After more than 2 years without touching 3DSMax, it was a sleep learning curve getting up to date with the new versions and remembering how to use the vast amount of settings and options available. I love designing characters, and recent games like Skyrim have given me a new appreciation for well designed 3D models, so I was looking forward to seeing what I could do.
Unfortunately, a series of major computer problems at the start of the semester really slowed down my progress, and it was more than a month before I was able to get everything working smoothly again. The programs that worked fine the last 2 years ago when I was working on 3D have been updated, and I had continuous problems getting 3DSMax to run on my outdated 2007 computer.
This constant stop and start where the program would run fine for a week and then not the next meant that I didn’t have as much time on my model as I would have liked, though I did manage to learn alot – mostly from mistakes.
I found that once I started to familiarize myself with the program I got very absorbed in the process, and there’s something satisfying about seeing it take shape. The work was – I was constantly messing something up and having to return to an earlier point, and trying to keep the polygons 4 sided became a conceptual nightmare, so more preparation is definitely needed next time. But I enjoyed it, and it’s not as daunting as it seems.
I hit a stumbling block it the outer casing of VeePees though. Being so used to Photoshop, I slipped into habits that are possible there, but that cannot be used on 3DSMax, and that also cost me time.
Being that the computer had problems running the program, I rarely tested the render so as not to waste time. However, this meant that I didn’t realize my biggest problem until it was too late to be fixed. cutting and pasting sections of the head and body to help me keep their general shape meant that the inner body and outer shell of VeePees was made up of polygons that were facing the wrong way – inwards rather than outwards. I used the clone option to build up the polygons, and so the problem spread. I didn’t realise because it shows up fine in the working window, but when rendered the body is inside out, while the arms and head are fine.
This is a mistake I will never repeat at least.
Sensory Cushion final design
The final Design for the Captivating Memories brief. The cushion was designed to be used by adults as well as babies. The shape of the hand is molded to the shape of a human body, with the thumb there for the feeling of hugging someone, and the little finger positioned to hug the person back. For babies, the end of the finger can be wrapped around, clipping onto the thumb using a stud for efficiency. This creates the perfect cradle shape, with the baby supported by the sides of the hand. The fingers curve up on a slight incline, making it comfortable to sleep on without hurting the neck, and helping to sooth babied with colic and other respiratory problems.
Inspired by the many variations of LED cushions on the market, and the beneficial soothing qualities of this kind of soft, shifting light on infants, I decided to include it as a feature of the design. LEDs inside the cushion are powered by a small removable battery pack, and they help to set a relaxed, contemplative mood, perfect for the recreation of memories of youth
I had many different ideas that I really like when thinking about an object to inspire or capture memories, so to help me finally decide on which one I think has the most potential, I placed my 3 main ideas next to each other to compare side by side
In my earlier designs the focus was more on the texture of the object – I loved the idea of using rough wood as a way of either ingraining a memory into that texture, or inspiring a memory of a previous experience. However, I do feel that the hand cushion has more potential, both as a sale-able item and as a practical object
cushion clay prototype
While developing my idea for a hand cushion that simulates a hug, I ran across some trouble with scale and proportion. I wanted the hand shape to be softened and moulded to the shape of a sleeping person for comfort. However, I also wanted to include a way for the hand to be used as a cradle for babies, which in itself has it’s own design needs. I never realized how dangerous it was for babies to sleep in an inappropriate bed, what with the danger of turning and suffocating, becoming trapped under the pillow, or slipping into a dangerous position.
To help me find the right scale for the cushion, and a shape suitably molded both to adult and infant body shapes, I made a small prototype using Super Sculpey modelling clay. I included small figures of a baby and a mother in roughly the correct proportions to help me visualize the way the cushion could be used
The models helped me visualize my design, in particular the areas that need to be altered. When I was making the models, my design for the cushion was still quite large, impractically so, and the long thin fingers needed to be shortened and rounded for a more welcoming appearance. Having read about parents raising the height of a babies head to help with Colic and congestion, I decided to raise the fingertips to form a slight incline – useful for babies and comfortable for adults.
I also decided to keep the clay unbaked, as the dual use of my design is made possible by a flexible tail part that can be moved depending on the user, so I wanted to keep the model flexible. It meant that the model is rough, with new dents and fingerprints added all the time but it still works perfectly as a visual reference when drawing or modelling from unusual angles
As I wanted to create an object that brought back unconscious memories of childhood, I looked deeper into the work to psychologists like Harry Harlow, and his attempts to determine the cause of infant attachment to parents.
While he expected to find a link to physical need such as food, Harlow was surprised to find that the power of the comforting embrace of the mother was far more necessary to the emotional development of the monkeys than anyone had thought. The baby monkeys unconsciously use the mothers hug as a way of dealing with their environment, growing more confident and curious, and eventually relaxing into new environments happily and normally. Monkeys deprived of this resembled autistic children in their attempts to deal with new situations.
Similar results have been found in orphanages where contact with the children was discouraged.
It was the power of this touch in human and animal development that made me consider using my hand design for a baby aswell as an adult. While it does not substitute for the hugs of the mother, feel of a hand embracing them might be beneficial for helping them sleep.
During a critique with my class we discussed my idea for a 3D hand sculpture, possibly containing hidden compartments, which was to be made of rough wood for added stimulation of memory. During the development of my design, I became particularly focuses on using hands and a gateway to unlocking memories. I love the idea of touching a hand made of natural materials, smooth but scarred, and being reminded of an experience that many children have – being fascinated at the aged hands of grandparents. At that age there is no judging or worry about mortality, but elderly hands are powerful – the wrinkles and scars telling the story of a life lived.
However, many people in the class felt that the detail in the hands that I wanted to fully capture these memories was perhaps too creepy to appeal to the general public, and there is a danger that any ornament would resemble a severed hand. I must make sure that in the future I am not only designing for myself.
One suggestion made was that the idea of a hand as a powerful source of memories was good, but the shapes needed to be softened and stylized if they are to avoid the realism that makes them creepy.
Incidentally, Wikipedia has a fascinating page about the Uncanny Valley effect, whereby human features are so life-like that they are almost real, but the result is often eerie to look at. Theories range about why the Uncanny Valley effect exists, ranging from natural selection (fewer faults been better genes), to fear of infection (if someone looks wrong, they could be dangerous), and there are also a few basic design guidelines to follow to avoid it, mostly centered on keeping the realism of the design to a constant throughout all elements of the design. For example, mixing realistic texture with non human proportions, or human voices with robotic characters.
Thinking about Cushions
With the feedback from my critique in mind, I decided to go back to one of my earliest designs and develop it further – a cushion that simulates a loving embrace. While furniture that hugs you back has been around for years in many different forms, I decided to keep my hand theme, and use the dormant memory within everyone of being held as a baby. There is evidence that many of the sensations that we find comforting as adults stem from situations in infancy, and I think this could be an interesting route to explore
I am hoping that the hand shape will appear softer and more appealing as a cushion that hugs. I want the product to bring out dormant feelings in adults of childhood, or even simply to feel like a comforting embrace during lonely times.
While gathering my work on VeePees, I realized that I had figured out a rather complicated hypothetical way for the character to work, but I hadn’t yet explained that in a visual way. I used images created for the Academic Poster to put together a technical concept for VeePees, helping to make his inner working clearer to anyone who wishes to take the character further.
How does VeePees work