab at the top.
This connects our selected edges with a new loop right around the middle.
Lets add 2 more edgeloops to define where the top and bottom of the circle will reside. Select the 2 highlighted, then RING select the rest.
With the above edges all selected, we want to connect them with the CONNECT EDGES tool.
This will give us a whole pile of resolution to work with for the hole.

Lets select the 4 polygons on each side of the handle, then delete them. This will leave the opening for the chain hole.

The 4 polygons we deleted on each side might not make a perfect square, effectively leaving us with a rectangle opening. We need to fix this now.

If we select the above edges on each side of the opening,
Using the red axis scale box on the manipulator, drag the edges in a little to square the opening up a little. You could be very anal, and use the input box to apply the exact dimensions, we're going for visual, so as long as it looks fairly square, we're all good.

Now we'll turn the square opening into an octagon that will smooth into a circle when we apply smoothing.

We'll select the 4 outermost points on the left and right openings
We'll use the yellow center scale box on the manipulator to drag the end points inward, to shape our octagon.
If we rotate the model, you'll see that that our opening is all distorted, an easy fix is next!
Select one edge on one side of the opening, and LOOP SELECT the hole.
With the opening edges all selected, drag the blue scale box into the center of the model. This will flatten out all the edges into the same plane. The edges all align planer if you stop dragging at the location of the yellow center scale box on the manipulator. If you drag past the yellow scale box, the edges end up reversing, still being out of plane.
Repeat the same procedure, but on the opposite side.

With all the edges planer, we just need to make sure that all the edges around the opening are selected on BOTH sides.

We're going to let Hexagon connect the hole for us. If we select the BRIDGE tool, under the MODELLING VERTEX tab, the edges of the opening get bridged closed.
Now we want to add some resolution to keep our hole edges sharp, otherwise they'll go soft and look weird! We'll just RING select the inside edges of our hole.
Use the CONNECT tool to add an edgeloop down the center of the hole.
Use the EXTRACT EDGES tool and split off two edges, placing them close to the ends of the hole.
VOILA! We have our finished drain plug!!! Good job!

In fact, lets create the ring using a TORUS primitive from the SECOND LIFE tab, scaled and rotated to fit.

Here's our plug rendered out in another software package. As boring a thing as a drain plug is, it makes you appreciate it a bit more after spending all this time with it!