CDM:Studio on Bringing Sharks to Life with The BigRep ONE
by Christian on Sep 14, 2023
Jason Kongchouy and his Perth-based model-making team CDM:Studio previously brought the past to life with their dinosaur recreations, commissioned for the Western Australian Museum. But there are actually creatures far older than dinosaurs: Sharks! Sharks! is also the name of the latest exhibition from the Australian Museum in Sydney, fully immersing visitors into the world of these subterranean, 190-million-year-old beasts. They used CDM Studios thanks to their expertise, experience, and excellence in bringing ancient animals to life.
Traditional clay-making approaches to creating large-scale models can be long and cumbersome. This is where the BigRep ONE provides the perfect solution, allowing for rapid prototyping and printing, significantly reducing production times. We had the chance to talk to Studio Manager and Senior Fabricator at CDM:Studio Jason Kongchouy about his project, including inspiration from cinema, the challenges in creating some sharks with minimal references and the types of materials he used.
Can you start by telling me a little bit about CDM:Studio and what they focus on?
CDM:Studio is our model-making studio based in Perth, Western Australia. We fabricate things and work on creative projects that other people wouldn't necessarily know how to get their head around. We mainly service museums, builders, architects, and designers, mainly in a fabrication capacity where we use the BigRep ONE, SLA machines and a five-axis CNC arm. This is complimented by an extensive skill-set in moldmaking and modelmaking techniques. We're not just a 3D print place, but it's a means to an end to solve these problems for people.
By having a digital file, it's not a whole new process to make a new model. We can just update the file and have that sent back to the printer.
What problem does it solve for you?
A big part of it involves us sculpting digitally using a 3D-modelling programme named ZBrush. We're currently doing stuff with more museums at the moment, which is all driven by 3D printing and making those parts one-to-one. We use all manner of technology and things at our disposal to make finished objects because the customer is not buying 3D-printed things. It's not an end-use thing. For us, the printing is a step in our pipeline. We talked about similar models in the special effects industry before the interview. That used to be all clay and fibreglass, involving months of work. Now it's been replaced with a single 3D modeller, a machine that works 24/7 and takes all of that physical strain off us. And in our industry there is a lot of physical strain, which just exhausts you. And creative output can fall as a project goes on. It drops after week six. But with a 3D file, whatever we slice and send to the BigRep, that's exactly what comes out. I think the museum likes that as well. A lot of what we do has to be approved. So we can send the 3D file to the scientists, they can look at it, and they can send it to experts to check it all over the world.
Is it easier to design a shark than a dinosaur? Because sharks, of course, are still around...
Yes, absolutely, but each still have their own challenges to navigate. All the sharks that we made are native to that part of Australia. So they had samples and teeth and photographs. However, one of the interesting challenges is that no one takes a photo of a shark at a perfect angle so to digitally model them requires a good understanding of anatomy to get the correct proportions. So it's hard to get the perfect shape. One of the models in the exhibition is a prehistorical predecessor of sharks called the Helicoprion. All we found is a sawtooth mouth fossil. But our current model is where the science is with that creature. There's also a shark that lives deep in the ocean where there are only incredibly limited photos of it in the world, so our reference was a bit scarse, but it was still exciting to realize that as a physical model.
We're not just a 3D print place, but it's a means to an end to solve these problems for people.
How much time do you say by using additive as opposed to traditional clay modelling?
So, if you had nothing else going on, you could probably print a shark, like the Great White or the Helicoprion, in about six weeks. From a business perspective, you would need a four to five-month window to do the same from a traditional clay-based pipeline. Having the printer frees us up to solve other problems on the projects and lets us focus our model-making skills on parts that are coming off the machine: gluing them together, sanding the surfaces, and covering them in epoxy. So there was a lot of complicated work that would take significantly longer without the 3D printer taking the stress off. It helps us streamline and make things way more efficient.
What material do you use to print and why?
For this project we use BigRep PRO-HT. It was recommended to us as it has a high temperature and doesn't melt or go soft as easily as PLA. We know that after the exhibition finishes in Sydney, it could tour America or potentially Europe. So hopefully, you'll see it one day. These are going to be traveling across the ocean, or be left in super hot places, like Arizona, so we needed something very durable like PRO-HT. And we also reinforced them with epoxy resin and fibreglass, because people might touch them in the exhibition as well.
There was a lot of complicated work that we wouldn't know how to do without the 3D printer taking the stress off.
Any final words about the BigRep ONE and ideas for the future?
For us, it's a really useful tool. I think capability-wise the ONE is perfect for us. And we look forward to even more interesting projects that the BigRep enables us to service.
Interested in what the BigRep ONE can do for your business? Learn more about large-scale printing here.