Vader Dice Tower

TL;DR: I made a villainous dice tower for a friend’s bday, combining two of his favorite things—Star Wars and board gaming.

October was a pretty busy month for me with work and fantasy football both ramping up. However, I’m very happy I was able to get some design and project time in. My friend Nick’s birthday was earlier this week, and I wanted to make him something practical yet personalized. Anybody who knows him at all knows how much he loves both board games and Star Wars, so to me, printing a Darth Vader dice tower was simply a no brainer.

For those of you who may not know, a dice tower is a very simple device to ensure fair rolls while keeping dice from flying all over the place and messing up stuff on the table. Dice towers can take on a wide variety of shapes and sizes. All that is really needed is some sort of aperture at the top to put dice in, a path which randomizes spins, and a tray to collect them at the end.

Before I started designing, I did a quick search on thingiverse and other 3d print sharing sites to make sure I wasn’t completely reinventing the wheel. I found a few Vader dice towers, but to be honest, I didn’t think they were very good in terms of amount of detail and general aesthetics. I was fortunate to find a great model of Darth Vader to begin with: https://www.myminifactory.com/object/3d-print-star-wars-darth-vader-30-cm-tall-60500.

Essentially my plan was as follows:

  1. Reorient and resize the head to maximize the print area on my bed.
  2. Create the dice travel path leading from the top of the head out of the mouth.
  3. Subtract the path model from the head model.
  4. Create a tray to catch the dice
  5. Print the parts
  6. Ship it

Parts 1-4 went incredibly smoothly all within Fusion 360. I successfully printed a ¼ size test part to ensure the path I created could be printed without any internal support structures to minimize post processing work. Unfortunately, I then ran into printer issues I had never previously encountered…

My Monoprice Maker Select Plus (aka Wanhao Duplicator III Plus clone) has been a workhorse without any major issues for years now. Of course, she decided to act up when I was up against a deadline since birth dates are immutable. My printer would randomly stop working and send bed temperature errors before rebooting. I pinpointed the problem to the thermistor on my print bed, but I didn’t have time to mess around. Luckily for me, my neighbor across the street literally has a print farm in his bedroom (15 machines and counting) so I was still able to get the parts made on time. The only unfortunate thing is that his machines are smaller than mine—so he had to scale the size down by 5% to get them to fit. (I found out later that the fix I needed on my printer was incredibly basic: the kapton tape holding the thermistor to the bed loosened over time, thus the printer received intermittent temperature readings.)

Luckily, the 5% reduction in size did not severely diminish the part’s functionality:

It works! May the Force Be With You!

I’m incredibly happy with the results of this project. I enjoyed the challenge of modifying an existing mesh to create a new, meaningful, and practical object. Even though UPS spoiled the surprise by giving Nick a notification about the arrival of a package sent from my area, and the package arrived late, I’m pretty sure he was very pleased upon arrival.  

Thanks for making it to the end of this post—here’s an incredibly sparse build gallery:

Star Wars Joycon Holders

TL;DR: I made custom Nintendo Switch Joycon Controller holders in the shape of Star Wars Y-Wing and A-Wings.

I’ve been traveling quite a bit this year, and my Switch has been a great companion surprisingly easy to bring around. However, the biggest gripe I and everybody else has with the device is that it is no fun to use the controllers in single joy-con mode. I found and printed some neat grips that make it a bit easier to use them in this mode, but I’ll cover them in a future post.

In this project, I made some ridiculously tardy birthday presents for two of my Switch-owning friends: Y-Wing and A-Wing Joycon holders. Honestly they aren’t that practical, but they technically *are* functional, and I think they look pretty cool. I started by downloading STL files from thingiverse of various Star Wars ships and a simple dual-joycon holder.

In Fusion 360, I chopped off the joycon rails and saved the bodies as separate components so I can reuse them in multiple projects. Next, I started processing the Y-Wing by simplifying a lot of unnecessary mesh details, cutting off the engines, then making the mesh into a solid body. I inserted the joycon rails where the engines used to be and played around with the scaling of the Y-Wing body to fit well. From there, it was a simple merge bodies, slice, and print… or so I thought.

Unfortunately, I messed up some of my slicing settings in my first attempt, and part of the print fell over. Even though part of the print had failed, I was still able to do a geometry check, and I was pleased with how well the joycon and strap both fit into this model.

My slicing error was in a boneheaded misconfiguration of adaptive layer settings. Using adaptive layers in slicing software allows for faster prints since the printer is programmed to use larger z-steps if it is safe to preserve model details. The base layer height for this was 0.12mm, and by entering the deviation to 0.2mm, for some reason I thought I was setting the absolute height limit for the print to 0.2mm, but this was not the case, and my printer was trying to print with 0.32mm layers, which it just was not able to do. On my subsequent attempts, I dialed the deviation back and was able to get a really nice print.

