3D Printing Dinosaurs: The Future of the Past

Every so often we encounter people who end up stunning us with their ingenuity in the use of Autodesk’s 123D products. Check out the video above, and you'll know right away what we're talking about. As you can imagine, once we saw what Barry Joseph was doing with 3D-technology at the American Museum of Natural History, we knew we had to go to the source to find out more.

Fortunately for everyone, Barry was willing to share his time with us so that we could dive deeper into the cool projects he’s been working on. If you think about it, Barry is the reason why we do what we do: his creativity and desire to bequeath his knowledge onto the next generation inspires us to continue making the highest-quality, most accessible tools for him and those he teaches.

You may remember our interview with another paleontologist, Matt Christopher from a few months ago. Once you read on to see what Barry has to say about 3D technology, paleontology, and Indiana Jones, it will be confirmed that working with dinosaurs bones is pretty much the coolest job ever.



 The Legend himself


Which is your favorite dinosaur?



How are you using 3D technology (capturing, modeling, printing) in your line of work?

 We bought our first 3D printer (a MakerBot 2) this past January and spent Winter learning how to print found-objects from Thingiverse and create our own (like a simian skull) with 123DCatch. Convinced we could test its educational affordances within a two-week long summer program, we tested the concept by entering our Big Bone room and working with an Allosaurus' femur. The test worked: it took 20 minutes for two of us to get three strong captures, and another 30 to combine then into one print-ready fossil. We felt that was quick enough to scale into an educational program, and the learning curve we had to climb was within reach for high school youth.


What problems does 3D technology help you address?

 Both capturing and modeling helps us to teach youth how to closely observe.  Printing allows youth to touch and manipulate the untouchable. No one would ever give teens glue guns and ask then to combine real dinosaur fossils into a scientific model to demonstrate how they might have pursued prey or walked. But with 3D printers, we could do the next best thing. 


Do students and younger people have a natural affinity towards learning 3D technologies?

 That's hard to say. Is the current generation somehow more pre-disposed to problem solving in virtual 3D spaces than my own? I don't know. What I can say is that they seem to come with more of an open-mind (adults seeing our six printers often nervously quip about whether I can now print guns). And many (not all) have tremendous experience navigating 3D environments in high-end video games. At the same time, the most common response I get from adults who learn of our programs is, "Where can I sign up?"


Do you think 3D technology is accessible to all skill levels and ages?

 Eventually, yes. Sure, I can point to the 8 year-old whose Kickstarter campaign for a Thanksgiving-themed Chanukah menorah (both holidays coincide this year) began with him developing the model in the web-based Tinkercad then printing it on a Makerbot. Or my son when he was 5 designing a clock in SketchUp for his little sister's dollhouse. Or my 13-year old twin cousins who learned in just a few minutes how to use 123Dcatch on their iPhones so they could bring home their own 3D photos of our Museum's dioramas. But that would be misleading. 

The physical tools are pricey and clunky and the digital tools are free and, while miraculous, you still get what you pay for. I am confident the costs will come down, reliability will go up, and learning curves will smooth out - but until then you have to be willing to geek-out now and again if you want to get involved with digital fabrication.   


Have any of the students ever discovered something about the fossils that your team missed?

 No, but that would be crazy if they did. I am almost tempted to say they did just to start a new meme. Can you picture it? "Hey, did you hear some kids using 3D printers learned something about dinosaurs missed by the experts?" But of course, that is not the point. While scientists at the Museum and elsewhere DO use 3D scanners and modeling programs to advance science, when we put these tools in the hands of youth we are not asking them to contribute to science but to simulate what scientists do and their scientific practices. Even though they are working with real fossils, they are still far removed from the sophisticated skills developed by paleontologists to properly view and bring meaning to them. 


How was your experience using 123D Catch?

 123D Catch is so awesome. It relies on so much existing knowledge - how to turn on an iPhone, how to take a photo, etc. - that the digital fabrication components are relatively easy to teach and master. Youth need to learn the direction to take the photos, how much of the screen to fill with the image, and how to embrace background noise. But that's fairly easy. It still takes about two tries from a beginner to get a decent capture, and about 10 - 20 or so attempts before you can consistently get what I'd considered an excellent capture. And that's pretty good. 


