For this second project based on Kylo Ren cosplay (check the helmet making of here), there were far fewer unknowns. There was no need for a 3D scan as size was easy to figure out, and it was quite easy to find photos and other info about the lightsaber itself.
When it comes to the creation process in ZBrush, this was very similar to the helmet as it was a combination of ZModeler and Live Boolean with few brushes. The only constraint I had was to hollow the model so that it would later be able to hold the electronics necessary for lighting the blade with LED’s and adding some sound effects. This unfortunately wasn’t done for the first lightsaber version, but it will be done later for sure!
This time, I didn’t use the grid settings to set up background references. I instead used a 3D grid with UV’s. There were multiple goals: I, of course, wanted to be able to apply a texture that could be used as a reference. More important was having a template for the size. The lightsaber is 300mm in length by 150mm width.
I created a rectangle primitive (which includes UV’s) from the Tool palette and after converting it to a PolyMesh3D I edited its size in the Tool >> Geometry >> Size sub-palette to be 3x1.5 before loading a texture created in Photoshop. This texture was cropped and I was careful to ensure that it had a 2:1 ratio.
My project was now ready for modeling and I simply started to append some cylinder primitives with few polygons to build the volume of the lightsaber. I started with very low resolution because it’s obviously easier to add polygons than to remove them.
A lot of parts are replicated around the main cylindrical body. To create them I relied on my beloved ArrayMesh, where you need only to build one shape before producing instanced copies. Another good thing is that you can copy and paste the settings from one ArrayMesh to another.
In the example below, I modeled my parts with ZModeler using a QuickCube primitive and small negative extrusions. To avoid dealing with bevels everywhere, I applied Dynamic Subdivision with QGrid subdivision. This created all the bevels automatically. Once the piece was modeled, I used ArrayMesh to create six copies with a pivot point at the center of the main tube’s body, and applied a 360° rotation.
After some tweaks to the ArrayMesh settings, I copied them and selected the other meshes which needed the same duplication. I simply pasted the settings and voilà!
For the main body and other parts, I used ZModeler to build the main details like the extrusions on the handle. Once again, I applied Dynamic Subdivision. In the example below, you can see the part without this and then with different settings. You can play like this in real-time to find what best fits your design. If you don’t want to keep it dynamic, you can simply Apply it to turn the effect into regular subdivision levels.
For some parts, I started to model more details with the ZModeler brush before using Live Boolean to add some basic primitives as negative meshes. I didn’t waste time trying to build everything with ZModeler when using a basic primitive could produce a cut in a few seconds.
Below is a good example of this. The rounded shapes were extruded from the original cylinder with ZModeler. All the cuts were then made with primitives and Live Boolean.
I would like to address a common problem experienced by many artists including myself: trying to use modeling tools to fix an imperfection. In the example below I had a pinch in one corner due to how Dynamic Subdivision and the current topology mixed crease edges. To fix the problem there are really two solutions. The long way is to mess with the topology by adding extra edge loops and such. The far easier option is to simply using the hPolish brush to “iron out” the imperfection as shown below. Requiring mere seconds compared to several minutes of work, the ironing solution is obviously the best for 3D printing purposes!
When I have was finished with the basic shapes, I wanted to do a test print of the lightsaber in order to see and feel it in my hands. As with the helmet, I also wanted to see what would the quality would be like with an FDM printer even though my end goal was to print it with the Form2. I really like printing drafts with my Ultimaker 2+ Extended because it’s very cheap to do and you can print very large models (up to 30cm) -- perfect for a lightsaber.
These kinds of prints don’t have any problems, but the shapes require you to add a lot of supports. Unfortunately, supports in FDM are something I really hate. They requires a lot more materials than SLA and can be very painful to remove. As you can see in the series of images below, it got a bit uncomfortable at times...
After some time and a bit of glue, everything came together. I found the lightsaber to be big. Really big!
But after extra research, it turned out that the lightsaber really is that large. The surface finishing also confirmed for me that my instincts were right and I would want to do the final model with the Form2. Even though FDM is capable of producing clean surfaces, it’s still no match for SLA.
Refining the Shapes
Now that I knew that the overall design was correct, it was time to add details and refine some of the other parts.
For the bottom cap where you can access the batteries (at least in my own version), I simply did some kit bashing using the IMM brushes. I did the same for another part on the plasma generator. This approach is quick and easy, but I’m always careful to split them into separate SubTools (using Tool >> SubTool >> Split >> Split Unmasked Points) at one stage in order to give me more freedom for later modifications. I used only stock IMM brushes included with ZBrush but you can find tons of them online, free or otherwise. Some of those created by artists are just amazing!
While creating these details, I also started using Live Boolean to prepare the parts for 3D printing. In the example below, I prepared the insertion of the bottom part by doing a negative copy of it as a boolean operation. To be sure it would fit perfectly, I applied an Inflate of 1 to slightly increase its size. This was a good idea as the final print fit perfectly. Without the inflate, it would have required some extra sanding.
I continued using Live Boolean operations to add extra cuts everywhere using nothing more than basic primitives. Disabling Live Boolean mode for the illustrations makes the model harder to read but I honestly never disable it since making the current SubTool visible (even when in negative mode) is as easy as enabling PolyFrame display.
