Creating a Real-Life 3D Cartoon Model...
Turning a Drawing into a Sculpture!

Have you ever wanted to create, a 3D cartoon model... one that's based on your own original drawing?

I mean seriously...

Would this not be the coolest thing... ever!

Ever since I've been able to hold a pencil...

I've always wanted to be able to take my creations - animals, characters, dragons, monsters, etc....

And make them into sculptures.

I just think it would be so neat, to see a 2D creature on paper - something straight out of my imagination...

Sitting there on my desk, right next to my sketch book, computer, and drawing tablet.

It would be awesome.

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I remember not too long ago...

A friend was telling me about something called "three-dimensional printing".

Using sophisticated 3d modeling software like Maya and ZBrush - the very same programs that animators and concept artists use, in movies like Monsters Inc, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and others...

An image of hands, reaching into a state-of-the-art 3D printing machine.

Along with some state-of-the-art technology - just like this 3D Systems' ZPrinter 650, seen in the photo...

A digital 3D cartoon model can be made from any drawing at all...

And then printed in real life, as a physical statue, made of sandstone.

No doubt, it's a pretty amazing thing!

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And lucky me...

I had the opportunity to take part in the entire model-making process...

From selecting and submitting a drawing of my choice - to seeing it gradually take form in 3D, on the computer - and to finally, have it printed...

Imagination, in the palm of your hands.

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Well here on this page of the site - I'd like to share with you, some information about 3D printing technology, and also... how I used it, to convert one of my all-time favorite character creations...

Into a physical 3D cartoon model.

The entire process, recounted in 6 steps - please click on the following links to learn more...

Step 1 - Submit a Drawing

The very first step in the process, was deciding on a drawing that I wanted to have converted, into a 3D cartoon model - and then, submit it.

I decided to go with the "Shark Dragon" - one of my favorite creations to date, and something that was also made into a drawing lesson, here at DrawCartoonsOnline.com.

Here's an original sketch...

The original sketch of the dragon shark, to be converted into a 3D cartoon sculpture.

After submitting the drawing, I was told it would look really good once printed - because of its uniqueness, its ample detail, and its interesting and varied color pattern.

Something else...

It was recommended that I submit *more than one* image (the same character IN THE SAME POSE from different angles - front, side and back). In doing so, the 3D modeling artists (more on this in a bit) - would have a better idea of *exactly* how, the character should look.

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For this first time, though...

A refined digital drawing of the original dragon shark sketch.

I wanted to see *just how good* of job the artists could do, based on submitting only one image - and how they would interpret the character in 3D.

In this way - if everything went well - people who wanted to see their drawings printed faster - wouldn't have to go through the trouble, of creating more than one image.

So yes, while providing 2 or 3 images is a good idea - please keep reading, to see how things turned out, with just one.

Next up, a 3D cartoon model of the Shark Dragon, is created!

Step 2 - A 3D Cartoon Model is Created

After deciding upon, and submitting my drawing - next...

A team of highly skilled 3d modeling artists - using sophisticated software like Maya and ZBrush (yes - the same programs used to create characters in movies like Monsters INC, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings)...

Began working away, carefully designing a three-dimensional likeness, to the Shark Dragon.

In doing so, something called a "3D wireframe" is created - thousands of interconnecting points...

An images showing the side view of the 3d wireframe of the character in Maya.
A front view of the dragon shark character wireframe, as seen in the Maya computer program.

Creating the illusion of shape and form, in virtual space.

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Once this tedious task, of creating a wireframe based on your character is completed...

Next, it's on to the next phase of the process - "skinning" and painting the 3D cartoon model.

Step 3 - The Model is "Skinned" and Painted

Here in Step 3, the artists continued to work on the Shark Dragon, first by "skinning" the 3D wireframe... and then painting it - brining it to an even closer resemblance to the original drawing.

More snapshots of the process, here's a look at the Shark Dragon, after skinning...

