Austrian Artist 3D Prints Amazing Life-Like Insect Models

by Abdul Rehman on November 9, 2014

Klaus Leitl Mayfly Insect3D printing has been traditionally associated with small lack-luster plastic objects. However, recently this view has changed because of several amateur efforts that have introduced the world to a novel concept: 3D printed art.

We’ve already told you about some of them like Scott Camazine’s Printed Skulls, Stilnest’s Cuckoo Clock and the Art of Failed 3D Objects. However, perhaps none of them looks as close to reality or as beautiful as the breath-taking insect models that we’ll show you today.

Using the Formlabs 3D printer, an Austrian Artist Klaus Leitl has created realistic insect models that you have to touch in order to realize that they’re artificial printed objects not real giant insects.

Formlabs grabbed headlines back in 2012 when their Kickstarter Project raised a record-breaking 2.9 million dollar funding from 2068 backers, making it one of the most highly-funded projects of all time. The result of the project was the Form 1 3D printer, an affordable desktop printer that brought the advanced technology of stereolithography to the masses and enabled artists like Klaus to bring their innovative ideas to life. Klaus himself was a backer in the Formlabs original kickstarter campaign. He says:

“Since I was following the developments on the market, the Form 1 caught my attention on Kickstarter. I thought to myself: If the printer delivers on its promises, it would be useful for many of my projects.”

A few weeks ago, Formlabs forum viewers were left dumbfounded as they beheld some of the Most Realistic Models Ever Created using additive printing. Each insect model was scaled 30 times as compared to the original insect; some models were as long as 53 inches (135 cm) and comprised of 22 different parts.

Some of these insect models were exhibited at Life Under Water Exhibition in Salzburg, Austria and became the life of the exhibition. When asked what had inspired him to make such beautiful objects, Klaus’ answer was brief and inspiring:

“Nature. There’s nothing better.”

Formlabs Life Under Water InsectsYou’re probably wondering how Klaus created such magnificent objects using a simple 3D printer and may even want to print some of these yourself. It is certainly possible. In a recent interview with Formlabs, Klaus was generous enough to describe many of his 3D printing and post-processing techniques. It all begins with a computer model of the insect. In order to capture all the minute details of the insects, he first studies them under a binocular microscope and makes sketches by hand. In his interview, he said:

“The important thing is to collect as many representations of the object as possible. I also draw sketches by hand using a binocular microscope so that I can recognize special features better and present them more clearly.”

After that, he uses computer software like zBrush and Lightwave to transform his sketches into three dimensional models in the computer. Then, using the Formlabs latest printer, Form 1+, he prints the computer model, part by part until they are ready to be assembled into a complete insect model. During the printing process, he advises taking several precautions to ensure that the printed object comes out exactly as intended like ensuring the correct orientation of the object, using smallest possible thickness of the object wall and cleaning the printer carefully after every print.

Klaus says that Form 1+ provides him with several advantages over conventional methods. First, production times are greatly reduced. Insect models can be sent to and reviewed by scientists for accuracy; this also saves a lot of time. Secondly, using Form 1+, he could print and reprint as many times as necessary until he got exactly what he wanted. With conventional methods of model making, this is simply not an option. He says:

“I can build a model on the computer and print it out multiple times in different shapes and sizes thereby creating completely new, awesome, and impressive sceneries which would have been much more expensive or even impossible with conventional methods.”

3D Printed Blackfly LarvaThe real magic, however, begins after the pieces have been printed with several unique post-processing techniques to give the models their photorealistic quality. Instead of using laser-cured resin, commonly used to connect printed parts, Klaus uses 2k epoxy glue which he says holds better than the laser resin. After assembling the whole insect model, he smoothens its surface in an IPA bath using a soft brush. This is followed by coloring of the model with Schmincke, artists’ colors using an air brush and coating it with a water-soluble acrylic coating. As a final step, he adds hair to the model and voila! A masterpiece of photorealism is created!

Klaus says that without Form 1 printer, it might not have been possible for an ordinary artist like him to create such wonderful objects:

“I’ve been interested in 3D printing for a number of years. But the price was much too high for the ordinary user…. The transparent printing material (allowed by Form 1+) was also especially important for me.”

These insect models give us a glimpse of what to expect from additive printing in the future. With more and more affordable and capable printers in the hands of artists, the boundaries between art and science will begin to dissolve. Museums will be filled with Printed Sculptures.

Even photorealistic machines or buildings shaped like insects or animals may become a reality. We might even see a printed Statue of Liberty or an Eifel Tower. Plastic surgery can use such photorealistic models to create Artificial Body Parts that look exactly like real body parts.

So, rather than just an alternative method of manufacturing, additive printing may soon take over the entire manufacturing industry. The matchless control over the printing process, the small amount of time required to create objects and the amazing amount of detail allowed by additive printing all ensure that the only thing that limits additive printing is human imagination!

What do you think about Klaus’ insect models? Would you Try 3D Printing Objects Like This Yourself? Do you think that 3D printing will change the future of art? Let us know in the Comments sections. Also, please Like and Share this article with your friends.

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