Today's #CyantistWeLove: Alexis Walsh, Artist & Fashion Designer, And Creator Of The Apex Series

Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Fashion Weeks and Fashion Shows all around the world increasingly provide an opportunity to discover new designs and fabrication innovations involving 3D printing and digital design. This year, Alexis Walsh, an NYC based designer and artist, caught our attention. Her Apex Series, which we featured as one of our #TechTuesday picks, combines new technologies such as 3D printing with more traditional techniques, and 3D printed pieces (also called custom hardware) applied on fabric through a special design software she and her partner built. Due to the important and innovative aspects of her work, we decided to go a step further and feature Alexis as a #CyantistWeLove! Alexis kindly shared about the process behind her collection, her thoughts on sustainable fashion and fashion design, her advice for young Cyantists and more. A great inspiration for anyone interested in the intersection of 3D printing, design, sustainability and traditional craft!

Apex Coat - Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Apex Coat - Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (


Cyant: Can you please tell us about the Apex Series and what led you to this collection? What was the creative and design process behind it? 

Alexis: Apex Series initially began as a single piece - the Apex Coat. This was an idea that had been brainstormed with my design partner Justin Hattendorf. We were really excited about the idea of creating customized hardware [e.g. 3D printed decorative pieces that adorn a garment] that could have an engineered placement on a body. New expressions are possible through 3D printing that are either impossible or extremely difficult to attain in other mediums. With additive manufacturing, new ways of integrating different materials can be utilized, combining traditional handcraft and hardware elements with modern performative materials. After the creation of Apex Coat, the piece was so well received that we decided to expand the idea further into a continuing body of work. Apex Series is the first collection.

Apex Top = Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Apex Top = Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Cyant: Once designed, what was involved in making the collection come to life, in terms of materials, processes and technologies? And what problems were you able to solve?

Alexis: We created a custom software to develop our 3D models for this piece. The software took about 6 months of iterations before we were ready to start prototyping. From there, we tested a number of methods to apply the 3D printed hardware onto fabric. Rather than prototyping for a specific, isolated design problem, we decided to prototype a process for making an expansive collection of fashion products. This allows us to focus on each new garment in the collection with a sharp attention to detail, ensuring that our designs maintain a high quality of craftsmanship while giving us full creative freedom when we have an idea for a new hardware application. With 3D printing, small studios and independent designers are now empowered to work on new and disruptive design ideas with production on-demand. In the past, fashion hardware development required access to large scale manufacturing and would require extremely large minimum order quantities, which has often been unattainable for small businesses. Today we can use desktop 3D printers to prototype, and small fabrication companies to produce high quality hardware, allowing us to rethink old design standards and develop a new interpretation of fashion hardware. Using the custom software app that we built together, we mapped out the flattened pattern pieces and were able to engineer the exact placements of hardware to each specific pattern piece, before physically creating the garment. This efficient method allows us to rapidly test our designs until deciding on a final form, with absolutely no wastage of materials or labor. Though the designing of the software took six months, we were able to physically create all the pieces within Apex Series in about two months. Each piece was hand-sewn and the hardware was manually applied.

Bristle - Designed and fabricated at  Studio Bitonti  - Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Bristle - Designed and fabricated at Studio Bitonti - Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Cyant: Your work is at the intersection of fashion, technology and physics! How did your studies prepare you for your current work? Conversely, what else did you have to learn and what collaborations did you have to put in place?

Alexis: In 2015, I graduated from Parsons The New School for Design, with a focus in both fashion design and product design. My experiences with digital design, including computational design and 3D modeling, has been largely self taught. I was a student during the period where 3D printing was just becoming a mainstream concept. In order to learn more about 3D printing, I enrolled in industrial product design courses, and classes focused on fabrication materials and manufacturing processes. Through this, I was allowed access to the manufacturing buildings on the Parsons campus, which included an array of 3D printers, laser cutters, and metal fabrication machinery. I had an incredible four years of experimenting, and I definitely got lucky in having such encouraging professors who allowed me to explore. One particular instance was in a steel welding class, where I create a cage dress out of welded steel rods. I found a mannequin and would carry it up and down the stairs into the welding studio, welding directly onto the mannequin. Two crucial experiences to my current work were two 3D printing based internships. When I was a junior, I interned for the designer Bradley Rothenberg at his namesake company (now nTopology, a really cool software company!) This was at the height of 3D printing in fashion, and it was such a great learning experience. I was able to see how the studio collaborated with more traditional fashion design companies to work with technology. The next year, right after I graduated, I worked as the studio manager for Studio Bitonti, under the designer Francis Bitonti. Studio Bitonti worked with fabricating and designing projects focused on 3D modeling/3D printing, as well as teaching a workshop class about using 3D modeling for wearable designs. Without a doubt, the most important collaboration I have ever had is with my partner Justin Hattendorf. We work so well together, and our skill sets compliment each other. Justin has a background in architecture and industrial product design, and his knowledge of computational design is incredibly important to our process.

