Monday, April 21, 2014

Resurrecting Dead Objects

A few months ago the talented and brilliant Scott Kildall contacted me about collaborating on a project where we'd be resurrecting objects that have been lost - in this case Marcel Duchamp's favorite hand-carved chess set.  This set no longer exists save the archival photograph pictured above.

The idea was not only to rebuild the lost objects, but to release open-source digital files to be 3D-printed by anyone interested in resurrecting the objects for themselves.  In homage to the original set's owner, we decided to call this kind of re-animated, re-configured and re-claimed object a "Readymake."

Scott posted a great write-up of this project on his blog - check it out here if you are interested in learning more about the concept behind our first Readymake.  I'm going to dedicate the rest of this post to the process behind giving new life to these wonderful lost objects.

I began the recreation of each piece by extracting a two-dimensional drawing directly from the archival photograph.  The next step was to pull the drawings into three dimensions via a handful of CAD processes. Many of the pieces, like the queen pictured above, were given depth by a simple revolved extrude.

Other pieces required a few extra steps.  Here I am recreating the king's "crown" with a series of extrudes and cuts, using geometry again pulled from the photograph.

The knight was by far the most challenging piece to model - both because of its complex curves and details - but also because much of the form was left to my assumptions due to the profile view in the photograph.  I began this drawing a bit differently - starting this time with a drawing of the knight's basic curves.

I managed to find a photo of a 1967 work by Duchamp titled "Marcel Duchamp moulĂ© vif" where he included a bronze cast of the knight from his set.  This image, the only other geometrical data I could find of this piece, helped guide me through dimensioning the rest of the model.

After fleshing out the basic form of the knight via a series of lofted and swept extrusions, I began to add details.

Because of the grain of the photo, the relatively low-resolution of my digital copy, and the lighting the photographer used to document the original set, much of the finer details in the knights face were left to my imagination.

With the knight modeled, the digital set was complete and ready for the first round of test-prints.  Scott, who's currently artist-in-residence at Autodesk's Instructables, began to experiment with their high-end Objet series printers:

These pieces came out beautifully - I especially love the clear resin prints.  See more images of Scott's set here.

While I don't have access to fancy high-end 3D printers, I do have a few desktop FDM printers.  I began with a test print of the knight on my custom-built Rep Rap Prusa I3 machine.  I printed the above knight as a test to see how it would come out without any support material.  It was relatively successful, which means anyone with a homebrew printer will be able to paticipate in this Readymake experiment!

Satisfied with the no-support version, I decided to re-print the knight, and the rest of the set with support material, using the Up! Plus printer I won from the Make it Real Challenge a few years back.

The results were great:

This project is still very much in progress, but I've made the digital files for the tentative design available on Thingiverse, here, for anyone who is interested in printing their own Readymake: Duchamp Chess Set!

If you do print one, please be sure to share images of your "make" on Thingiverse!


  1. Would you consider fixing a price for printing a set for those of us who don't have 3-D printers?

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  3. Bravo for your work, it's one of the best exampleof what is possible to do wil 3D modeling skills and 3D printer ! Congrats ! :) @Harnelbe from @thingiverse

  4. Hello Can I please get a copy ? The link does not work.


  5. The taller piece with the crown is actually the queen anda not the king.

  6. the link to the download files does not work