Y-Wing gallery here:

The A-Wing model took a bit more pre-print processing. First, I noticed a small hole in the surface, so I used meshmixer to mirror the better half of the model. Second, the model I had was hollow (there was an internal surface), which would have caused issues later on in combining with joycon holders and printing. The hollow body was simple to rectify—I created a block larger than the A-Wing then used combine to cut the A-Wing from the block. This left several bodies, including one that was the ship model cavity, which was added back into the main ship model. Just as for the Y-Wing model, I imported the Joycon rails, scaled the Awing body, and moved everything in place before combining the bodies.

I’ll admit the joycons on the A-Wing are less than ideal, but I still think it looks cool. 😛

Infinity War Masks

I waited 10 years and 18 movies for Infinity War, and as a superfan with a movie club, I obviously needed to watch it opening night. I bought 22 tickets in the center of the theater within 15 minutes of their availability, but unfortunately, Alamo Drafthouse’s site wasn’t ready when I was. Alamo is by far my favorite movie experience, and the moviegoers there are true fans. It’s pretty normal for opening night premiers to be filled with people dressed up (scroll down far enough and you might see a familiar face :P).

I managed to cajole a few members of my movie club to join in geeking out and dress up for the premiere at AMC. As somewhat expected, we were like the only group dressed up there, but whatever. We had fun and that’s all that matters.

I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the utility of my cheap little 3D printer. This was the first project I completed that involved painting post-print. I found some decent STL’s for Ironman and Black Panther on Thingiverse. While these base STLs worked, there were some changes I wanted to make but didn’t have time to do so, cause of course I procrastinated. I didn’t start making the masks for Abaho and I until 5 days before the movie.

The first part I printed was the faceplate for the Ironman MK50 (Bleeding Edge armor that debuted in Infinity War) helmet. I measured the space between my eyes and scaled everything accordingly. I tried it on and it seemed to fit well, so I continued with the rest of the helmet. It turns out that my head does not have the same proportions as that of the guy who originally designed the model, so I couldn’t get the skullcap on:

At this point, I only had 3 days to print and paint 2 masks, so I decided to cut and print only the front part of the Ironman helmet to save time and ensure wearability. It was pretty easy to make planar cuts of the mesh files using Fusion 360, which was good.

I noticed that the STL I was using was not perfectly symmetric, and the parts didn’t actually fit perfectly together. It’s definitely something I’m going to address before I make my next print.

I needed to do a decent amount of work to prepare the Black Panther mask for printing. First, the raw STL had a ton of unnecessary detail and sharp edges on the inside of the mask, which would have increased the print time and made the helmet more uncomfortable to wear, so I did lot of simplification and smoothing of the inner surfaces. Next, I needed to slice the helmet into a bunch of parts to both fit on my printer, and print in time (I only had about 36 hours cause I ended up printing TWO Ironman masks). Initially, I was worried about having visible weld lines in this mask, but luckily, I bought some BLACK GLUE STICKS a few weeks earlier at Daiso (I didn’t know these were even a thing) to hide them perfectly.

Here’s a gallery of the build process:

Painting the Ironman masks was a huge pain since I needed to cover quite a bit of surface area using three different colors of paint (gold, silver, shiny red). To make the shiny red, I needed to mix a metallic copper paint with the basic red I bought (the red was too flat and bright to match the gold). The Black Panther mask in contrast was ridiculously easy to paint… the mask was already printed in black, so only a few raised areas needed to be highlighted in silver.

I was incredibly happy with how the finished helmets turned out. I added a fabric strap to the back of the Ironman helmet with some hot glue for wearability. It turns out that Abaho’s head fit perfectly within the Black Panther helmet with no additional modifications needed.

Next up, I’m going to be printing out and attaching parts of the Black Panther mask we removed earlier. I’m also going to fix the model symmetry and adjust the dimensions to fit the proportions of my head.

Go watch Pacific Rim 2

Pacific Rim 2 (PR2) is the distilled essence of action movie. I watched it on the opening night in IMAX with 12 friends in my Movie Club. We went in with no expectations at all, and came out pretty pleased. The film delivered exactly what it promised: giant robots, plasma swords, monsters, and John Boyega. It bums me out that PR2 isn’t doing better domestically, cause I’d love it if more films just did what they say they’re going to do. Here’s a totally-not-biased-at-all spoiler-free review 🙂

Freshman director Steven DeKnight delivers exactly what you would want and expect. There’s some set up time at the beginning (admittedly a bit slow), but there’s barely fluff to waste your time with once the action starts. Sure, there’s a jump in plot logic here and there, but who cares–you’re obviously not expecting the Shape of Water here =P.

