It is hard to believe that it was almost ten years ago I witnessed a CNC router in action for the very first time. I was fascinated and simply had to have one! Although I had been in the creative end of the three dimensional sign business for most of my life I didn't really know what I would do with one of these machines - but I just knew it could do fantastic stuff.

Along with the CNC router I discovered the wonderful material called Precision Board and the glues, primers and other companion products they offer. Since then we have gone through many tons of the material using it in most signs and projects we tackle. This journal will chronicle our many adventures both past, present and future. I'll talk from the perspective of someone who pushes these products to the creative limit on a daily basis. I'll be adding to the stories two or three times each week. -dan

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Building the vectors and reliefs for the North Star sign

The inn signs are now in full production and looking good. In the next series of emails I'll be taking you through the steps we took to create them. This will be a little different than most of my posts because Peter and I jointly worked on these files and he uses a slightly different path to production that I might. The thing with EnRoute is the the program is so powerful there are most often multiple ways to do a task. As we were designing and building with ourselves as a client we also changed things on the fly to make it better. We enjoyed even more freedom than we normally do plus all family members were weighing in along the way. It was even more collaborative than usual. We would show around the design and the person we showed it to would say 'That's cool but what would it look like if we did...'  As every member of our team is ver talented and has years of experienceThings changed a fair amount along the way.

The first version of the design hit the mark but it looked a little static. Someone suggested rotating the anchor and this necessitated a change to the scroll. Then the design was deemed production ready.

I imported the design into EnRoute and did a quick trace of thee main elements primarily to establish scale and proportions. I didn't have to be fussy as I was going to redraw everything anyways.

Using that original trace drawing as a guide I did a cleaner version.

Peter produced this version of the anchor vectors. The lower anchor portion was duplicated, mirrored and then combined.

At this point Peter designed the fancy little plasma cut bracket we would insert into the cut Precision Board pieces. It is one more level of detail that would help take this sign over the top when we were done.

The compass star is an element that needs a little explanation. If you make a star shape and then use the bevel tool to create a relief you get a funny shaped bevel. The higher the bevel the more pronounced this shape becomes. The image on the right is that shape. To get a true compass star the points are build individually and then combined. This is the method we used.

Because the star points are uneven in length lining them us is a little trick but as always there is an easy solution. The first step is too create a rectangle and then two lines through them.  Make sure the lines are longer than the longest point. These are centered using the alignment centering tool. I then duplicated the rectangle and adjusted  the length of the rectangles for each point. When I was done I again centered the lined in the rectangles.

I then selected the snap to intersection and drew out the compass points. When I was done I deleted the rectangles and grouped each star point with the intersecting lines.

I then rotated each point in 45 degree increments. 

Each segment was then ungrouped and the lines were deleted.

The ring around the compass star would be plasma cut from 1/8" steel plate. To build this vector I created a circle and then used the offset tool to create the inner circles. I then built double lines, duplicated and rotated them to form the segments. I then used the jigsaw tool to create the many rounded segments. Once I had all of the vector pieces formed I deleted the double lines and inner circles to leave the lines I needed. I then used the transform/distort/noise distortion tool to make the lines a little distorted. This will instant age to the cut pieces.

I then created a slightly larger offset of the compass rose and combined this with the segmented circle vector.

We opted to route the scroll in layers and then assemble them later with a little hand work to finish things off. It was a simple matter to build the pieces of the scroll using the draw tools in EnRoute. We then imported the lettering vectors. I used the transform/distort tool/warp tool to shape the letters to the scroll.

The vectors were now complete and we were ready to begin building the reliefs.

First up was the compass star. Peter used the bevel tool to create the star segments. He then combined them to form one relief. As an added level of detail he added a custom texture bitmap to the centres of each segment.

The banner was next up. The banner was built as flat reliefs which were then modified using various ovals. The lettering was subtracted from the base banner relief. It automatically followed the shape of the domed banner.

Peter opted to use the chamfer tool to modify the flat relief of the anchor bits. This created an interesting profile.

The triangle shaped ends of the anchor were created as a flat relief and then modified using the dome tool and a circle around them as a mask. The top ring was also created using the dome tool.

The top crossbar of the anchor was created as a mesh. This allowed us to build a complicated shape in one go. We used the revolve function.

The mesh was merged to a zero height relief.

This finished off the building of all of the files we needed for this sign. Next time I'll show the process of building and assembling everything. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Cloud Bluster -Part two

With the router work done and the sign assembled over the welded frame it is time to begin the hand work... my favourite part.  I used an air powered die grinder to even out the edges and add a little texture while I was at it.

Then I coated the egg shape with a thin coat of Abracadabra Sculpting epoxy pressing it hard into the surface. This acted as a prime coat. I welded up two pieces of steel tubing to form the barrels of the gun. Some pencil rod defined the shape of the gun stock and there pieces of pencil rod also protruded out the back. I marked the egg shape where they were located and then pressed the gun in place. Then I wadded up some tinfoil and blocked out the shape of the gun stock. A thin layer of sculpting epoxy was used to cover this up.

I then bunched and rolled a tube of tinfoil and covered this with epoxy. This was then bent to shape and pressed into place to form the arm. The reason for the tinfoil is to form an armature and save on epoxy. It's expensive! Tin foil is not. While these areas hardened I moved on to the other arm.

