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The Making Of A 3D Water Printer

Think of it as an extraordinarily complicated fountain–with some high-speed photography thrown in.

The Making Of A 3D Water Printer
[Image: G Active]

You’ve probably seen  “fountain printers” in public spaces that can create 2D text or graphics as water cascades out of a series of spigots. But the London-based studio Machine Shop is taking that concept two huge steps forward–figuring out how to make 3D liquid sculptures and animate them. The results are beautiful and mesmerizing.

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How does it work? First, the studio created a mechanism to “print” 3D shapes. A traditional fountain printer only has one line of microjets that quickly open and close, letting water drops out along the X-axis. As the water drops fall, they travel along the Y axis towards the ground, creating the image. Machine Shop got that line of water microjets and multiplied it along the Z axis, giving it depth.

This grid of water microjets is controlled by switches capable of opening and closing in just 2 milliseconds, which are synchronized using a computer. That computer contains a series of 3D model files–previously created using motion capture–that represent the droplets. Each file is one frame of their water “movie.” The custom software interprets these dots and opens and closes the switches to create the sculpture in 3D space.

[Image: G Active]
But since each sculpture quickly disappears thanks to gravity, to create the illusion of movement you need one final clever trick. You need to be able to freeze time.

So, each time the 3D fountain generated a water sculpture, a camera took a photo at the very precise moment in which the 3D figure had its perfect shape. Synchronized flash explosions and extremely short camera exposures froze each perfect water sculpture into one single flawless frame which, after being assembled in a video editing program, formed the magical movie you just saw. If you want to see the full production process, check out the behind-the-scenes video here:

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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