Do you have any tips or tricks for people just getting started with 3D technologies?

 Read everything you can online, try things out, then watch videos, then read some more, then try more things out, then find a listserv or community where you can ask questions. Make something new and give it to someone you love. 


What’s next for 3D printing in your lab?

There are so many options on the table. We'll see what pans out over the next six months. Capturing Mammals, perhaps? We're already taken Capturing Dinosaurs to our Night at the Museum sleepovers, and planning for the World Maker-Faire NYC next week. Digital fabrication in our youth research programs, perhaps, and for the public in our learning lab. And more... but that's all I can say for now. You can watch for more details on my blog: mooshme.org and on my Twitter feed @mmmooshme.


And finally…Pick one: Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park?

 Indie, of course, as the character of Jones is inspired (albeit indirectly) by American Museum of Natural History's former director, dinosaur bone hunter, and adventurer-extraordinaire Roy Chapman Andrews (look it up!).




Best Award Ever.

We got a heads-up about pretty awesome use of 123D Catch today from the Makerbot guys.  Architecture firm Gensler Shanghai produced the "Chicken Foot Awards" for their annual all-staff meeting a couple of months ago by taking photos of an actual chicken's foot to render in 123D Catch, then print them out on Makerbots.


Go on and treat yourself, download your own Chicken Foot Award over at Thingiverse.  Better yet, design your own funky award!

Bringing the museum home with you (legally) with 123D Catch

 Guardian Lion courtesy of Asian Art Museum SF

As product manager of 123D Catch, I’m always curious how this powerful little app is being used. Lately, I’ve seen a boom in use of 123D Catch at museums. It is a great app to help truly study a piece in a collection and understand a master’s intention. Putting in the extra credit to heal and 3D print a captured piece can be especially rewarding in this regard.

See a few examples here of taking the museum home with you by way of this handy iPhone/iPad app.

Here is a piece on Gizmodo about a recent 3D Printing Camp where kids are using the 123D Catch iPhone/iPad app to scan dinosaur bones at the American Museum of Natural History in NY: http://gizmodo.com/amnh-3d-printing-camp-lets-make-some-dinos-868773820

Another from Techcrunch of an individual using Google Glass to snap photos at Walters Art Museum to capture a sculpture. Photos can then be uploaded via the web app or Windows app: http://techcrunch.com/2013/06/28/maker-nabs-a-3d-model-of-marcus-aurelius-with-google-glass/

Of course each museum will have its limitations on what you can capture in 3D and what your intentions are with the captured piece from their collection or a temporary installation. Best to know their take on it before you recreate these masterpieces.

So, if you want to try it out, I’ve created three videos to show how you might do this yourself. Go from shooting photographs of your favorite piece in a collection to 3D printing it with a 3D printing service easily. Many thanks to the Asian Art Museum SF for lending their pieces to capture!

Its as easy as 1…2…3D print!

Step 1: Use the iPhone or iPad app to shoot photographs sequentially around your subject. Here, I use my SLR camera and upload them using the web app:

Step 2: Use the editing and healing capabilities of the 123D Catch web app to clean up and prepare your capture for 3D printing.


Step 3: 3D print your capture using a 3D printing service directly from within the 123D Catch web app!! You can choose from iMaterialise, Shapeways, or Sculpteo, and each has an interesting assortment of material options, including plastics, metals, and ceramic to name a few.


Interview with a Dinosaur Hunter!

  We meet a lot of interesting people at the Maker Faire events.  Every once in a while, there's someone who's been quietly laboring over something absolutely cool and I'm stoked that I get to gawk at it for a little bit.  Last week in Kansas City we met Matt Christopher, a Paleontologist at Science City in Kansas City and he showed us a 3D printed model of a Psittacosaurus skull, rendered using 123D Catch and Blender. I couldn't help but follow up with some questions - some serious and some irreverent, but all enlightening.

