Wednesday, June 24, 2015

3D Printing: It's Strengths and Weaknesses

3D printing has been in the news a lot, lately. I just read an article about a 3D printed car made by Local Motors. In short, the article talks about a 700 horsepower engine in a carbon fiber, 3D printed car. They boast that the car is lighter than any other car out there, which I'm sure it is. The car was apparently also ridiculously expensive to manufacture. On top of that, 3D printing is a very slow and long process.

I am part of several science and tech clubs in my area, and I had the fortune to attend a presentation on 3D printing. The guy that gave the presentation had a small hobby unit. He talked about the different programs that he uses to run it (most of which are free), the process that he went through to create the model for the printer to recreate, and the steps he went through afterwards when the piece was finished. At the end of the presentation, he printed a 1" in diameter sphere while we all watched. I got a front and center view. The time it took to make the simple, little sphere was ~20 minutes.

In the presentation, the presenter also talked about the properties of 3D printed objects. You can use a wide variety of materials to print whatever your heart desires; some materials are studier than others. No matter what material you use, though, all the things that you could print still have a compromised structural integrity. If you test an object one way, it will be solid and sturdy. Rotate that object about 90 degrees, though, and it fractures and splits easily. Since the 3D printer prints in layers, it give the object a "grain," similar to the grain you get in wood. The object is strong perpendicular to the grain, but parallel to the grain it's weak.

The 3D printer car concept concerns me for this reason. I haven't seen any diagrams for how the car was created, so I don't know if they accounted for that or not in the design. Something else that concerns me about the car is the material that they used: carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is pretty strong and light when compared to steel or a similar nature. But carbon fiber shatters and fractures where steel will just bend. It's possible that they've accounted for that in the design of the car, which would be my hope.

3D printing isn't good for everything. It has a lot of flaws. But there is one thing that I think it is good for: organ printing. There have been a lot of 3D printed organ experiments, ranging from a thyroid gland (made in the Russian laboratory 3D Bioprinting Solutions) to 'dead' hearts.

There are a lot of uses for 3D printing, but I suspect that making cars won't be among the uses that last into the future.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Rocket Science Comic By A Rocket Scientist

Clay Carsbie's FaceIn my recent search for scientist/artist hybrids, I came across what you will probably agree is a perfect example of both. His name is Mark Graybill and he used to be a rocket scientist. He worked on the space shuttles, rockets, fighter jets, and missiles, as well as many other things. Recently, he retired as an Aerospace consultant to pursue a lifelong dream of creating a comic strip.

The name of the comic is AceDev: High Tech Jobs, Low Tech People, and it focuses on the life of Clay Carsbie, a new hire in an old-fashioned rocket plant. He has a Master's degree in Electronic Engineering, but has been continually turned down for jobs as being an "over-qualified" candidate. I'm pretty sure that's universal HR jargon for "you're too freaking smart, and that intimidates me and will make our other employees look bad."

While I don't understand a lot of the people stuff of the comics or the science jargon that Mark uses, I still find the comic entertaining. I am mostly an artist, although I do have the equivalent of an AS in Mathematics, so I can generally guess as to what the characters are talking about. A sort of added bonus to the comic is the backgrounds and objects that Mark uses in his comics. I'm a bit of an old computer geek and AceDev is an old-fashioned rocket plant, so there are computers that look oddly similar to a Darth Vader's Lunchbox (Kaypro) and rooms packed with ancient, tube based computers.

While the art of AceDev isn't as fancy as the art of a Marvel comic, or as quirky as the art in Chew, the characters are easily distinguishable. Each also has characteristics that hint to their personalities. The leading lady and potential love interest has a short, cute haircut that suggest both a focus on work, rather than looks, and that suggests a cheerful personality. The main character, Clay, is a little harder to read in his design, but he's got an open face that suggests honesty and naivete. His collared, partially unbuttoned shirt suggests to me that he's a hard worker, but is a little tired. I can certainly identify with that, since college and job searching can be tiring.

Mark updates his comic three times a week. His last comic of the week is a pet comic day. These are definitely my favorite comics of his. All of the animals are cute and fluffy. The cat, which seems to be the main character of the pet comics, is always drawn in a very expressive way. Mark does use some cheats when he draw the cat, such as giving it a frown and eyebrows, but I suspect he does this to make the cat accessible to all cat lovers, even if they've never had a cat. Cats can be very expressive, if you know what to look for, but that isn't always easy to draw.

