In this special Re_wind series of blog posts, each member of our team has been asked to pick their favourite project of 2016 and share it with the MAKLab community. Adrian Pappas has been doing an Erasmus funded internship with us since November 2016 and he decided to write about the 3D Print Yourself an Action Hero workshop he helped run with the Annette Street Primary in our Charing Cross Studio.

Learning through play with 3D printing

On the 18th of November 2016, we were most glad to host Annette Street Primary School’s pupils for a session of our 3D Print Yourself an Action Hero workshop, here at MAKLab. This workshop was a special prize awarded to the students for their entry in the primary school architecture design competition held at the Govanhill Baths Trust in June 2016. This workshop is designed to showcase how 3D scanning and printing work, and gives a brief introduction to 3D modelling. The playful nature of the workshop makes it ideal for young children, who get to have fun while learning about some very interesting digital manufacturing techniques. And all their hard work pays off at the end of the day, as they got their own 3D printed action figure, with their own head on it!

3D printed action figures ready for customisation...

3D printed action figures ready for customisation...

As anyone who works with children can attest, they can be a tough audience to please. It is quite a challenge to keep them focused on something specific, especially when that might be boring or uninteresting for them. That’s why a simple presentation of 3D printers or a technical demonstration of the equipment just wouldn't work on its own. This very hands-on workshop however didn’t have this issue - simply because the kids were constantly engaged with something. They got to scan each other’s heads with our portable 3D scanner, edit their own head with some very easy to use 3D modelling software, and finally they got to assemble and play with the 3D printed action figure. Through interaction and play, we managed to show them what it is that we do here, and they had a go at the design and manufacture process. 

So, what did we do exactly? The general idea of the workshop is very simple, we are making custom 3D printed toys, and the kids get to put models of their own heads on them. This all has to start by 3D scanning each kid’s head. The model was then processed using modelling software. A specific connector socket was added to the back of the head model, to allow it to snap on to the rest of the figure’s body. The newly designed part was then to be 3D printed and assembled with the rest of the pieces (hands, feet, torsos) to make the all mighty action figure.

Scanning was a very fun part of this process. Each kid had to sit still without laughing (asking them to do that obviously makes them move around and giggle). Then, another kid with the help of a member of staff would walk around the sitting one and scan their head with the handheld scanner. The whole process doesn’t take more than 2 minutes, but sometimes due to movement it had to be done again. As the kids saw their faces slowly being rendered on the computer screen, they started to enjoy the process and see the potential of 3D scanning. 

After all the head models were ready, we had to go through some 3D modelling software for refinement and preparation before actually printing them. For this workshop, we used Meshmixer, a simple to use piece of software. Each child got to edit their own head’s model with some assistance. At first, we had to do some cleanup to remove imperfections from the 3D scan and smooth out some areas which would otherwise not print well (mostly hair). Afterwards we had to make sure that the base of the head was flat and straight, so that it’d print properly. Lastly, we added the necessary connector to the lower back of the head.

Having the models all set up, we proceeded to the final step of the process, 3D printing the newly designed parts. Given that 3D printing takes a while, we didn’t actually print the heads on the spot, but we had them made and sent to the school after a few days. However, our 3D printers were already printing some demo head parts, so the kids got to see how the printers work and move around, and witnessed the heads being made throughout the workshop. The rest of the action figure parts, including a generic robot head, had been printed beforehand, so they actually got to take the action figure with them, and will have the chance to switch the head with their own in a couple of days. 

At the end of the day, we had some very inspired and happy kids saying goodbye and taking off. We think that they gained some new knowledge through our workshop, and hope that they grasped the empowering potential of design and making, through hands-on interaction and playful learning. This is, after all, our bottomline goal - to help empower and inspire people, no matter how young or old, through design and making. 

If you'd like to sign up for our next 3D Print Yourself an Action Hero, check our calendar on our Events and Workshops page for upcoming dates.

If you'd like to arrange a workshop for a school group at one of our MAKLab studios, find out more about School Visits on our website.