Creating the concepts that drive the look and feel of Hollywood's most stunning visual effects is a full time commitment. No stranger to such hard work is John Mahoney, a concept artist, illustrator and sculptor whose past credits include working on the Disney films Treasure Planet, Emperor's New Groove, and Atlantis, directing a documentary on Star Wars VFX artist Doug Chiang, and being showcased in numerous illustration anthologies. Now a teacher at Cal Arts, USC, and Blizzard, John embraces the latest digital tools (such as Zbrush and Keyshot) to not only amplify his own imagination, but to build up the skills and confidence in his students as well.
Digital software tools have enabled John and his students to expand their creative processes. Now the rise of 3D printing is enabling John to push his creative vision even further. In the past he would spend countless hours on one sculpture. Planning at the earliest stages was an important part of that process. One creative miscalculation in the beginning could impact the quality of the final sculpt and in the entertainment industry time is precious. The digital process of 3D printing now allows John to experiment more with variations in the early conceptual stages. Knowing that a sculpture can be modified and printed anew allows John to work more efficiently, giving him time to investigate a broader range of ideas.
As a skilled draftsman John is not focused on merely duplicating reality. Constantly searching for new forms and ideas, John transforms the mundane into the magical by fusing common objects together to unveil his otherworldly creations.
John's catalog of ideas is born from a vast library of "hidden treasures" found in junk yards and various remnants of the industrial age. To inspire his students John regularly posts reference images of his found objects to his various social networks. His collection of images is an amalgamation combining twisted wires, aircraft hulls, corrugated tubes, steampunk dials, bent metal, gas masks, cathode tubes, decaying dashboards, and engine parts that have vague anthropomorphic forms. Such mechanical guts remind emerging artists that the discarded objects of the past can inform the 3D printed designs of the future.
By incorporating these abandoned industrial objects into his 3D printed sculptures John's work straddles two eras of manufacturing – the subtractive methods of the past with additive processes of the future. Fittingly, John's vaguely mechanical, humanoid mutations are an homage to the fading industrial age of subtractive manufacturing that is transitioning to this new, burgeoning 3D printing renaissance.
The fact that more artists such as John are exploring 3D printing pipelines should encourage Hollywood to incorporate 3D printing into more areas of production. Imagine how 3D printed props can be quickly developed to allow actors to feel more in-character against the green screen. The same files used to create props can be used to develop toys for marketing and merchandising.
The leveraging of this data allows for greater creative experimentation, and when combined with 3D scanning, serves as a "world-building tool" where virtual and real props can be used in production simultaneously.
Not everyone will see the creative advantage to explore multiple versions through 3D printing. Most users may simply use the 3d printer as an uber-copying machine of preexisting objects. While replicating has its merits, it often goes against the creative desire to manifest the truly unique, strange, and original ideas born from the imagination.
Hopefully other artists will see the 3D printer as a mystic black box that can materialize the inconceivable. Emerging from this mystic black box is John Mahoney, an artist whose extruded imagination blurs the boundaries between the organic and mechanical – inspiring other emerging artists to conjure up strange and wonderful ideas on 3d printers worldwide.