A skinned side view of the cartoon shark dragon, seen in Maya.
A skinned back view of the cartoon shark dragon, as seen in the computer program, Maya.

Pretty awesome, isn't it!

When I first saw these images, I was totally taken back. I couldn't believe just how detailed the model was - and also...

I was really impressed by how, with only one image (we were talking about this above) - they were able to really get in there, and come up with a 3D design - truly reminiscent of my original Shark Dragon sketch.

Amazing!

It was clear, this was a top-notch service (probably the best out there!) - as the artists went well beyond, my expectations.

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Well next up, it was time to add some color to the skinned model, preferably using a palette and pattern, close to what I had in the original colored Shark Dragon drawing.

Here's what they came up with...

A painted 3d cartoon image of the dragon shark character in Maya.
A front view of the dragon shark character in Maya.
A back view of the 3d cartoon dragon shark character, as seen in Maya.

And again... SO COOL!

I couldn't believe how far things had come, in such a short period of time. I remember forwarding these pics to my girlfriend, my brother and my nephews.

Everyone really like what they saw, and were just as excited as I was - to see the final 3D model, complete.

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And yes, at this stage of the process - things definitely were, just about complete.

Next, in Step 4 - it was time to review the images, and emailing back and forth with the artists... discussing any changes that needed to be made, in order to finalize the 3D cartoon model, for printing.

Step 4 - Checking to Make Sure, Everything is OK

Here in Step 4, I was given the opportunity to consult with the 3D modeling artists - checking to make sure, that everything was OK with the digital model images - finalized and ready for printing.

A comparison of the skinn texture to the detailed finished 3d cartoon in Maya.

And yes, this was another very positive part of the process.

I think it's really important, that you can review and change things *before* it's printed...

And that you have the opportunity to consult like this, back and forth via email.

Of course, in this situation (again this was my first time ever doing this)...

I was more than happy with the results. Just check out the detail, in the photo!

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And so, the only email I sent back (after being asked what changes I wanted to make), was...

"It looks amazing! Please go ahead, and print!" :)

The printing had begun!

Step 5 - The 3D Cartoon Model is Printed!

How exciting this was!

My own unique creation - the Shark Dragon!... was about to be converted, into a real-life, physical 3D cartoon model.

An animated gif image, showing the rotation of the completed, printed cartoon dragon shark sculpture.

Using the 3D Systems' ZPrinter 650 - the same one seen, in the photo near the top of this page...

The digitally rendered model, was gradually constructed - made out of sandstone.

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Interesting to know...

Sandstone is a popular medium when it comes to sculpting.

It's actually the same substance used, to create magnificent works of art throughout history.

Take the Cambodian Temple of Angkor Wat for example...

Many of its bricks, columns, and statues (there's a big one of the Buddha!) - are all made out of sandstone.

Pretty neat!

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Well...

Once the 3D printing process was complete - again, images of the model were taken and sent to my email to show me how it turned out.

And how did it turn out?

A 3/4 back view of the 3d printed dragon shark character.

A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

My Shark Dragon had come to life! :)

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Well, now there was only one thing left...

Waiting for my newly printed 3D Shark Dragon, to arrive on my doorstep.

Step 6 - The Model, is Delivered to Your Doorstep

Final step of the process - after everything was said, drawn, modeled, and printed - a real-life, physical 3D cartoon model of my Shark Dragon - was carefully packaged and mailed out...

A comparison of the finished, printed 3d cartoon character - to the original sketch.

Directly to my doorstep!

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Incredible.

Holding a product of my imagination, right in my very hands like this... it was just amazing.

Better yet, was showing my friends and family...

First the original sketch (you can see the comparison in the image above) - and then, the finished printed model.

They just couldn't believe it. :)

Today, the Shark Dragon sits nicely atop my desk - right next to my work area - a constant reminder of the importance and power, of creativity.

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And there you have it...

First-time-ever experience with 3D printing - a total success!