Working on Objet Portrait: Charging Station (3)

In this series, we shed a light on the development of a few products of the Objet Portrait project by Roel Vandebeek. How do these products come to life, how long did it take and what were the design hurdles we had to take?

For this post we will rest our eyes on an art object: Charging Station.

Charging Station is a four ton concrete structure, designed to be placed in grass. It is a solid element, which lifts its ends slightly from the ground into the air. It seems to try to detach itself from the earth.

After a long and stressful day one will want to sit between its two arms and reloads oneself and find back to internal balance. The smooth surface and rounded corners make this giant 'U' feel soft and pleasant. Although it rests in open air, one feels sheltered by big gentle arms, cocooned even.

As with most projects, this one started out with a sketch. And like the previous design (Drip Drop), Roel came to my desk with one simple, but very clear sketch. And this time accompanied by a clay scale model.

Unlike the design of Drip Drop, the development process of this object was quite different. Sometimes a creative mind knows quite well what he does not want, but can't translate what he does want into sketches or drawings and 3D models.

This creates an extra difficulty for a 3D designer, who needs to listen, translate and shape out the 3D model of the object the original designer kept in his mind up until now.

Charging Station is almost entirely modelled with Roel stepwise refining the 3D model in the right direction, in real time.

Even with Roel sitting next to me in front of the same 3D modelling screen, several iterations were needed. You see, with 3D models you have an easy way of understanding how an object will look, but on a flat screen it's hard get a feeling for the scale of the models (which is easier through VR). That's why we added a 3D character for reference.

Even with this crude but effective scale indicator, we had to adjust the model several times, including shrinking it to half its original size. It would simply become too heavy, too big and too expensive to manufacture, let alone transporting it.

The 3D model was set up in Modo10, so as to make quick adjustments. Without going into overly technical detail, I used an edge weighing technique, similar to the ones used in Pixar movies (Pixar Subdivision, or PSUB), was used to round the sharp edges and simulate softness. This non-destructive way of modelling leads to faster adjustments without destroying the model.

Notice how the element in this picture is a lot smaller than the Charging Station pictured above.

We shrunk the model by 50% to get a better manageable object, while slightly adjusting curvature and the asymmetrical balance between the arms. Once Roel's client was happy with this design, the final, subdivided 3D model was exported to a NURBS 3D model, ready for manufacturing.

The 3D model was forwarded to Urbastyle, to transform these models into Styrofoam molds, in which