Mar 28, 2018 | By Tess

If there's one maker in the 3D printing community who has taught us it’s okay to dream big, it’s Melissa Ng, the New York-based artist behind Lumecluster. Through her Lumecluster platform, Ng has created not just a repertoire of 3D printed models, but a world of fantasy-inspired designs.

As a self-proclaimed dreamer, Ng seeks to inspire with her 3D printed masks, jewelry, and armor. Recently, the artist has even crossed over into the world of cosplay with a number of 3D printed Marvel-commissioned accessories and costumes.

For this week’s Maker Profile, we got the chance to talk to Ng about her own inspirations, how she came into her own with 3D design and printing, and how being recognized by some notable figures has increased the visibility of her work.

3Ders: On your website it says you started exploring 3D printing in your art in 2014. Can you tell us a bit about what mediums you worked with prior to 3D printing? And how you came to be interested in the technology for your dreamer-inspired makes?

Melissa Ng: Since I was a child, I longed to be some kind of fantasy artist but I only found time to try my hand at making art on my off-time. Over the years, I experimented with all kinds of mediums like acrylic paint, charcoal, watercolor, sculpting, digital painting, ink drawing, pyrography, laser cutting, etc. Sadly, none of those held my interest for very long and I constantly fell in and out of love with mediums very quickly.

But then I learned about 3D printing one day at the New York Maker Faire back in October 2013. I had tried so many mediums already and I figured I'd give 3D printing a shot. The problem was that I didn't know how to 3D model and it seemed pretty daunting. I didn't want to risk wasting too much time and money, so I gave myself an ultimatum and decided that I'd give myself three months to try to create a 3D printed piece of my own design (which resulted in many sleepless nights).

By early 2014, I entered my very first 3D printed creation, “Dreamer Mask: Illumination,” into a 3D printing competition and actually won! Needless to say, I thought that was a pretty good sign that I might have something there. Even though I'm very attached to 3D printing, I do appreciate and rely on the other artistic skills I've acquired over the years and I continue to pick up new skills as often as I can. I always encourage expanding your skill set.

3Ders: What have been some significant inspirations for you (both aesthetically and thematically)? Have you always been passionate about fantasy stories and games?

Melissa Ng: Fantasy stories and games were major sources of comfort since I was a child that was often bullied. Growing up, I also didn't really have many friends so I was frequently alone (I was that kid that sometimes ate lunch in a bathroom stall). That's where the fantasy stories and games helped me...maybe even saved me. They engaged my imagination and gave me hope that I could also one day have the power and ability to create beautiful things that can uplift others the way fantasy uplifted me during some really tough times.

In terms of aesthetics, my biggest childhood inspiration was probably my cousin, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law (Shadowscapes), who is a fantasy artist. Back in the days of dial-up internet, I remember eagerly waiting to go to her website after school and then I'd just stare at her paintings. I was also surrounded by a lot of nature growing up and plant roots/veins and clusters found anywhere in nature were also some of my favorite things.

As an adult, I was inspired by artists like Lee Bontecou, Art Nouveau artists like Alphonse Mucha, and especially jewelry designer René Lalique. Over the past two years, I've also fallen deeply in love with 15th century gothic armor and 16th century tournament/parade European armor design. I'd say this likely stems from my childhood fascination with fantasy knights in shining armor. (I'd be the knight!)

Nowadays, I don't imagine myself to be a knight so much as someone who can inspire other people to be their own knights in shining armor. I remember those lonely days of feeling invisible and powerless and I don't want other people to feel that way. I want people to believe they can aspire for greater things and I try to put some of these feelings and messages in my artwork (and blog) and in my dreamer theme.

3Ders: As a woman in the maker/tech arena, have you faced many challenges? Do you feel that since you got into the field that things have progressed?

Melissa Ng: I'm paraphrasing but I remember a comment that went something like, “I know this is sexist but I'm surprised you can do this. Especially armor design.” The other most common reaction I get is surprise that I actually create my designs myself (from beginning to end). And since I also don't often show my face, there have been some who even assume I'm a man (mostly because of the armor work). Nowadays, I try to avoid reading comments on social media (unless they're DMing or emailing them right at me, which are hard to miss).

There are a lot more women who are becoming visible and being recognized in tech (which is great) but there's still a long way to go. Too often, there is surprise and shock over a woman's ability in tech instead of accepting the reality that there are indeed women who are perfectly knowledgeable and more than capable.

In terms of my armor design, I also feel like I constantly need to prove myself in my knowledge in historical medieval armor design. No matter what I do, there will always be a rush of people who discredit my creations because I “didn't beat it out of metal” like a real manly man.

3Ders: Your designs capture a strong and feminine aesthetic and clearly have a lot of care and research behind them. Your 3D printed armor projects are especially meticulous. Can you talk about your design approach and how research figures into each project?

Melissa Ng: I believe it's important to know how things have been made before so you can decide how to change them or present your own approach to them, which is probably why research is  one of the longest and most important parts of my design process.