There’s punchy dialogue and the right amount of silly comedic moments strewn throughout the movie. Mandarin speakers can get a bit more out of the dialogue… Our giant group of mostly Asians laughed much louder than the rest of the theater at certain points. It’s pretty clear the studio is gunning for $$$ in the Chinese market.

Pacific Rim 2 shines with the most important stuff: giant robot vs. monster smackdowns. The action scenes varied in participant design, fighting styles, and environments. I’ll admit the scene selection and framing didn’t seem as painstakingly chosen as they did in the original Pacific Rim (but who beats Guillermo del Toro at that), I found the rehash of assorted elements between each fight kept them all really fresh and visually interesting.

Sometimes you can get away with skipping action movie prequels without missing a beat at all (see: Transformers), but PR2 assumes you’re a bit familiar with the basic rules of their universe. While you could proooobably get away without watching the first movie, if you’re like me and like things to fall into place in your mind, I think you’d enjoy PR2 more with a quick rewatch of PR1. I didn’t really remember any of the repeat characters from the first movie and some of the major plot points which had implications for the second, so I wasted energy trying to rack my brain instead of being fully immersed at times.

Overall, I thought the movie was super fun, and pretty well paced once the action got going. The 1h50min runtime felt just about right, and I’ve got no regrets at all. As long as you aren’t expecting a mindblowing plot, or deep character arcs, I think you’ll have a good time.

Gone Girl

Ever since Gone Girl came out, I have heard from a ton of people that it was a great movie. I honestly have always had a soft spot for Ben Affleck’s movies, and usually am a fan of most movies I see, but this film went above and beyond my expectations. I really liked this movie even though it isn’t the type I usually enjoy watching—I’m a big action/comedy/Marvel kind of guy—this was dark and I left the theater feeling physically unsettled. I actually needed to get froyo afterwards to make myself feel better, ‘cause froyo fixes everything. I’m avoiding spoilers in this post, so feel free to read if you haven’t seen the film yet.
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The first clue that the movie was going to be great was the fact that the theater was packed on a TUESDAY night two weeks after premiere. I went with a group of 3 other guys, and we were lucky to get seats together. We were also really lucky to have not brought any significant others with us, as this was literally the opposite of a date night movie.

The next set of clues for me, were in the opening credits. Gillian Flynn, the author of the book, also did the screenplay for the movie. I also noticed that Trent Reznor did the sound. Although I’m not really a fan of Nine Inch Nails, I recognize the intelligence and somewhat experimental nature of his music. While I knew beforehand that the Ben Affleck and Neil Patrick Harris were in the movie from the trailers, I was honestly a bit shocked to see Tyler Perry’s name in the opening credits and surprised to see that Reese Witherspoon was a producer. All of the producers did a great job getting the best possible people to adapt the novel and do the music.

I trusted in Batman and Barney to anchor the acting crew, but was wrong. They didn’t need to, as ENTIRE cast did an outstanding job from top to bottom. Rosamund Pike blew my mind. Her on-screen chemistry with Ben Affleck was palpable. I believe Tyler Perry may have saved the movie from being TOO dark and depressing. He provided just the right amount of smart comedic balance to keep the film grounded. In my opinion, this was easily the best acting he’s done to date.

Part of what made me feel so unsettled by the end of the film was how relatable the characters were. They all felt real because all of them had flaws. It is easy to project oneself (and exes) onto the characters at various points in the movie, or at least empathize with them.

The plot itself was a huge mindfuck (excuse my French). Although it was a bit crazy and nearly unbelievable at times, it was self-supporting, felt logical, and flowed really well. Its unpredictability kept me guessing at what was happening next and asking my friends next to me if what I thought I saw had really just happened.

I need to give another shout out to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the music. Their selection enhanced everything happening on screen and played a huge role in keeping me just a bit physically off balance. The sounds forced your ears to tell your gut that something just didn’t feel right.

Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the filmography much at all. I just couldn’t pay close attention because my mind was firing in too many directions all at once. If/when I watch the film a second time, I will be sure to concentrate a bit more on the shot selection, framing, color palette, etc. now that my mind won’t be turned to mush as much as before.

I felt that the film actually had some smart commentary and reflection on a huge range of topics pertinent to modern US society. It touched on the media, feminism, psychology, relationships, power dynamics, and abuse, both physical and emotional. It showed how twisted everything could be. Gillian Flynn really captured how relationships can shift over time and how both men and women can feel trapped trying to live up to expectations while everything on the surface looks calm and perfect. She illustrates how biased the media can be and show quickly and arbitrarily public opinion can shift.

This is definitely a movie that can make you stop, reflect, and think, which is really refreshing. This movie did not have a Hollywood feel at all and didn’t really rely on tired old tropes—it was more of an indie film with a big budget. I hope this film continues to do well at the box office so studios will take some more chances and take on edgier projects like this in the future.