Mark makes the characters that he draws stand out from the background by giving them a thick outline. I think he does a good job of varying the line weights of the characters, using thinner, lighter strokes for details in clothing or fur. His open circle eyes for the human characters remind me of the old Little Orphan Annie comics.

AceDev has good character designs and has an interesting storyline. Even for people that aren't very knowledgeable about technology, old or new, there's the people interactions and pet comics. The story is interesting and can be pretty silly. I would recommend this comic to anyone who loves animals or anyone with even a slight turn of mind towards science and technology.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Look at John Layman's "Chew"

This search kind of reflects what I've been feeling about my own work. Most of my earlier art all looks the same and looks equally uninspired. This search for comic books is not only for a better variety to read, but also for a better selection of art to study. And since my focus in art is primarily cartooning and character design, what better place to look than at comic books?

And that brings me to the topic of this post. Originally published in 2011, the comic series Chew has apparently been very popular. I don't know much beyond what I've read on Wikipedia about it, but I can't say that I'm surprised that Chew has received several awards.

What I like the most about Chew is that it is freakin' weird. Weird art, weird story, weird characters. It's so ridiculously non-standard that it fills my little shriveled ginger heart with joy. When I got this comic book, I was at my local comic shop. We haven't always had a comic book shop that I could get to in a 15 minute drive, so I like to frequent it and throw my hard-earned money at the owner. Whenever I go in, I will ask him if he has any suggestions for comics with unusual or strange art. He has steered me wrong yet. In my most recent visit, he directed me towards this comic. I wasn't too concerned about what they story was like, because the art work itself looked so promising. My local comic book store owner said that it was great and that I would love it, which I do.

The story of Chew is amazing. It's weird and wacky and filled with fun plot twists. I won't give away any of the story because I always like to be completely surprised by any story. The art of Chew is equally amazing. I really like Rob Guillory's character designs. They're all unique and stand out against the large cast in the comic. In a lot of comics, I have a hard time trying to figure out the nationality of any particular character. For instance, in any given Marvel comic, an Asian looks practically identical to American. The style in which the characters are drawn is too strict and stylized to really allow an artist to give a character enough features to distinguish one race from another. In Chew, Rob's art is virtually unrestricted. The main character looks Asian, with the set of his eyes and how they are narrowed, and his high hairline.

The main character has many traits that we easily associate with 'the good guy.' for one, you can almost always see his eyes. They have a slant to them that indicated Asian, but they also are open and show a lot of emotion. He's also small and unimposing. His body is thin without looking weak. That can kind of be hard to accomplish, since the differences are very slight. Rob makes sure he looks strong by giving him wide shoulders and well defined shoulder muscles. And, to add to the 'good guy' appearance, he has a long and thin neck with a larger head. This makes him look a little goofy and suggests that as a character flaw. And any character with at least one flaw is far easier to idetify with than a perfect chracter.

The secondary character is also a fun and strange
character design. He has all the distinguishing characteristics of being a British gentleman. From his hat, to his pinstriped jacket, to his silly little monacle. I'm not entirely sure of the purpose of this character design, since it doesn't seem to have much impact on the story. All the same, it is a very unique character design that makes this gentleman stand out from every other character in the strip. It's also interestin that Rob made the choice to give him high, sloping shoulders that give the impression that he is not only muscle bound, but also that he has virtually no neck. I find this interesting because this is generally a trait reserved for villians. It gives off the same sort of impression that can lead to a subconscious fear reaction: big guys are generally dangerous guys, as any fan of WWF can probably attest to. Also, the secondary main character generally has shadow hiding his eyes, makng him seem imposing, once again. The monacle that covers his left eye makes it harder for the viewer to identify with him, since the frst thing people will look at will be his eyes. We generally find that we can anticipate what a person is thinking or feeling by looking at their eyes, so by hiding his one eye, it can make us nervous and untrusting of him.

I also think it's kind of funny that most of the men in this comic have skinny, thigh-gapped legs. This is one way that an artist can indicate quickly and easily to the viewer that the character is either male or young. Most artists will draw females with thick thighs, especially if it's an attractive woman, or with strongly protruberant hips and thinner legs. Generally, even if a male and female character both have thin legs, a female will be distinguished because her legs will either be crossed, or the won't be set in a wide stance.

I really enjoyed reading this comic. Not only was the art great, but the story was great, too. I would definitely recommend this comic book to any cartoonist, character desig/n artist, or any artist looking for an interesting study. I would also recommend this comic to anyone who likes reading strange and off-beat stories. If you're a fan of any of Jhonen Vasquez's work, this will be right up your alley. Happy reading!