Imagine climbing up a 17-foot ossified helical sculpture that glows from within. If you’re heading to Burning Man this August, then you may just get to experience exactly that.
Stijn van der Linden, otherwise known as Virtox, a long-time Shapeways community member and shop owner is an artist that creates algorithmically inspired math sculptures. This year, he’s scaling up his work and taking it the playa to create an interactive Fractal Rock sculpture for Burning Man 2016, backed by the Burning Man Honorarium Arts Grant.
“We want it to appear as if it is grown from the earth, an organic structure designed using math and built to scale through the love and labor of people who are inspired by its intriguing shape and mathematical foundations.”
Stijn is one of the early adopters within the 3D space, beginning his practice nearly 10 years ago using voxel 3D modeling technology (voxel = volumetric pixel). Eventually, he moved into the 3D printing space as it was the perfect medium to bring his complex, math-generated sculptures to life in the physical world. “3D printing made its way into my life when I discovered Shapeways in 2008,” he says, “and I have been hooked ever since.”
Stijn, How do you create your art?
One of the major annoyances I had with 3D modeling for printing was the whole triangle and mesh modeling environment. No real auto mesh repair was available back then. This gave all sorts of trouble. Missing triangle? Error, abort, etc.
I decided to use voxel space instead for my modelling needs. Voxels are essentially three dimensional pixels that you can use as building blocks for just about anything. So kind of like Minecraft drawing, but at a finer resolution. And luckily, it’s a perfect match for 3D printing and CNC. If there is a voxel at point xyz in the model, then the machine should put material there too.
The main trouble was that, when I started with this, voxel software was and still is mostly nonexistent or used only internally inside software. So I had to write most of my own tools to be able to create what I had in mind. The huge advantage for me is that it allows me to directly code my ideas into voxel-space and see instant results.
And as a digital artist, I have always been very fond of fractals and fractal-like algorithms and the beautiful images and animations that one can produce with them.
One day, I totally fell in love with the so-called Quaternion fractals, which is a multi-dimensional variation of the more commonly know Julia set fractal. And these Quaternion fractals produce these amazing organic shapes.
How did you design Fractal Rock?
Pooja Shah reached out to me in September 2015 mentioning her idea to create a large (17 feet!) sculpture inspired by fractal forms in nature and some of my work, most notably the Julia Vase series. So we met online to discuss the idea and we decided to go for it.
We’ve been working on the design for Fractal Rock since then and the model has evolved greatly over the last few months–starting with the initial Julia Vase Aqua as a basis and mixed with images from our inspiration board. We sent many ideas and visions back and forth, which ultimately led me to the epiphany to make a combination of the Julia vase algorithm and the traditional quaternion fractals.
From that point on we spent countless hours tweaking the model and algorithm to push the shape into the desired form. As modeling with fractals is a bit like modelling with silly putty, if you push too much everything breaks. But if you treat it just right, you can get it to do the most elegant things.
And once we found the perfect shape for our sculpture, Pooja assembled a team of experts to get the production/build process underway. We looked at many different ways to produce a sculpture at this scale, but in the end decided on the more old-school steel reinforced fiberglass process to cut costs and ensure safety.
If people want to lend a hand, we could use some final funding to get the scale we had in mind! Please check out our crowd-funding campaign at http://fractalrock2016.com/. We have some beautiful Fractal Rock 3d prints as well as other cool rewards!