As an artist myself I struggle with the inner turmoil of having a career as a creative while many of the people in my life have more conventional jobs. Many of my friends believe that because I work out of my home very little of my job involves actual work and that I have endless amounts of free time. Unfortunately, as anyone who works at home will tell you, that is hilariously untrue. I often work far more hours a day than most people, partially because reading and learning about the subjects that I write about often takes far longer than it takes to actually write the final article, but also if I’m being truthful, out of guilt. Many people who work from home as writers or artists are often made to feel as if they are somehow cheating the system by being paid to do something creative rather than having a “real job”.
That is a feeling that Melissa Ng knows all too well. On her blog Lumecluster, the 3D artist and business woman regularly shares her stories of self-doubt and her day-to-day struggle overcoming maladies common to creatives like ‘impostor syndrome’. She also confronts her fears of being unable to produce art as she envisions it in her mind. One only needs to look at the incredible 3D printed masks and jewelry that she produces to see that Ng is hardly an impostor. Her Dreamer Masks started out as ink drawings that she used to inspire her to chase her dreams of being an artist. While she quickly felt constrained by the medium of ink and paper, in 2014 she discovered the world of 3D modelling and 3D printing and her incredible masks took on a life of their own, changing Ng’s world as she knew it.
Having found success and acceptance for her 3D printed masks, Ng now felt as if it was time to push herself further, so she came up with an idea to take her 3D design artistry to the next step. Ng wanted to create a delicate suit of armor called the Dreamer Regalia that would be in the same style as her incredible masks. She decided to team up with Shapeways to help her fabricate the armor, but they needed someone to wear the it who would embody the aspirational theme of the project. For Ng it wasn’t a difficult choice, after being inspired by actress, producer, New York Times best selling author, gamer, activist and entrepreneur Felicia Day for years, both Ng and Shapeways were sure that she would be an ideal subject for the Dreamer Regalia armor.
Ng approached Day with an offer to custom design the magical suit of fantasy-inspired armor, while she completely documented her creation process every step of the way, and Day readily accepted the offer. As a self-taught artist, Ng regularly struggles with the fear of not being good enough, and she had just committed to making something that required skills that she really didn’t think she had. But in order to finish the project she was simply going to need to get past her fears. According to Ng, she hopes that by documenting her creation progress it will help others faced with a similar lack of “proper artistic credentials” to stop worrying about it so much and just make the art that they want to make.
“The Dreamer Regalia symbolizes the protection for our dreams and is being created in honor of the Dreamer within each of us. The Dreamer that wants to give life to the imagination, make a difference, change things, push boundaries, and not conform to the status quo. The culture of creativity is constantly growing and branching out in new ways everyday. And the best part is we are all free to take part. By sharing my creative process, Shapeways and I hope this can inspire you to discover what dreams or ideas light you up and to give yourself room to appreciate your own personal creative journey,” Ng wrote on her first blog post about the armor.
Because Ng was creating the armor for Day, she decided to take some early inspiration from massively multiplayer online role-playing game Guild Wars 2. Not only was Ng an avid fan of the game, but so was Day — who was also one of the many voice actors used in the game. She also took inspiration from other sources, like fashion design legends Alexander McQueen and Tex Saverio whose work often turned the models wearing them into pieces of sculptural art. Obviously the armor that she would be designing would not be functional in any way, but rather an artistic and aesthetic statement.
As an artist Ng needed to take stock of exactly what skills she did have and what parts of her design she did know that she was capable of doing. But it also meant confronting herself with the areas of the project that she didn’t have fully developed skills to do, and what parts of it that she was completely unsure how to do. Ng knew that she could easily 3D model the armor, she knew that with the proper measurements she could draw an accurate pattern and she knew that she wouldn’t have any problems with the sanding, post processing and painting of the final armor.
