Fossils from the Future (2020)

Fossils from the Future (2020)

Jessica Salter

The world is dynamic and changing, and the future is unknown. Across an innumerable amount of studies, data is produced in large quantities through advanced scientific research and desired to be communicated. However, often it is difficult to translate this information into mediums that are comprehensible to the general public, and a full understanding is typically reserved for those with specialised academic backgrounds.

Ocean acidification due to climate change is one example of a significant and dynamic issue that is presently affecting our planet adversely and will inevitably continue to do so into the future with drastic impacts possible to occur within the next 80 years. In order to mitigate issues of this nature, it is crucial that an understanding is held by not only those with expertise in the field but also to reach a wider audience and encourage potential for change.

The main question for this research was how might the context of time and environment be modelled efficiently in order to communicate a narrative through 3D printing? The ability to communicate to the general public can be achieved through the narrative that a visual or physical object provides. As for example, fossils encapsulated in rock avoided disintegration, preserving understandable and engaging information from a historical time through a tangible object.

This research for Jessica Salter’s Master thesis: “Fossils from the future – Exposing procedural efficiency in the context of 3D printing” explores the opportunity for data to be translated into an easily interpretable visual and physical medium. By using a procedural system, this allows for an undetermined number of outcomes to be explored efficiently, including those which are initially unknown or cannot be perceived. This is in contrast to traditional 3D modelling software, where the designer must fully control and manipulate the finer details of a model.

Expanding on previous research (Lissom, The Style Machine, Hydrophytes), voxel printing on the J750 was chosen, as this printing method is sympathetic to nature based models where cellular material is desired to be replicated. The full-colour properties of this printing offer high levels of colour vibrancy and resolution to generate 3D printed models. In comparison to traditional S.T.L. printing, voxel printing creates smooth blends of material and colour, offering the ability to develop complex external and internal geometry, moving past mono-material 3D part printing.

This research experienced a pivotal turning point after experiment 18 when the decision to encapsulate objects in VeroClear was made and the high-resolution capabilities that only printing through a voxel-based method can provide were now seen. This brought to light several opportunities and possibilities including a level of precision and vibrancy that was visible in the models. Through celebrating these opportunities, it enhanced the model’s appearance by exploiting the ability to print at an extremely refined level. This led to a deeper engagement of the models as they were visually stunning and intriguing.

Additional advances in software, and in particular the development of software that enables extraction out of one software into another without information loss or distortion, creating an efficient and reliable work flow. In general, Grasshopper, Houdini and GrabCADPrint software were used, but special mention needs to be made for the developmental efforts by Ben Jack, Zach Challies and Dan Scudder for creating and improving the V.D.B. to J750 node within Houdini to allow for quick exportation of 3D models in the PNG format.

This research sought to answer the desire to communicate information surrounding the unknown future of our world. It did so through a tangible medium with a 3D printed object, representing fossils from a future that is unknown. The fossils offer people of all ages the chance to view information in a spatial way as a tool to assist people in assimilating, comprehending, and communicating scientific information. Through their colour vibrancy, engagement is achieved, and curiosity is piqued to inquire more towards the accompanying narrative.

Materials and Processes


Grasshopper, Houdini, V.D.B. to J750 node within Houdini, GrabCAD Print


Stratasys J750 printer, Vero clear and full colour

Project level

Master of Design Innovation (MDI) thesis, supervisors Bernard Guy, Ross Stevens