123D: What’s your name?
MC:  Matt Christopher (like the children's sports book author) 

123D: What is your quest?
MC:To stay awake and get more stuff accomplished. 

123D: What do you really do?
MC: I'm a paleontologist who has too much fun working with digital media tools making things like fulldome planetarium productions and interactive didactic kiosk apps.  I work at Kansas City's Science Center,  Science City, and teach an online course for Park University in Parkville, MO: Geology 300-Introduction to Dinosaurs. 

123D: When did you know you wanted to do that?
MC:I knew I wanted to be a dinosaur hunter for as long as I can remember.  I think I remember  learning that was called a paleontologist rather than an archaeologist when I was 8 years old, and have been correcting people ever since. 

123D: Who’s your biggest fan?
MC: I think my greatest fan must have been my grandmother who passed away earlier this year.   At her funeral, I met a number of people I had either never met, or met when I was so young I did not remember them. They apparently all knew me and of my paleontological exploits through the newspaper articles she  made sure they all got to see and hear about. 

123D: What’s your favorite dinosaur?
MC: Ankylosaurus was one of the dinosaur genera that saw the Age of Reptiles come to an end.  It was heavily armored, had a low center of mass and so was adapted to a world where survival  meant being able to intimidate the likes of Tyrannosaurus with appearances and body language alone. That would be my mount of choice were I to find myself riding across a Cretaceous terror-scape. 

123D: Finish this sentence: “Take the house, take my car, just don’t take my….”
MC: The obvious answer here is my family.  I cherish my 5 & 6 year old boys, Lane and Landon,  and my wife, Ashlea.  (Aren't you proud Sweetie?  I remembered not mention your age!) 

123D: What are you working on (‘making’) right now?
MC: I've got a small ongoing dinosaur replica side project (parkerpaleo.com) molding and casting fossil teeth and claws. I have a jigsaw puzzle of dinosaur rib parts lain out across my workbench and I'm also working on mounting a Psittacosaurus, a 6-foot long herbivorous dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous.  I've 3D printed a replica of it which I'm using to design the armature for the real skeleton which will most likely be composited of 3D printed and  laser cut parts. 

123D: Give an example of a recent ‘AHA!’ moment in your life.
MC: After gluing my 3D printed Psittacosaurus skull together and inspecting it closely, I noticed that psittacosaurs did not have forward facing stereoscopic vision (as herbivores would not have as  much use for as predatory dinosaurs would), but it may have had stereoscopic UPWARD facing vision.   This would be important for hitting a target with its head lowered, battering-ram style. 

123D: Your White Whale.  Is there a project that just keeps getting away from you?
MC: If only I could stay awake even longer!  I've got a number of fossils in my garage that need to be prepared but I think my muses slap me around the most over not finding time to do some independent fulldome feature production.  Then there's that paper I should write about that epiphany mentioned above. 

123D: First thing you remember really breaking and then fixing:
MC: I can't remember if I was 6 or 7, but I was standing on the bathroom sink and squirted what seemed like a mile of toothpaste out of a nearly new tube when I stepped on it and the cap popped  off.  Knowing I'd get in trouble for: A. standing on the sink, B. trying to get in the medicine cabinet, which was of course why I was standing on the sink and C. wasting so much a tube of toothpaste that everyone would remember was full that morning, I decided to squirt the toothpaste back into the tube using Mom's cake decorating kit.  There was a hint of mint to the next couple of cakes Mom  decorated, but other than that, I'm pretty sure I got away with it. 

123D: Please share one tidbit of technical knowledge and/or expertise that someone could possibly go their entire life without needing to know.
MC: If you have a web browser open, Control+U opens a portal to "The Matrix". But seriously, brachiosaurid cervical vertebrae are volumetrically more air than bone. 

123D: Cake or Pie?
MC: Pie.  Key lime.   

Gotta love key lime.  See more of Matt's project here at his Instructables page and some dinosaur bits on the 123D gallery.

