Artist Macouno Introduces Uwatela: A Computer-generated Abstract Construction Toy

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Uwatela Stork: Image courtesy Dolf Veenvliet

Uwatela Stork. Image by Dolf Veenvliet

In 2011, the artist Macouno launched Entoforms, computer-modelled bugs.

Now we’re checking out his latest project – an abstract construction toy, also from a 3-D printer, called Uwatela — and talking with Macouno again about his latest creation.

Who is Macouno?

Macouno, a Dutch artist whose real name is Dolf Veenvliet, completed his studies at the KABK, Kunstakademiet i Trondheim, AKI, in 1999, and received his degree as a Monumental Artist.

A W3C certified web developer, Dolf also holds degrees in audio technique.

He is a certified educator in the computer programme Blender 3D, and is a member of the Blender Certification Review Board.

From Canvas to Computer

Self-Portrait of Dolf Veenvliet, known as Macouno

Self-portrait. Image by Dolf Veenvliet

Dolf’s most recent projects include his work as a modeller, lighter, and compositor on the movie Sintel, a fifteen minute film initiated by the Blender Foundation. His latest project is Uwatela, a new generation of computer-generated abstract construction toys named for the Zulu word for Acacia, a highly invasive subtropical shrub or tree.

Computer-generated design brings a new type of freedom from the physical boundaries of canvas and paint – a new definition of art. Users set criteria on the computer, and using the Blender 3D programme, produce 3-dimensional shapes printed with a 3D printer.

The resulting shapes fit together to make curious forms which might look like something, or might resemble nothing at all. Unlike the Entoforms, pinned and presented as specimens in boxes; these toys, Uwatela, are for designed for considerable handling and playing. The only limit is your imagination.

Macouno Speaks to Decoded Arts

Macouno spoke to Decoded Arts in an exclusive interview about his work:

Decoded Arts: Please tell us about your background as an artist.

Macouno: I have a degree in monumental art. This basically means you make pieces for specific situations. And there’s somehow a sense of “the big statement/shape/silhouette” there that seems to match the silhouettes you can create with Uwatela.

Decoded Arts: What made you turn from painting to computer-generated design and 3D printing as an art form?

Macouno: I’ve always looked for a bit of wonder in my work. In a way creating my own worlds. Inside the computer you can do that even better than on a canvas. Think of computer games… you can create entire realities from scratch. And now… With 3D prints we can take what is in the computer and bring it into the physical. Likewise with Uwatela… you can create something new/surprising… make a nice shape, turn it in your hands and find unexpected silhouettes.

Decoded Arts: Uwatela seems so different from the Entoforms, those virtual bugs you discussed with Victoria Nicks of Decoded Science back in 2011. Where did the idea for Uwatela come from?

Macouno: As you learn techniques, and play with tools… Often you find things that you can’t foresee. In a way Uwatela is a by-product, an accidental find. I wanted to learn how to make parts that click together, and ended up playing with the tests so much I realized it was worth exploring. But… the techniques used in creating the pieces use the same code as the Entoforms. So to me, both a generated creature with limbs, and a toy that you can build things with yourself… match my “sensibilities,” or are part of the same environment.

Decoded Arts: What material are the components printed on?

Macouno: The parts are made in a durable abs plastic on a Makerbot Replicator printer. Every single piece takes about 15 minutes to print. they come in a linen bag I stamp the logo on. Right now it’s all very small-scale. I do everything myself in-house. That’s one of the nice things about the technology used. Once you have a printer… your main investment in getting a product out there is time.

Decoded Arts: Will each kit be unique or can the buyer make it unique by painting or decorating the surface?

Macouno: The idea is that you can create a shape, then take it apart, and create another, over and over again. So paint may wear off. It’s not something I considered, but… I painted all my toys when I was a kid, so it’s only fair to expect others to as well.

There are several sets available… they are created to give maximum freedom (the standard and expansion sets). But… since you ask about unique sets, there is also Ukwanda. Ukwanda is a completely unique set with pieces generated just for you. It does mean you don’t know exactly what you’ll get, which not everyone likes. To me personally it’s more fun. The Ukwanda set is going to become available very soon (within a week or two probably). I’m also considering a tool that allows you to create your own set, which I could then print for you. But I decided to start with offering something I know works well. So that if you order a set, you know exactly what you get, and that it’s pretty good.

Decoded Arts: I could buy the Uwatela kit for myself, but if I were really ambitious and had the right knowledge and equipment, could I design it myself? I understand you run workshops for those who might like to explore computer-generated design – please tell us a bit about that.

Macouno:  I do teach yes… mostly about how to create a 3D model in Blender (free software). I think works like the Entoforms and Uwatela (especially the code behind it) are quite advanced and hard to do yourself. You don’t just need skills in 3D, but also visual design, and some product design. To get started… and quickly learn how to design for 3D print I released a training DVD together with the Blender Foundation last year. I can recommend trying it… you’ll have a bit of a head start since I do believe we’ll all have a 3D printer in our homes in a few years.

Entoform in Box: Image Courtesy Dolf Veenvliet

Entoform in box. Image by Dolf Veenvliet

Decoded Arts: Do you see a distinct line between computer-generated design and physical art, or do the two forms blend and complement each other?

Macouno: There is still a very strong tendency towards separating the virtual from the real.. I don’t think that still applies. The virtual (everything in the computer), has become so central to our lives, that I think it’s just part of life now. The same for digital art.. Artists use the same methods when working in/with a computer as when sculpting in clay. New tools do lend to making new works, but the language of design, the ideas that pop up tend to be spread over all disciplines. In short… computer generated design is just another tool we add to our arsenal.

Decoded Arts: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Macouno: I expect that I’ll be doing much the same thing as now. Helping others with their projects as well as working on my own. I hope some of my works will keep developing. Like the Entoforms… they deserve another couple iterations… Perhaps by then they will look a lot more like advanced life forms and less like sea slugs. There’s some techniques I really want to learn such as creating robots with Arduino boards… Perhaps in five years I’ll have some moving art pieces as well. As far as Uwatela is concerned… I hope it won’t be just an on-line product, but available in some shops as well. I don’t know exactly where it’s going, but it’s going, which is great!

Educator and Artist

A true educator and an unusually generous artist, Dolf releases most of his designs under the creative commons attribution 3.0 license so that others may learn from his work and create their own computer-generated art projects.

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