Finalization and Additional Details
Once all the parts were prepared, it was time to refine more details in the model. Almost all the shapes are very basic and have been modeled with ZModeler using simple QMesh extrusions. However, I wanted the end piece to look more natural and less like CG.
As you can see in the image below, the first step was to convert the Live Boolean to raw polygons. However, the variation of density from the original mesh can be problematic to support quality details. To fix this I converted my model to a high resolution DynaMesh. With the TrimDynamic and hPolish brushes I started to slightly trim the edges of the shapes to make them look more used. I also applied some scratches here and there with the Dam Standard brush.
I naturally followed this same procedure for the entire lightsaber.
After a bit of other preparation and the course of multiple boolean operations (with some of them being boolean operations on top of boolean operations) I produced all the parts to print. Notice the plasma emitters are separate parts because in the future I want to be able to replace them with plasma blades. This way I have both options and can keep or remove them as appropriate.
The Lightsaber’s Stand
A lightsaber looks nicer on a stand, which was not something I considered at the beginning of the project. Another reason for the stand was because it would be displayed at the Formlabs roadshow in Los Angeles.
The model itself was not complex to build. It was a quick cylinder with six sides, a few ZModeler bevels, and a QMesh extrusion for the support on the back. I built it in a way that would support the lightsaber above the base itself, where I added the First Order emblem.
For the emblem creation, I used an SVG file found online which I then converted to a 3D shape through the Text 3D & Vector Shape plugin. Lastly, I used this object as a negative shape with Live Boolean.
Once I was done modeling all the parts, I exported everything through the 3D Print Hub plugin (without forgetting to multiply my values by 100 to convert to mm). I sent all my STL files to Netfabb Basic to fix any potential topology issues that can happen with DynaMesh models.
This mesh topology verification is a must because topology errors can produce issues during the printing process. Preform -- the software which manages prints for the Form2 -- is able to fix these issues using Netfabb technology. But that is an automatic operation and I prefer having full control over what I’m doing.
Once all parts had been checked and imported into Preform, I started with organizing the build platform and creating supports. I carefully spent time finding the best orientation to minimize the need for supports, as well as ensuring that they were placed in locations where it would be easy to sand their locations once removed.
As you can see, several parts barely fit the building volume of the Form2. This was especially true of the stand, which was tricky to orient to fit in the volume. But I really wanted to avoid splitting the model into two parts.
A last check that I always do is to verify all my parts layer by layer to see if anything will go wrong during the process. There were many times where I had to fix issues like a support not being connected where it should be, or simply moving a support to a location which would make sanding easier. I far prefer to spend a couple of extra hours in preparing my files than trying to figure out how I can fix problems after the model has been printed. And of course this extra care helps avoid outright printing failures -- something that always produces a lot of frustration, lost time and material waste.
Below is a photo of the main lightsaber body at the end of the print. The Wiper (the black shape in the resin tank) is very close to the printed part and you need to be careful when removing the build platform from the printer to avoid hitting some parts of the printer.
And these are all the printed parts, with some of them still on the build platform.
As you can see in this close-up, even with a medium quality setting of 50 microns per layer the print quality is excellent. The layers are almost invisible and a little bit of wet sanding would be sufficient to produce smooth surfaces. This why I love working with resin prints. They’re just so easy to sand, apply putty to, glue and more.
The final assembly is pretty easy as it just a little bit of sanding and gluing of parts, as well as adding a few wires.
Below are some photos of my tools. Almost everything is from Japan; from utility knives to carving tools and sanding sponges. They’re not that easy to find, but are so much better than most of the tools I can find here in France. Here is a link on my website where I list online stores to purchase from.
These sanding sponges from the “God Hand Tools” brand are just awesome when it comes to accurate sanding. For large parts I use the Tamiya large sanding sponges. You can find 3M sanding sponges online with a bit of searching.
And here are some photos of the final project. All the painting was done with my airbrush, followed by additional dry painting. I’m not 100% happy about the metallic aspect since it’s not shiny enough for me but in all, I think it looks good enough. 😉
I really wanted to have the lightsaber “floating” above the stand base. Perhaps I should have done my support system design a little differently in order to remove the bottom brace that you can see at the top left of the photo below.
As expected, this project was easier than the helmet. The only tricky part was preparing everything to eventually receive LED lighting, electronics and batteries for the plasma blades.
The cost was way cheaper simply because everything was hollowed. The model is 460 mL of resins and everything was able to be printed in four runs. The cost for everything is roughly USD 120, including the paint. Of course, I didn’t include any tools that I already owned as part of the cost calculation.
My only regret is the paint job on the metallic parts. I don’t think paint can ever compete with real metal. But so long as one doesn’t look from too close, it’s totally fine.
In terms of skill, this wasn’t a complex project to create with ZBrush. Relatively few features were used and the only one which requires more advanced knowledge was ArrayMesh. Even for this function usage was at its simplest.
Now it’s time to think about building Darth Vader’s helmet and lightsaber!
If you own a Form2 printer and want to print the lightsaber, you can download the files, ready to be printed. Otherwise, you can download the STL files.
If you don’t own a Form2 printer or other printer and want to see the files ready to be printed, you can download the free Prefrom application from the Formlabs website and open the files to see how the supports and orientation were defined.
Please note that these files can’t be used to produce commercial products and can’t be resold or redistributed including with modification without the agreement of the original creator.
If you have questions, feel free to ask them in the comments or by reaching me through contact form.