Sculpting with Photons and Printing in Plastic

by Joshua Killen 12/12/2017

Virtual Reality (VR) is new to me and in a span of a few days it has completely changed my life. For most people VR is a cool toy with fun games and immersive video presentations, and I do like the games where you aim weapons using your hands instead of a controller. But all that entertainment content pales in comparison to the VR 3D modeling/sculpting programs. These programs and the VR interface have fundamentally changed my entire outlook on how to create art and how to design for 3D printing. With VR I can now make 3D designs as naturally as I make a drawing or sculpture with my hands.

A lifetime ago I was traditional artist primarily focusing on painting and drawing; in addition, I had a strong background in computers having been on one since I was a child. When 3D printing started to get popular, my interest in 3D modeling was rekindled. I knew instantly that this method of manufacturing would change the economy of the world and I wanted in. I bought a couple of 3D printers and started to print things I found on Thingiverse. I quickly grew weary of printing other people’s designs and wanted to create my own content exclusively.

I started designing using Fusion 360 mixed with Meshmixer and was having relatively good results with my various “high-school woodshop” projects; however, something was missing from the process and my products like the modular spice rack or a postmodern bird house were too simplistic and amateur for me to release let alone compare with my real artwork. An artist can sculpt using Meshmixer or other programs like Z-brush, but when I say sculpt I mean using a mouse while staring at a 2D screen. Adjusting perspective and tweaking little nonsense became a big waste of productivity and I wasn’t having any fun. I’d rather grab a block of clay, go at it with my hands, and finally scan it instead of building anything organic looking in a design program. I eventually settled on a method of bringing my hand drawn artwork into the 3D sculpting space via scans, Illustrator tools, and a lot of patience.

Videos started popping up showing people with headsets sculpting in VR on a program called Medium and I became hooked.  Soon after I picked up the Oculus Rift and in their app store I bought three sculpting/drawing programs: Medium, Google Tilt Brush, and Gravity Sketch. My first moments sculpting in a VR space instantly eradicated the missing link I felt when sculpting on a screen. I was feeling actual joy, like my hands were untied and my mind could run free with any idea no matter how complex or detailed. The first few days were a whirlwind. There was an adjustment period where I was having strange dreams where my hands could lift, rotate, and manipulate the world like a crazy sorcerer.

In addition to the freedom of sculpting with my hands, doing so in the immersive VR environment solidified the experience and made me a believer. The sheer simplicity of moving my head around to change the perspective or to walk around an object in a virtual space helped me feel like I was in my real art studio making things like I used to with my hands.  

               Like all things in life nothing is perfect and the three programs I listed have attributes and deficiencies all on their own. I still use Fusion 360 after modeling in VR, especially when precision is a requirement, or to do a motion study test, or I need to split a large model into smaller printable parts. Over time these issues will be resolved as the software improves. To the future developer of an all-in-one sculpting/printing VR package please look me up because I would love to beta test for you.

 Here’s a quick review of the three VR sculpting programs for anyone interested in exploring these programs. I am considering developing a course for artists who want some hands-on experience with me. (If you work for AutoDesk, please make Fusion 360 work in VR)


Medium was the first program I saw on the videos and is quite frankly my favorite one so far when it comes to sculpting for 3D printing. The sculpting tools are simple to learn, and they are fun to play around with. This is a must have program to start with, plus they have a cool feature where you can co-sculpt with another VR sculptor on the same project. 

The minor criticisms I have come down to the details of the actual sculpture. I can’t move or make things “precisely”, for example I can’t say make a part that is exactly 20 mm long. I have to kind of guess or manipulate it when I get the object into Fusion 360. This adds to the back and forth of moving from a VR environment into a 2D screen. The other criticism I have is there is no vector line tools.

Gravity Sketch

This program is slick, it has great tools that make great curves and shapes with vector line controls. I will use this program to design spaceships or robots, or any object that will be heavy with curved surfaces.

I’m still learning this program and my one big complaint is I can’t figure out how to make negative space in an abstract object. Maybe I’m missing a detail or an instruction somewhere, but I found that a curious omission of sculpting capability.

Tilt Brush

This Google product isn’t for making 3D models to print, it is for artists who want to paint on a 3D dimensional canvas. While using this incredible program I had a vision of creating a 3D virtual gallery where the visitors could walk through these 3D paintings as if they were the gallery to themselves. They have this great feature where some of the paint tools react to whatever music you have playing, sometimes you go in with a good jam and you’re just drawing to the effect of the music itself. If they could combine the ability Medium has so that other VR artists could work on the same model that would be extremely cool.