I’ve been 3D printing for over five years now. I started off on a small Monoprice Mini printer that has a build volume of 120 x 120 x 120mm. As you can imagine, the prints are rather small, and larger objects must be made in pieces and glued together. Now, I own two Artillery Sidewinder SW X1 3D printers, and it’s a good thing I do. They have a build volume of 300 x 300 x 400mm, and I needed every millimeter of that area for a recent project.
I was hired by a client who wanted an accurate and detailed model of downtown Los Angeles. Sounds simple, right? It was actually very complicated. The city was modeled by Sam Maury-Holmes over a 10-hour period. To start, he imported OpenStreetMap data into SketchUp. Maury-Holmes then merged that with a road map from OpenStreetMap to create stylized 3D streets. A sizeable amount of time was spent manually correcting buildings, compared with Google Earth to make sure they were accurate, and then sliced into pieces so that the final product measured four feet by four feet.
Each piece was exactly 300 x 300mm across the print bed. Some of the files were filled with small buildings or warehouse areas and only took 12-14 hours to print. Others consisted of skyscrapers and required over 24 hours to make. In the end, more than 600 hours were spent 3D printing the model, followed by another five hours of post-processing, assembling, and framing. It was an amazing project to work on and turned out beautifully.
Now, imagine putting that much effort not into a real metropolis, but a fictional city from a popular video game. Product designer Dom Riccobene spends his time creating “data sculptures” from real-world data, but, due to the COVID pandemic, he found himself applying his talents to recreating the virtual world of Grand Theft Auto V with 3D printing. It’s incredible the level of detail, scale and accuracy that went into the map.
— Dom Riccobene (@DomRiccobene) August 6, 2021
Running a custom script, Riccobene scanned the terrain and building in GTA V. Ground elevations in a 500–1,000-meter radius are collected around the player and up to 1,000,000+ data points can be added by pressing a hotkey in each scan. The entire map is not spawned at once, so Riccobene had to slowly scan it by hand using this script. He calculates that it took around 100 hours before he had all the necessary data for his data sculpture.
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From there he needed to merge the point clouds and change the dataset into real world information to to manipulate, analyze and process it with professional mapping and cartography software. He then collected actual coordinates of the Earth and mapped them to the 500 million coordinates he had accrued. With this information, he was able to generate an elevation grid, thereby using his tools and software to begin printing the map. Each tile for this map also varied in print time, from an hour to 12.
“I used a proprietary workflow to turn the tiled dataset into polygons as 3D printable meshes,” Riccobene said. “Each tile is an 800 mb 3D model. From there it was a matter of trial and error dialing in my 3D printing settings to print buildings, terrain, and the water features in black, all at once. They also needed to fit together seamlessly as an assembly.”
In total, it required approximately 125 hours to print out the GTA V 3D map. He’s posted the behind-the-scenes process on his Instagram. Just as I was with my replica of LA, Riccobene is thrilled with the results and tremendously enjoyed the project, regardless of the time and hours that went into making it. Whether you are mapping a virtual world or a real city, 3D printing is expanding the landscape of cartography in highly imaginative ways.
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