It is hard to believe that it was only seven 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 - but I just knew it could do fantastic stuff.

Through extensive research I quickly found out that with the relative simplicity of EnRoute, CNC routers were capable of just about anything imaginable. This journal will chronicle that journey to date and continue each week with two or three entries as we continue to explore just what is possible with this wonderful software... -dan

Thursday, February 4, 2016

New bitmap magic

Our TEXTURE MAGIC COLLECTION of bitmaps works really well, allowing us to achieve a whole lot of fancy and creative textures in a hurry. But many have asked me to work up more woodgrains for the next collection which will be released soon. I'm all ears. But I also wanted to take things a whole lot further to make the textures do much, much more. It is exciting to watch the new collection come together.

There will be lots of new woodgrains to choose from. But they will also be paired with some secondary bitmaps which will make the woodgrains much more believable. Special effects will also be possible with a third set of bitmaps in the collection to allow the wood to look twisted, warped or bent. Imagine what will be possible!

I tested the first set of bitmaps today by creating a name plaque for a new friend.

The thing to remember about bitmaps is that they work by reading the values. Black does nothing. While raises by the value you enter. Greys do something in between.

The bitmaps I used on this file are below. The top one was used to warp the board. The middle bitmap were used to enhance and add the character of the woodgrain on the bottom.

To start creating the file I first opened the bitmap files. The thing to remember in using multiple bitmaps that must be matched is that they need to be resized at the same time to maintain their proportions. I used the bottom woodgrain bitmap as a reference as I drew out the board vectors. I wanted this board to look weathered and old.

Because I would be warping the board I created a second rectangle which I would use to build a separate relief and warp the to match the board. The lettering would be built up from this surface and then merged with the warped board. This way the two surfaces would match. The rivet band relief which would go along the right edge was also built separately and warped with the same bitmap.

I used the distort tool to wiggle up the rectangle and rivets. This would make them instantly old when I created the relief.

With the vectors complete I started making the simple flat reliefs. I started with the board.

The relief which I would build the lettering on was next.

The rivet band was last.

I then positioned the twist fade over the reliefs and applied it to all three of the reliefs. The resulting twist was subtle but most visible in the 3D render.

Next up I used the prismatic tool to modify the rivet band relief and create the rivets

The woodgrain was then applied to the biggest relief.

The woodgrain looked good but was naturally flat.

The paired relief which created a much more weathered and textured look fixed the flatness in a hurry!

I then added some weathering to the rivet band using the splotches bitmap (from the original collection)

I checked the end view to see how much the rivet band was sticking above the weathered wood. The twist of the board is evident in this view.

I then modified the rectangle relief by raising the lettering outline. It protruded through the woodgrain.

Once I had checked it and nudged it (up or down) appropriately in the front view it was time to MERGE HIGHEST with the wood relief. I also combined the wood and rivet band reliefs.

The lettering was then created by modifying the base relief using the lettering vectors as a mask.

Using those same lettering vectors I added the splotches bitmap to the lettering surfaces.

The file was then ready for tool pathing and was sent off to the Multicam to be cut from 1.5" 30 lb Precision Board. Once it was cut I used an air powered die grinder to add texture to the edges of the board plus cut a hole to create a knot hole in the board. It only took about five minutes to get the board ready for the hand sculpting, paint and gold leaf. Stay tuned for those steps.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Viking delight

Our next big project looks to be a fun one. We've been asked to build two forty-foot long viking ships which will go to Dubai. It's a challenge as they will have to be built in sections to fit inside shipping containers. And the assembly has to be simple enough for someone else to do the install. Our job will end when the pieces are loaded into the truck on our property.

We are working with other vendors and all of the pieces need to fit together seamlessly. To make the job easier we decided to first built a scale half model of the ship. Everything is more easily worked out at this scale, which makes the real build a whole lot easier.

To make the model in perfect scale the platform was first designed in EnRoute. Then the steel plate ship deck was cut on the MultiCam plasma cutter. The profile of the keel was cut from Precision Board and the model was assembled and a final shape was hand sculpted. Then we applied a thin coat of Abracadabra Sculpting epoxy and all the the details were carved in before it set. As usual base colours were applied and then a series of glazes to make it all come alive.

We finished the model about two hours before the critical client meeting and it went extremely well.
Now we are on to the real thing at full size.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Endless inspiration

Even if you aren't a fan of Disney theme parks I would highly recommend a visit. You don't have to ride the rides - just bring a camera to record endless inspiration at every turn. You even get to claim the trip as a business expense!

We like to attend at least one Disney park every year. So far we've been to Florida's Disney World (four theme parks), California's Disneyland (two theme parks), Disneyland Tokyo (two theme parks), Disneyland Paris (two theme parks - although I've only seen one)  plus there's one theme park in Hong Kong and a new one in China that opens in mid-June. (Those last two are still on my list) Add in all of the themed resorts and restaurants plus the water parks in Disney World and there is enough inspiration to last a lifetime.

Each time we go I take a ton of pictures, make some sketches and just generally get inspired. The signs and theme work is second to none. Some might argue that they don't do much of this kind of signs in their market...  and I would ask why not?

I include a picture of only one sign (of the thousands of great signs I saw) for this blog entry...  it's a low key sign that identifies the hotel building we are staying at. The sign features laser or water jet cut metal bracket, sandblasted wood (although I would just as easily make it from routed Precision Board) and some shaped sheet metal for lighting. This site also featured a small digital print for the bird logo (I would hand paint it).

Most of these signs I see could have easily been designed in EnRoute Software.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Rusted beauty

The recent plasma cut gates have been given an initial sports of mild acid and set outside to start their patina. Once they are in place we'll further chemically add different value colours (subtle shades of brown) to the different layers to further differentiate them from each other. In only a couple of days outside the rust colour evened out on the metal and it now looks vastly different than when we pulled them from the shop.

As an update to the post I include two pictures of the gates mounted in their permanent home. The first is from outside the yard and the second from inside the yard.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Final pics of Sign Odyssey piece - Sign Challenge

We also took some studio pictures of the Sign Odyssey piece for your enjoyment. I sure am looking forward to seeing fourteen of these crazy creations lined up in a row in Orlando at the ISA show in a few short months!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Final pics of Peter's Artistic Android - Sign Challenge piece

We've now taken proper pictures of Peter's Artistic Android. It is an amazing piece and when we take away the background clutter and add proper lighting the piece really comes alive in glorious detail. What is more amazing is that Peter used this piece to learn the ins and outs of EnRoute to create both the routing and plasma cutter. This was also the first time he operated both the MultiCam router and plasma cutter. I shadowed him a little to make sure he was doing things in a logical order but he asked few questions and mostly figured it out on his own. Enjoy!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Pics of recently completed projects

I learn a great deal of what I know by looking at pictures (and real projects by others). I love to see step by steps too of course.  Two of the projects of late are now complete and I thought readers would enjoy seeing how they turned out when all painted up. When we last saw the Hornswaggler's sign and the food boat they were just at the end stages of the sculpting process. The pieces of the sign got the usual three coats of base colours and then a series of glazes to age them. Now at last they are ready to head out the door and into the shipping container.