Digital Craft: 3D Typography


I wanted my typography set to represent various concepts, tools, and analogue inspiration that I have examined throughout my semester in Digital Craft. When we began working with the laser cutter, I created a graphic pattern from a photo I had taken of scaffolding around a building construction site in the East Village. Interested in the skeletal framing and the delicate, geometric aspects of the scaffold, I was able to use my knowledge of different 3D computer applications to create my typographic framework. Taking block lettering I had drawn by hand and examining it in applications such as Cinema 4D and Autodek’s Mesh Mixer, I used patterns and various cutout tools to create three-dimensional tubing and lines representing the skeleton of the initially block-like, solid letter.


The intention and audience for this assignment are based upon the instructions for our final project, which were to create a typographic set and then translate that typeface into the physical space through three-dimensional analysis and printing.

Research and Process:

We were initially introduced to the concept of typography in regards to Digital Craft and the course through an in-class field trip. After being divided into groups, we were given the task to explore the school’s surrounding streets to document and search for found typography. I was captivated by the organic forms that were created through the dripping paint from the graffiti, and spent a small amount of time examining this type of form in the 3D space. I had printed off a particular photo I liked from the excursion and reiterated it in my sketchbook through tracing. I then continued to apply the shape and my understanding of it through drawing to other lettering, which I then scanned and worked with on my computer. I immediately knew I wouldn’t want it to have flat surfaces, but rather smooth, organic sculpting that is reminiscent of raindrops or thick, drips of paint. Through this, I found myself researching different 3D programs and tools I could use that would allow me to work with 3D sculpting. After researching and watching various tutorials, I began working with Autodesk’s “Mesh Mixer” to manipulate the .stl files I had made after making vectors of my lettering in illustrator, and then extruding them to become 3D objects in photoshop.

Sketchbook scan of first iteration

The sculpting tools in Mesh Mixer were helpful and easy to understand in comparison to Cinema 4D’s sculpting features, which I didn’t feel comfortable teaching myself in a short time frame. Unfortunately, Mesh Mixer has it’s glitches and I experienced crashing when I tried to mold the objects precisely and wasn’t in love with the end result. Because of this, I returned to earlier projects within the course and came across my laser cut of scaffolding. After playing around in both Cinema 4D and Mesh Mixer, I realized that I had the knowledge and tools to create framework similar to my laser cut but this time as 3D iteration.

As mentioned in my concept statement, my final typography set was largely inspired by a photo I had taken of a building surrounded by scaffolding, and the three-dimensional framework that emerged from it. The letters I used were simple block lettering I had drawn by hand and then worked with in Illustrator to create vectored letters that worked fluidly in a unique grid. As a slight reference to the New School’s new branding, I wanted to have differing widths and grids within the letters that determined where elements such as holes and lines occurred. They all were chiseled out of a same sized rectangle and all share the same general width and height while also using offset elements internal to the outer form.

After creating my vectored letters, I pasted them into photoshop as smart objects and manipulated them to become 3D objects through extrusion and texturizing. I then exported the 3D layers as .obj files which were then imported into Mesh Mixer. In Mesh Mexer, I used their different analysis tools that allow you to edit the surface of 3D shapes through options such as pivoting, slicing, and patterning. I had explored the various tools within the application while working with the dripping text, and knew that I wanted to use the pattern tool to create edges within the shape that resembled the framework I was striving for. Small obstacles I ran into was the fact that the way the lines of the frame were formed were based upon the construction of the initial shape, which was something that slightly differed from letter to letter depending on need for cutouts or diagonal lines. This caused certain lines within the overall framing to change ever so slightly between objects, as I’ve yet to figure out how to make them 100% uniform in regards to the process I’ve been using in Mesh Mexer.

I ran into a lot of problems when trying to 3D print my shapes due to 3D printing availability at Parsons, the intricacy of the piece, and medical setbacks. Because of this, by the time I was actually able to get into Parsons 3D printing lab (after countless visits to only find out the lab was full), I was told that my files were to intricate for the machine to handle and that there wasn’t much point in attempting it on the makerbot, as everything would fall apart and melt together. Because of this, I was confident that the files I sent to Shapeways would come back with better results, but unfortunately I never received my shapes from Shapeways in time for the end of the semester, and had to return to Canada before they arrived.

Application Research:

In regards to the different computer applications and tools I investigated and experimented with, I worked with and taught myself Cinema 4D and Mesh Mixer by Autodesk in order to work with three-dimensional pattern making, texturizing, and sculpting in regards to my typeface.

Finished Piece: 

After I had created a solid amount of lettering, I began to experiment with rendering and imported the finished 3D files back into Photoshop and After Effects. In the end, I’m disappointed that I had trouble creating my 3D prototypes, and that my Shapeways projects never reached me in time. As a graphic designer, I am appreciative of and work mainly in the digital space, but was excited to see my creation iterated as a material item.



Next Steps:

In the future, I’d like to learn more about how I would use the 3D objects I created as a basis for more intricate and elaborate typographic art. Although I experimented with it a bit, rendering, working with lighting, and being able to texturize 3D objects is an incredibly powerful way to turn letters and words, like the ones I created, into graphic art pieces that focus solely on typography. In particular, I am looking forward to exploring Cinema 4D even more thoroughly, and potentially create a finished art piece based on a word created using my typeface.

**note: gallery captions for images are seen fully when going through gallery slideshow**


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