For example, for the Sovereign Armor, I spent months researching armor and even reached out to an armor consultant. Even after I started learning with my armor consultant, Ian LaSpina (he provided me with more accurate research on functional armor design because Google is definitely not always reliable), I still spent lots of time learning as much as I could about armor design and functionality. Even now, I know I've still only just scratched the surface.

After all the research was done, finally starting the design felt like a major reward. Not because the research wasn't enjoyable, but because I had a more informed idea of how to design the armor. And because I had a decent idea of different century armor, their components, and function (hypothetically), figuring out how I wanted to design my fantasy armor felt easier. Finally throwing in the intricate details and other patterned aesthetics was a piece of cake because it was something I had already practiced a lot over the years.

As my armor consultant once said, the reason why people find my Sovereign Armor so convincing is because it is based on actual armor design and research. After all, a huge part of what makes a successfully immersive fantasy creation is its ability to be believable. And in order for it to be believable, we must draw from real world elements that already exist to give people a point of reference for their imagination to build off of.

Whatever the project may be, I always carve out a (huge) chunk of time to study up on as much as I can get my hands on. I also do NOT rely on Google alone (and wouldn't advise it) and purchase any necessary texts and other research materials if they haven't already been provided.

3Ders: What has it been like to have your artistry recognized and highlighted by public figures such as Felicia Day, Adam Savage, and more recently, Marvel?

Melissa Ng: It's still a bit hard for me to believe especially since I suffer from a severe case of impostor syndrome. Oftentimes, I have a hard time convincing myself that what I create is nice, which is why I obsess over every little detail and try to one-up myself with every project.

And this may sound a little sad but people actually have been more likely to believe that I've created my designs when bigger names acknowledged my creations. It's kind of a strange experience.

What's been the most fascinating is how I've been getting more emails from people asking me to give them guidance on how they can do what I do… and then I wonder what it is they think I do! What's interesting is how more people are assuming that I must have come from an art or engineering background or that I've been doing design or 3D modeling all my life.

3Ders: I saw that you recently upgraded your workshop. Can you tell us what type of equipment it’s stocked with?

Melissa Ng: I design everything on Blender and I love 3D printing on my Form 2 3D printer. I also have a LulzBot Taz 6 and a NewForm vacuum former.

3Ders: Do you have any advice for fellow dreamers in the maker community?

Melissa Ng: There will always be know-it-alls who like to tell you what you can't do and what you don't know. Fortunately, there is more than one track to getting somewhere or creating something, which is both scary and exciting. But no matter what track you start on (or track you switch over to), you are always acquiring new knowledge for your arsenal. And the difference between you and the know-it-alls is that you will always be expanding your horizons.

Take a look at some of Melissa Ng’s most beautiful 3D printed projects over the years:

At the beginning of her artistic career in 3D printing, the Lumecluster designer caught our attention with a series of 3D printed masks inspired by dreams and nightmares. The masks, entitled “Dreamer Mask: Illumination” and “Nightmare Mask: Fear” were some of her first 3D designs and showcased a tremendous amount of talent.

At the time, Ng was balancing her 3D design work with running PianoVerse, a music school for adults in New York that she co-founded with her sisters and mother in 2010. The 3D printed masks, she said, were inspired by her time as an entrepreneur and the challenges that came with it.

A year later, Ng took her 3D printed mask design to a whole new level with a collection of metallic 3D printed Dreamer masks. These, printed out of nylon using SLS technology, were carefully post-processed to capture realistic metallic finishes including tarnished steel, patina on brass, antique brass, and copper.

The 3D printed mask trend in Ng’s work is itself informed by the use of masks across different cultures and history as not just tools for concealment but also as protection against evil and as “an expression of the human spirit.”

2016 saw a range of new designs from Ng, including a line of stunning 3D printed jewelry, 3D printed health potion and mana pendants to raise money for people close to her going through cancer treatments, and her now famous 3D printed Dream Regalia and Sovereign Armor.

The Dream Regalia Armor was custom designed by Ng for actress and gamer Felicia Day. Day, who starred in Supernatural and her own web-series The Guild, was contacted by Ng about how her work had inspired her to come out of her shell and was presented with the unique opportunity of having Ng design something for her. The result was an arresting and intricately designed 3D printed suit of armor.

As a follow-up to the Dream Regalia Armor, Ng then set about designing and 3D printing an even more realistic piece of armor for women called the Sovereign Armor.

In recent months, Ng’s efforts have also gone towards designing and 3D printing cosplay pieces inspired by the Marvel Universe. These designs—featured in Marvel’s “Becoming” cosplay web-series, include an Ironheart costume customized for cosplayer Lexi Momo and an incredible 3D printed headdress inspired by Thor: Ragnarok villain Hela.

We can’t wait to see what the dreamer designer has in store next!

 

 

Posted in Interviews

 

 

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