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Designer Spotlight: Brian Chan

This weeks Designer Spotlight focuses on Brian Chan, maker of extraordinary things, from beautiful, complex 3D printed insects to hilariously understated origami videos to award winning handmade instruments. Read on!

Tell us a little bit about yourself, who are you?

I’m Brian Chan, I grew up in the SF bay area but now reside in Cambridge. I work part-time at the Hobby Shop at MIT.

What’s the story behind your designs? What inspires you? 

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by arthropods (insects, crustaceans, etc). Preserved insect collections were neat, but preferred seeing live bugs. These were hard to find, and I couldn’t always take them home. Out of curiosity and desire to handle these creatures, I learned to reproduce them using origami, but the fragility of the paper made it hard to share, except through pictures and behind glass. Shapeways lets me sculpt artworks that can be shared with anyone and handled. I like making these movable figures or anything with a certain “action figure” potential, and my goal is to create works that feel almost alive. 

What brought you to 3D printing with Shapeways?

About a year ago, I created a laser-cut folding ukulele and realized that 3D printing and laser cutting were great ways to share designs which otherwise would be impossible to make. I was introduced to Shapeways by one of my mentors in origami, Robert Lang, who mentioned the wide number of materials that Shapeways has to offer. 

How did you learn how to design in 3D?

I’ve been drawing all my life, and have been sculpting with the traditional 3D stuff since my parents gave me clay and origami books when I was about seven. I still do traditional sculpting now as well as metalworking and carving. I think these skills inform my computer-based designs in a useful way. As for CAD, I was a high school junior when Rhino3D was releasing free betas. This was when computer graphics in movies was just starting to get big. I got hooked, designing cars, robots, and armor suits, just to make pretty renderings. At that point, 3D printing was mainly a fantasy to us, but now that technology has evolved, I’ve been thinking almost constantly how to design things to be actually made!

How do you promote your work?

I post to Flickr mostly and I have my own website. Last year I was lucky and my folding ukulele won a Core77 Design award, so that got a bit of publicity but I’m always open to suggestions!

Who are your favorite designers or artists? Who in the Shapeways community has served as an inspiration to you?

It’s great to see other insect designers and their interpretations of nature. To name a few: Joaquin Baldwin’s death head hawk moth, Michael Mueller’s stag beetle, and Erics Studio’s incredibly detailed and lifelike creations are really great sculptures that show how we can do with 3D printing what would be nearly impossible with any other method. My own work is heavily inspired by Japanese artwork, especially the metalworkers like Kano Natsuo, who made sword fittings, and Takase Kozan, who made articulated animals from a multitude of metals. 

If you weren’t limited by current technologies, what would you want to make using 3D printing?

As the technicians at Shapeways know, I’m always trying to make thinner walls and thinner wires, and more detail, because I am obsessed with detail! I’d really like to create articulated creatures and mechanical devices, perhaps some sweet automata, out of 3D printed metal. I know that 3D printed bronze, aluminum, brass, and titanium have recently become a reality, and I hope Shapeways is considering expanding their metals repertoire. If (or, optimistically, when) the price of printing goes down, I will use printers to make bigger objects like wearable armor suits and more fold-up musical instruments.

Check out Brian’s amazing creepy crawlies on his Shapeways Shop, read more on his website, and if you want to be the next featured designer, email natalia@shapeways.com.

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