3D printing gone wrong. It’s perhaps the most high-profile example of unintentionally sloppy prints being elevated to a whole new creative genre; a 3D printing inspired version of glitch art.
Having seen lots of images of “stuff that had gone a bit wrong” with 3D printing, the effects team settled on a glitchy look for the 3D characters. The faces look a bit deformed, a bit twisted, a bit offset—like when you try to print something on a hobby printer and can’t for the life of you figure out which settings are making it turn into a mush of mismatched strata, random gloops, and strings of ABS.
In fact, a growing movement of hobbyists is bestowing these apparent mistakes with their own sense of beauty. Flickr group “The Art of 3D Print Failure” has been around since 2011, back when desktop printers were really riding the wave of hype.
In the group, contributors show off their failures-turned-art, which range from nearly-finished models with slight defects to total plastic spaghetti. Somewhere between those are glitched prints that carry a real aura of artistry.
If you squint, you can perhaps find a resemblance between an unintended shiny globular squiggle and a polished Jeff Koons sculpture, while an abandoned print that cuts a human figure off at the kneecaps could fit into a wide-ranging catalogue of disembodied limbs in art. And does not a Buddha figurine with an accidental hole in its head somehow command a deeper response than its perfected counterpart?
As well as the Flickr page, there’s a Pinterest board dedicated to “3D Printer Beautiful Errors,” and no shortage of enthusiasts proffering images of their not-quite-there prints on forums and subreddits. Often, they’re looking for advice on how to fix things rather than appraisal of their disfigured results—but it’s often the fact that these works are unintended that imbues them with glitch art charm.
But as 3D printing becomes more common, bringing with it all kinds of aesthetically interesting errors, there are a few established artists who, like Hewlett with his Doctor Who antagonists, are purposefully trying to cultivate a sense of glitchiness.
Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, an artist we’ve spoken to before when he used his appreciation of glitch art to hide 3D-printed gun files—has made 3D printed vases and teapots with intentionally glitchy designs by corrupting the files before sending to print.
Just recently, artist Mathieu Schmitt made 3D-printed dioramas that use the odd glitch in the design file to create trippy, ever-so-slightly-mangled scenes.
Recreating a glitch effect without incorporating an unintentional or intentional-but-unpredictable corruption in software or hardware, as Hewlett and his team had to, is no doubt the most difficult way to go about achieving the look. “It’s rather complicated, is the short answer,” said Hewlett. He explained that effects artist Joe Thornley-Heard started with 3D models of the actors and used animation tool Houdini to drag different points of the model into a curve with noise algorithms.
“Basically it was just a question of experimenting with sort of glitchy, random curves, and plugging that in to various different areas of the volume and moving things around,” said Hewlett.
They didn’t actually have to 3D print anything for the Boneless; their monsters pretty much reverse the whole process of 3D printing by taking a finished physical model as a starting point and ending up with a computer-generated effect.
Next time you despair over a failing print, know that it’s a lot more difficult to actively seek out that melted-and-misshapen finish—or just call it glitch art and give it a whole new sense of worth.