I then added another layer of sculpting epoxy to the bottom of the egg and gun stock. I used a sharpened paint stir stick to press in the texture. Dipping the tool in water help it not stick to the epoxy. I also rolled epoxy in wiener shapes to create the individual fingers and toes.

I worked around the sculpture creating fur more fingers and the eyeballs. The nose was formed over tin foil as the other shapes to cut down on the amount of epoxy.

After about four hours work I had the figure finished. I used pencil rod to form the quills that protrude out of his back. Tomorrow we'll begin the painting process.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cloud Buster - Part one

This was a very fun project for a new ride at a local theme park. It's a drop tower and we proposed the name Cloud Buster. All of the other rides feature a cartoon character and for this one we came up with the idea of a porcupine shooting his shotgun at the clouds. The porcupine's name is Buster. I did a quick sketch to clarify the ideas in my head and to also establish the typestyle we would use on the sign. This quick scribble was about 6" tall and only took a few minutes.

I imported the quick sketch into EnRoute and used it as a template to create the lettering vectors.

I then took a screen capture and used that as a template to do the illustration which I would use for presentation to our client.

When I was ready to proceed with the sign (later that afternoon) I opened the vector file in EnRoute once again and created the outlines for the sign. But before we could go further the design needed a little tweaking.

I've marked the problem areas on the screen capture below. I wanted to eliminate the 'windows in the background layer of the sign. These were in the 'U's"   There was a large negative space between the 'L' in cloud and 'T' in Buster. This was easily fixed by lengthening the bottom stroke of the 'L' a little and stretching out the top stroke of the 'T'.  I also stretched out the bottom stroke of the 'E just a little and eliminated the narrow lines between the 'E' & the 'T'.

Once everything was adjusted or eliminated I was ready to proceed once more.

The porcupine character was a simple egg shape which was scaled to suit the size of the letters. Once I was happy I made sure the size of the sign was correct. In this case I wanted it to fit on half a sheet of Precision board and it turned out to be just under 40" wide.

We started by selecting the lowest border layer of the sign and creating a flat relief that was half an inch thick. I then hit render to make sure I had the result I was looking for.

This base relief was then modified by selecting the original relief and the next layer vectors of the lettering outline. I typed in a height of 0.3" and then hit apply. I again hit render to make sure I had achieved the result I was looking for.

I then selected the base relief and the lettering to modify the base relief once more. I again entered a value of 0.3" and hit apply. Once again I did a render to make sure I achieved the result I was hoping for.

I wanted a slight texture on the letters. To do this I imported a bitmap called 'splotches' from my original TEXTURE MAGIC collection. This was positioned over the relief and then I selected the bitmap, the base relief and the lettering vectors. The APPLY bitmap icon lit up and I opened the application. I then entered a value of 0.2"   The thing to remember is that whites will raise this amount, blacks will do nothing and greys will do something in-between depending on their light value. 

I also used the dome tool to add dimension to the egg relief as a separate relief. Once again I did a render to make sure I had achieved the effect I was looking for.

At this point I wanted to dome the lettering. To do this I selected the base relief AND the oval vector I had drawn around the sign. Using the dome tool I entered a value in the ANGLE box. In this case it was 8 degrees of angle. The oval and this angle value determine how much the dome will rise.

The top view of a render won't give you enough visual information for this operation. You need to check the from t elevation to really see how much things have domed up. I knew I was close because I have used this command many times. Things looked pretty good although I did tweak it a teeny bit to fit within the material.

As a last step I combined the two reliefs.  I then duplicated the relief. I used the delete relief tool to make this a vector once more. This would be a second piece which I would route for the back of the sign. I created a vector shape which I would hog out to accept the structural steel. The two small square boxes on the bottom of the upside down 'T' would be cutouts. I created a relief in these areas which effectively made a 'T' shaped hollow in the back piece. A welded steel frame would be inserted into this hollow space. Two legs of the sign would protrude out of the back of the sign for mounting.

I arranged the two pieces, flipping the back upside down to fit better in as small a space as possible. This was arranged to fit on a 4' x 4' x 2" thick Precision Board. I then tool pathed the reliefs. The first pass was a 3/8" ball nose bit with a 50% overlap. The second pass was a 1/8" ball nose bit and an 80% overlap.

I also tool pathed an offset cut around the two pieces and inside the two little squares in the back of the sign.

Here's a shot of the MultiCam starting the second pass with the 1/8" ball nose router.

And here's a shot of the two pieces fit together, fresh off the router. Something weird happened as it cut the sign as it did a cut line across the 'T' and 'E'. I'm not sure what happened but no matter for it is easily repaired.

I cut and fit the steel 1" square tubing and then tacked everything with the pieces of steel placed in the cuts of the back of the sign. I then carefully removed the assembly and welded it up solid. A quick blow of the air hose to get rid of the dust and debris and we were ready for gluing. We use Coastal Enterprises' PB Bond 240.... a one part urethane glue. It's a simple matter of spreading the glue, spritzing it with a fine mist to activate it and then dropping on the top piece. We like to use a mechanical bond as well so I screwed through the face of the sign using 2" screws. These holes are easily patched later as we get ready for paint.

We then welded the sign to a temporary working stand using those back protruding tubes. This will be allowed to set up overnight. Tomorrow I'll do a little quick carving and then do the sculpt of the porcupine figure. Stay tuned...