MCAD Tech News (#259)

11 Feb, 2009

3D Printing Rocks the Gamer Worldp>

Z Corporation turns Rock Band 2 avatars into real-life models for video game fans.

By Nancy Spurling Johnson

What could please a virtual rock star more than having his or her persona brought to life for all to admire? That’s what can happen for personalized avatars in the popular Rock Band 2 video game. With the help of some expert file translation and 3D printing technology, video game fans can have their animated selves, called Bandmates, produced as a real-world figurines.

Rock Band from Harmonix challenges players to form a band and tour for fame and fortune — all while learning to master the guitar, drums, or vocals. Players create personalized characters, or avatars, to represent themselves during play. With the introduction of Rock Band 2 late last summer, those same players now can visit to order 3D physical models that reflect their digital rock persona, style, and musical instrument. The customer previews the model from eight perspectives and selects from a variety of poses of the piece before finalizing the order. Finished models are 5” to 6” tall and sell for $69 each.

Once an order is placed, a file-translation application written by James Fleming, senior programmer at Harmonix, and a team of programmers receives the avatar details, adds assets associated with the video game (such as the musical instrument or jewelry), and poses the model. The process “runs some physics to put the avatar in motion,” Fleming explained, such as giving hair and clothing the appearance of movement. “The resulting model has a low polygon count, so we use a technique to increase the polygon count to smooth the surfaces and fix curves,” Fleming said. Then meshes are closed to form 3D solids for printing, and translucent polygon overlays (such as a tattoo or artwork on the avatar’s clothing) are converted to a printable form.

The resulting model is translated to the ZPR file format, and the model is printed on demand in full color using a composite material and shipped to the new owner. For detailed information about this process, see “How Rock Band Bandmates are Born,” which includes a short video. Read more »

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Nancy Spurling Johnson is editor-in-chief of Cadalyst. Reach her at


Scanning an Urban Antique

By Amanda Burhop

Peter Simmons donated the Fontaine de Tourny in 2007 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the city of Quebec. Imported piece by piece, restored, and assembled, this fountain stands in front of the Parliament of Quebec and is 13 feet at its widest point and 23 feet tall. Little could Simmons have realized that in the fountain’s grand stature and embellishments lay a 3D scanning challenge.

For its Handyscan 3D annual scanning contest, Creaform, a provider of 3D scanning products, challenged its employees to scan an object that related to the company's chosen "Four Elements" theme. In teams of three or four, the employees carried out an original 3D scanning project using the REVscan laser scanner from the Handyscan 3D lineup.

Using the theme of water, one Creaform team chose to scan the Fontaine de Tourny. "The project required a durable scanner that could adapt to changing environmental conditions, a scanner that could scan large patches of data quickly, and also allow us to scan hard-to-reach places," said Nicholas Bourque, team leader and sales director for Creaform North America. "Most importantly this had to be done with a system with a quick learning curve." The competition rules restricted just one application specialist per team, which gave Bourque's team a 1:4 expert ratio. Read more »


Mark Your Calendar: MCAD Events

CPDA Workshop: Meeting the Challenges of the Downturn without Sacrificing the Future
March 31 and April 1, 2009
Troy, Michigan
This workshop will show participants how they can apply Toyota's competitive advantage to develop immediate cost reduction approaches that can be used for any product and in any industry. Read more »

VisMasters Design Modeling and Visualization Conference
April 28, 2009
San Francisco, California
Now in its fourth year, the DMVC has expanded the program offerings to include comprehensive coverage for architectural design professionals and architectural visualization artists as well as architectural firm principals. Read more »

For a complete list of CAD meetings, conferences, training sessions, and more, check out our calendar of events on