What I made in Digital Making

Through the Digital Making course at the University of Illinois, I’ve been able to pursue something I’ve always wanted to get into: spaceship modeling.

I grew up playing-out space battles with model ships from Star Trek, and little Bionicle and Lego contraptions I thought up. I used bottlecaps and Wint-o-Green mints too. As I played, I imagined an entire universe outside of myself – a universe of aliens and knights, of spaceships and complex alliances.

I’ve taken that imagined universe and written it down, in dozens of pages of notebooks and word docs. My goal is to make it an online book one day, but always another goal of mine was to actually make the ships I thought up in my head, and not just imagine it as a bottlecap. I accomplished that this semester, and made the most important ship in my universe. Give it a gander:


I made the SS Valhalla with Fusion 360, and its took several incarnations to get me to where I am today. It’s finally finished, and as I’m writing this, it’s being printed. You can print it for yourself here.

As I move forward with my universe and eventually publish my stories, I intend to make this ship, and the others that will follow it, integral to the reading experience. I want my readers to read the words and click on them, landing them onto a thingiverse page where they can print it for themselves.

I want my readers to make their own ships and contribute them to the lore.

I want to change and innovate science fiction, making it more than just words on a page. I want to make my universe a digital gateway to imagination in a way that wasn’t possible 10 years ago.

Email me at austinkeating3@gmail.com if you want an email sometime when I’m ready to unveil the project, hopefully over the next year or so.

Maker log weeks 7 and 8

I was sitting in the basement of the Beckman institute last week watching a lab technician hold a clay model. It was a cylinder or something. I looked at it, and I looked at my doodle book, and I looked at it again.

I realized there that I don’t need to be modeling my spaceships in Fusion 360. Which is a relief. Not because Fusion isn’t working for me. On the contrary, I’m having a blast designing my first spaceship. (See below)


But not all of my spaceships are going to be this “mechanical.” As I work on creating spaceships for my science fiction book, I want to not just build my human spaceships, but also the so-far unnamed antagonists spaceships.

Their ships are blobby and gross, not mechanical. And you can’t really make something blobby and gross in Fusion, but you can with clay – just ask my 1st grade art teacher!

These antagonists essentially cannibalize other spaceships. Combine them – pervert them – and use their weapons systems to fight the protagonists. The reason I haven’t named them yet is because all the good names are taken – scourge, horde, flood, you name it, it’s probably out there somewhere in some other science fiction work. If you have an idea, feel free to suggest it in the comment area.

Here’s a photo of their ships to get some ideas rolling.WP_20150312_003They’re very organic shapes, but with cannibalized mechanical parts. For comparison, here’s some of my drawn human designs:

WP_20150312_006After these two weeks, learning how to scan stuff, and also sort of learning how to touch up those scans, I’ve figured out how I’m going to make those antagonist ships. I’ll scan clay models, I’ll save the scan as an stl file, and then I’ll bring it into fusion and just merge new shapes into it.

Digital Making Log: Week 3

Design for America (DFA) visited our class this week for an extensive workshop on how designers get from a problem, to an idea, and to a solution. We implemented the same processes the professionals use, and started out by watching this video:

It’s pretty fascinating. They sniffed out all the problems consumers had with the traditional shopping cart, came up with solutions for each individual problem, and synthesized a good final product that addressed everyone’s concerns. The most interesting thing to me about this video is the actual processes they used: post-it notes and a constant, unabashed flow of ideas.

Our workshop took on pretty much the same format.

– We were given a problem (distracted driving)

– We were given research testimonials (people talking about how distracted driving affected them)

– We went on to do our own research with questioning our classmates

– We came together as a group to share the problems we found, from boredom to the necessity of using a smart phone GPS

– We came up with a slew of solutions, ranking the feasibility and consumer desirability of each solution

– And then we (my group) came up with a product that incorporated the solutions, prototyping and demoing it for the rest of the class (see the picture below for one group’s prototype)

Photo by Zong Ze Chua

Photo by Zong Ze Chua

My group had a less photogenic prototype: A sheet of paper representing a windshield that was gamified and interfaced with the driver’s smartphone.

So what?

I never knew the actual processes of design, as I said in my last post, I’m a journalism major and haven’t really done anything with design. Now that I know how the pros do it, I think I have what it takes to come-up with a problem consumers have, and print a solution to that problem.

Looking toward the future, I’ll keep an eye out for problems I run into that could be solved with some ingenuity and layered plastic. I’m still pretty ignorant on the technical skills necessary to model, so I guess my next step is to focus on that while I ideate.