Introducing 123D for the Tinkercad community

Autodesk is pleased to welcome Tinkercad to our family of fun, powerful and easy-to-use tools! We’d also like to extend that welcome to you, the community of users that has made Tinkercad great. For those of you who aren't familiar with 123D or are here for the first time, check out the brief video tour below, and then read on for an introduction to the rest of the 123D family, and some of the things you can do with them. You'll find tools that help you get 3D models of real world objects into Tinkercad, help to make your Tinkercad models into physical objects, and design software to take your designs to the next level.

To get the most out of 123D, you should sign up for an Autodesk account. A free account will let you store projects in our online gallery, and download files from our content library and from other users. A premium membership will increase your access to premium content, give you access to an Instructables Pro membership, discounts on the purchase of a Makerbot, and many other benefits.


123D Catch turns a series of photographs into a detailed 3D model of an object.  You can take pictures with the iPhone and iPad versions, or use a digital camera with any modern internet browser that works with Tinkercad. We also have a standalone desktop version for Windows. Tools available in the desktop or online versions of 123D Catch help you clean up your scans, select the most important parts, and export a file suitable for 3D printing or CNC.

When you export a file for 3D printing from 123D Catch, Tinkercad can import these files (.STL or .OBJ) directly, and manipulate them like other solids. You can scale them, move them, and combine them with other solids. (In fact, Tinkercad does a great job of preparing 123D Catch files for printing).

123D Design is a 3D design program, much like Tinkercad, but with additional features that can help take your designs to the next level. Features like fillets (rounded edges), chamfers (angled edges), Smart Text and the ability to “tweak” edges to make complex geometries give you the power and flexibility to design just about anything you can imagine – and make it look sleek and professional! Tinkercad users should feel right at home with the interface, too.

123D Design can tap into an extensive library of premium models, hosted on the 123D Gallery website. You can also store your own creations on the 123D website, and share them amongst the various editions of 123D Design. 123D Design is available on the iPad, in any browser that supports Tinkercad, as well as a more powerful standalone desktop version for both Mac and Windows. You can export files from Tinkercad as you would for 3D printing, and import them into 123D Design, where you can scale them, move them, and combine them with other solids. You can’t currently edit Tinkercad files in 123D Design, but we’re working on it.

123D Make is a powerful program that takes a 3D model and prepares it for fabrication using many different techniques. For example, you can slice your model into layers, cut these layers out of cardboard using a laser cutter, and assemble into really big constructions.

You can also export files from Tinkercad as you would for 3D printing (STL format) and import them into 123D Make. They work great! 123D Make is available as a full-featured desktop app, and with the most popular functions as a browser based web app, compatible with any browser that supports Tinkercad.

The 123D Gallery acts as the connecting hub between the various apps, as a community for sharing with other users, and as a library for great content. In the near future, we will be developing additional tools for working on your 3D projects that will be hosted here.

All of the 123D apps support saving and loading files from the 123D website, giving you the convenience of being able to access all your projects from any of the platforms: mobile, web and desktop. You can browse and remix projects from other users, and also choose from the library of premium 3D models prepared by Autodesk. It’s also a great place to comment on projects by other users, and share models that you are proud of. Make sure to sign up for membership to make the most of these online features.

Getting things made
The 123D family of programs supports many different ways of turning your digital creations into physical objects. You can choose from carving out of wood (CNC Utility), 3D printing (Autodesk 3D Print Utility) or laser cut slices of cardboard or wood (123D Make). If you don’t have access to workshop tools yourself, you can request services from our many fabrication partners – either via the 123D website or from within the apps themselves.

We hope you find this introduction to the world of 123D interesting, and look forward to seeing what we can make together with these tools! Sign up for a 123D account now!

123D Catch at Bay Area Maker Faire

We've been getting your emails about the models you received at this year's Bay Area Maker Faire.  Many of your models failed because the booth wasn't calibrated correctly - resulting in lots of bad Catches.

We're really sorry.

I know the line was long, and you were looking forward to getting your model.  After a lengthy career of being shipped and banged around, the mobile Catch booth didn't perform correctly and, unfortunately, we disappointed a lot of new users.

On the bright side, now I know what I would look like as the bad Terminator from T2.