However, Ng was less sure how she would be able to design armor that would easily be put on and taken off, how she would acquire an accurate 3D scan of Day and what the best way of capturing her creative process would be. She was also unsure of her abilities to generate detailed renders of her 3D models, including accurate material textures, shades and lighting. She wasn’t sure exactly how she was going to cast the resin parts needed for her concept, or how to install the LEDs into the costume. It also became clear to her that she would need a much larger space to apply the paint and finishing to the printed armor. She needed to ask herself a virtually endless list of questions, and none of them were rhetorical: she needed to have answers for all of them.
“If I design it this way, will the armor have enough support or will it be too rigid and lack flexibility? What can I do with the design to avoid making this armor look awkward and clunky? How can I design it in a way that looks both elegant and strong and stays within the budget? How does the design symbolism match Lumecluster, Shapeways, and Felicia Day’s missions and philosophies? Does this design match Felicia’s interests and aesthetic? How can I make this design flow and make it easy for Felicia to move around? Will this design make it hard for me to maneuver when I need to paint and finish it? Would the paint job take away too much of the material’s flexibility in this location of the armor? If I want to put LEDs here, how much space would I need and where would the wires or microcontroller(s) go?” wrote Ng of the many questions she asked herself.
Over the next few weeks Ng built herself a new, larger area where she could spray paint all of the armors parts. She was also able to enlist the help of LA-based 3D scanning and 3D printing company Cokreeate to acquire a full 3D body scan of Day that would allow the armor to be custom fit to her measurements. She discovered Cokreeate online, where the company regularly shares their own 3D scanning projects on their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. The scan was captured using a handheld Artec Eva 3D scanner and then Cokreeate rendered the highly detailed 3D scan with the Artec Studio 10 software package.
Here is a handy playlist of all seven of Ng’s videos detailing her design and fabrication process:
In her video series she details exactly how she learned to design the armor to fit Day, how she learned to cast the red gems on the front of the armor in resin, and exactly how she figured out how to light them up. She also detailed the post processing and the amazing painting process that she used to complete the armor. Because she 3D printed all of the armor’s parts using Shapeways white, strong & flexible plastic material it both was easy to sand down smooth, and took to the paints really well. I would also hope, now that the project is complete, that Ng is able to take a step back and see exactly how good of a job she did.
“I’ve been feeling both incredibly excited and terrified about this project. Excited because I get to make something for someone I have immense admiration and respect for, and I get to collaborate with a company I love. Terrified because I struggle between fluctuating moods of either extreme confidence or severe inadequacy and I am afraid to be judged, rejected, and torn apart about my technique, style, and overall approach. Hey, I’m still human. Despite these fears, more than anything, I hope you remember how important it is to find the creative approach that works best for you and be willing to grow in new ways at the same time.” worried Ng at the start of her project.
Here is a full 3D render of the complete Dreamer Regalia Armor:
About 228 hours of hard work later, the 3D printed Dreamer Regalia Armor designed for Felicia Day was finished. As you can see from some of the images that I’ve included, not only did she answer her own worried questions, but she clearly developed every required skill that she needed to complete her project. I’d even wager that she probably already knew how to accomplish most of the tasks involved with creating the Dream Regalia armor, but she simply didn’t know that she did. And clearly Felicia Day herself was thrilled with the final product. She happily wore it and took part in an amazing photoshoot showing off Ng’s amazing design.
You can see Felicia Day wearing and modelling the Dreamer Regalia Armor for the Geek and Sundry photoshoot here:
Not only did Ng document her creation process on her blog Lumecluster here and here, but she also updated her followers regularly on her Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. You can read a great interview with Ng that Shapeways posted to their blog back in 2014 for an idea of her design process and outlook on creating art. And of course you can see a ton more pictures of the amazing armor as worn by Felicia Day, hear about the project from Felicia herself and read another interview with Ng over on Geek & Sundry. Discuss in the 3D Printed Dreamer Regalia Cosplay forum over at 3DPB.com.