Shapeways, The Community

Star Trek Replicator Realized?

Interview with James White & his 3D Printed, Voyager Inspired Characters

Many of you have seen and been blown away by the 3D printed Voyager Inspired Characters that James (Smart Art Studios) posted on the Shapeways ‘it arrived!‘ forum.  Impressive images from his first models produced using Shapeways inspired us to ask James a few questions about his background, his day job, and his experiences modeling with LightWave 3D and having his characters 3D printed with Shapeways.Following is a transcript of our Skype chat:

Duann: Hi James, tell us a little about yourself and your background.

James White: My name is James White and I am 37 years old. I live in San Antonio TX and love 3D modeling and animation. After years of physical labor I decided it was time for a career change. Since I have always been artistic I decided to pursue a career doing something I love. So with full encouragement from my wonderful wife I went back to school and eventually graduated with a degree in digital animation and visual effects from the D.A.V.E School in Orlando Fl. After that we decided to move from Florida to Texas and I have been working for NewTek (The creators of LightWave 3D) ever since. When I am not working for NewTek I do some freelance modeling and other visual effects work like photo manipulation.

Duann: D.A.V.E, great name for a school, what made you go for Digital Animation in particular? And what is you role at NewTek?

James White: When animation started going to 3D I fell in love with it. It was just so cool looking. I wanted to know how they did that and made characters interact with each other.

I am currently a technical analyst for NewTek and while I do all sorts of support for different software I kind of specialize in trouble shooting peoples questions about LightWave 3D Test and fix scenes and models. things like that.

Duann: You must get to see some cool stuff coming through?

James White: It is a great place to work and make contacts in the industry. I have seen some really cool stuff and talked to some pretty interesting people.

Duann: How did you find Shapeways and what do you use the Shapeways site and services for?

James White: I found out about Shapeways from a fellow collector on the Trektoy collector forums. We were discussing making custom figures that had not been done yet and one of the members said that if we could find someone to model them we could try the place called Shapeways and see about getting them printed. So I immediately started looking into it and have kind of become obsessed with getting my models printed now. LOL

Duann: Were you aware of 3D printing prior to this?

James White: I was but always thought it was to expensive for what you got. But when I saw Shapeways and started researching it my mind changed. You really get some great looking products for the price.

Duann: Do you now exclusively model Star Trek style figures with Shapeways or do you do other items as well?

James White: I started doing Star Trek style figures because that is what my collector friends were interested in but I have also moved to doing some other things as well. For my wife I have modeled our cats so that we can make Christmas ornaments of them. And I am working on doing some miniature props from old sci fi shows. Shapeways has really opened a door to a fun new world for me. LOL. I am kind of overwhelmed and may have to many things going on at once. I am also looking into maybe doing custom wedding cake toppers with the bride and grooms likenesses.

Duann: Have you ever considered doing fantasy characters like if Spock and Seven of Nine got together, what would their offspring look like as an adult? Using some kind of morph tool?

James White: HAHA. That is an interesting idea. I have actually created some of my
own characters and have been giving thought to printing them, some sort
of what ifs may be fun to make. LOL

Duann: How do you sell or share your work?

James White: I had my own website to promote my freelance work for a while but it didn’t really generate the interest I wanted. So now

I go by word of mouth and keep an eye out on different forums for people in need of a modeler. I also share my work on Facebook and some of the collector forums that I frequent.Duann: Are you getting much interest on the forums? Do you feel as though it is a good way to promote your work given that there you are within a community of people with similar interests? And do you come across many people who have even heard of 3D printing or Shapeways?

James White: I am getting some interest. People seem to have many different “favorite”characters that they want but have not been made. So yeah there is interest. the 3D printing part of it seems to be new to a lot of people. But they are very interested so far.

Duann: What do your co-workers at NewTek think of your 3D prints? I assume you are using LightWave 3D to create your pieces?

James White: I am. Some of my friends here have seen the pictures that I posted on the Shapeways forums and really like them. They keep wanting me to bring them in so that they can see them in person but I keep forgetting to. LOL.

Duann: How many figures have you modeled so far? How do you go about modeling them without giving a full tutorial (yet) and what post processing (ie painting) do you do?

James White: I have done 8 characters so far and had 4 printed. I do all the post work myself. I sand down any rough spots then prime them. Then I hand paint them myself. It takes some time but I enjoy it much more when the are finished. Modeling them is kind of like free hand drawing something. I take a look at reference photos around them net and then start moving and tweaking until a face starts to take shape. It is like working with clay but without getting dirty.

Duann: wow, so it is not a matter of inserting a profile jpeg (for example) and tracing a spline? All by eye?

James White: yep. all by eye. no tracing here. Everything I model is done that way.

Duann: That is quite impressive. What is the next project for you now that you have modeled your cats?

James White: I actually have a few things on my plate right now. I have an idea for a short film that I am putting details together for and hope to start modeling characters soon. I am also working on a few more custom heads for different action figures for people around the collector community. And I am trying to refine my modeling process a little to work better with 3D printing. There is a bit of a difference in modeling for animation than there is in modeling for printing.

Duann: What is the major difference you are finding between modeling for animation and modeling for 3D printing.

James White: Modeling for a model to be printed and modeling for animation are two very different processes. With 3D you want to keep things separate so that you can animate and move them. Like if you make a head you model the eyes separately so that you can make them move and look in different directions. And when you do the mouth you also model the inside with tongue, teeth etc. Even though you don’t see them when the mouth is closed they are there so that when you make you character talk they are there and ready. You don’t always model the backs of the eyes or all props in a scene because that is just more info that has to be rendered. When modeling for a printed model you have to make sure that all holes are sealed and nothing is over lapping or it wont print. This can be a bit tedious when someone is used to modeling most parts separately and assembling them later. LOL. But I think I am getting the hang of it.

Duann: Where can we find your work online, other than your Shapeways shop and the amazing images you posted in the it’s arrived forum?

James White: I have set up an art gallery thread in the collectors forum that I run to showcase some of my work. You can see it here: Or if anyone is interested feel free to friend me an Facebook. I post alot of my work on there as well.

Duann: Thank you for your time and sharing a little about yourself and your projects using Shapeways so far.  We all look forward to seeing what you come up with next.

James White: Thank you very much. It was my pleasure.  I look forward to being a member of the Shapeways community for a long time to come.


Another big thanks to James for taking the time out to talk with us. James has also been generous to provide a tutorial on Creating and Prepping an object in LightWave 3D for 3D printing which will go live on the blog and website soon.

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Shapeways Designer Evangelist
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