If you've created your 123D account, you could also go to your model's edit page and download the photoset.  Some people have had success reprocessing the photos int the PC version by manually stitching an image or two. Here is a video on how to manually stitch in the PC version of 123D Catch.



Long-Distance Prosthetic Fitting

Instructables Superhero Bilal Ghalib recently put up an amazing post after visiting his cousin Zaid in Iraq  - who has lost the lower half of his leg from diabetes (after 13 years of sanctions, his family can't always get to the medical care that they need).  Even more unfortunate is the fact that Zaid's brace causes incredible pain when he uses it.

Bilal used 123D Catch to create a model of his cousin's leg, met with a former Stanford engineer - Joel Sadler - and went back to Iraq with a supplemental design that would help with the pain.

From Bilal:

The idea was that if we could tie the brace tightly enough around the prosthetic, the metal bar that goes through the brace would help distribute the weight to the top of the brace attached to his thigh. I was able to prototype this project the last time I was there with Mujtaba from the Iraqi hackerspace Fikra Space. It didn't remove all the pain from the pressure point on his leg, but it did help. It appears that the addition of a more natural body shaped insertion point would help relieve the rest of the pain.

We'll keep you updated on their progress, but read the full Instructable here.

You CAN take it with you. ( With 123D Catch )

From 123D Blog editor and contributor, Andrew Taylor:   My wife and I recently took our honeymoon to Thailand and Cambodia (which seems to be a common thing these days...), and she was extremely patient with my constant stopping to 'Capture' some of the carved sculptures and architecture in Bangkok and Siem Reap. Fortunately, I got some really good ones and processed them when we had a wi-fi connection.  I nearly lost them  all when I ran out of room on the server (I took a lot!) - the app froze and I kept getting an error message to let the processing finish, but a quick upgrade to Premium membership and some iOS file manipulation sorted it out.  (If you've run into this issue before, post below for the solution)

Buddha Feet printed at about 60% scale.

One of the better Catches came from video, oddly enough.  I took a ~20 second video and later played it full screen, hitting Cmd+Shift+3 screen captures every second or so.  Then I took those images and loaded them into the web and desktop 123D Catch app.  I think the softer focus of the video stills creates a more seamless model. Maybe someone else has had some experience with Catching from video?


First print of the Temple Lion

  I've managed to clean up some of the files like the Temple Lion, Buddha Feet and a carved dinosaur relief and printed them on our Objet printers (job perk!), and they're pretty awesome.  We get to relive the trip and we were kind of able to bring back some souvenirs that customs would have otherwise frowned upon. Next, I'm going to make a wooden replica of one of the Temple Lions using 123D Make and 1/4" plywood.  I think the resolution will be pretty good if the lion itself is around two feet high.  I'll do another post when it's finished.

Introducing 123D Premium Membership

Today you may have noticed the addition of "go premium" in the upper corner of the 123D site.  We've just started offering a new level of membership intended for those of you who have been asking for more stuff to help support the things you are making.

Right now, premium membership includes two key benefits; a free 3D print, and an Instructables Pro membership.  An Instructables Pro account gives you access to eBooks, downloadable pdfs of projects, private Instructables, and more, so you can take better advantage of the projects you want to make and those you want to share. And if you've been interested in ordering a print of one of your models – or you're modeling something specific to print – as part of your premium membership you'll be able to get a free 3D print up to 4"x4"x4", made on one of our sweet Objet 3D printers.

This is just the beginning for premium membership, we've already got updates in the works. You'll see premium models appearing in the Gallery – for a short time you can download those free from inside one of the 123D apps, so check them out. We'll shortly be publishing hundreds of them and premium members will have exclusive access to download and make them. We'll also be offering premium members extended private storage, for the special projects or product designs you want to keep under wraps. We have also heard requests for certain types of file translation or output. Those and other services may show up in premium down the road.

Free membership is not going away, you'll always be able to access our apps, share your projects and download other people's shared projects, and we'll continue to update and upgrade the 123D apps on desktop, web, and mobile.  But if these premium benefits are  just what you've been waiting for that's great!  If you have more ideas for premium membership, please do let us know (you can email us at 123D@autodesk.com).