Apex Dress - Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Apex Dress - Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Cyant: What other innovations do you see possible, that combine traditional craft and new technologies such as 3D printing? And what other materials do you hope to work with in the future?

Alexis: I’m really excited about the potential of fully 3D printed fabrics. As a textile, I don't think the technology is completely realized yet, but there is so much possibility around fully 3D printed garments. I would also love to work with more sustainable materials, such as lab grown leather or mycelium.

Cyant: How do you think your work can advance more sustainable design in fashion? And to facilitate that, what are techniques that exist, or you think would be possible, that you hope to use?

Alexis: 3D printing is surprisingly sustainable! PLA filament is plant-based, and your print can be biodegradable. There are several companies focusing on the "recycling" of 3D printed filaments, too. Another printing method, SLS, is completely zero waste by utilizing nylon powder. Any excess powder is continuously reused for the next prints. With 3D printing, the amount of wastage can be drastically reduced as compared to more traditional methods of clothing/accessory/hardware manufacturing.

Lysis Collection - Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Lysis Collection - Photo courtesy of Alexis Walsh (

Cyant: What would be your advice for young (and older :)) cyantists interested in fashion, and looking to use 3D printing and related technologies?

Alexis: If you're interested in 3D printing, now is the time to explore it! There are so many resources available online right now, as well as intuitive guides to help first time 3D modelers learn the programs. Several colleges are also beginning to offer courses focused on 3D modeling for wearable items, like clothing, shoes, or hardware. It might seem intimidating at first, but it's so worth learning and it's also fun!

Cyant: Finally, what is your favorite thing to draw? :)

Alexis: I love drawing portraits! In my free time, I enjoy sketching with graphite or painting watercolor.

Thanks Alexis for sharing your insights and experience with us! If you want to learn more about Alexis, make sure to visit HERE!

Today's #CyantistWeLove: Nicole Wake, biomedical imaging PhD candidate at the New York University School of Medicine

Photo Source: Nicole Wake

Photo Source: Nicole Wake

Instead of planning surgeries by simply looking at the medical images on a 2D computer screen, surgeons can hold these life-sized physical 3D printed models in their hands and immediately understand the disease.

From the early anatomical drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci and Vesalius to today, artists,medical students, and professionals have worked to create and perfect accurate representations of the human body. Having access to a precise visualization of anatomical structures is critical to our understanding of body functions, pathologies, and possible cures.

Photo Source: Vesalius Fabrica,   Wikimedia Commons

Photo Source: Vesalius Fabrica,  Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, such visualizations are essential maps and tools in surgical planning. The early drawings were created from the dissection of cadavers and this very visual, direct and tactile approach to charting the body’s anatomy is still in use today. However, over the centuries, radiology and more recently digital imaging and 3D scanning have provided non-invasive lenses into the anatomical structure and function. These technologies have also allowed for each individual to obtain maps of his/her body. Today’s #CyantistWeLove, Nicole Wake, a biomedical imaging PhD candidate at the New York University School of Medicine has realized that we can push visualization of anatomical structures one step further and give them life back with 3D Printing. 3D Printed models can provide us with a very tactile and physically meaningful representation of organs of a specific individual, that is much closer to the actual, live organs than 2D and/or virtual imagery. We are excited to feature her and her work at the intersection of medicine, visualization and 3D Printing!

Cyant: You were studying biomedical imaging and had an epiphany: using 3D Printing to convey a more tactile and intuitive feel for organs. What was the spark that gave you the idea to apply your knowledge in medicine and imaging in conjunction with 3D Printing?

Nicole: In my biomedical imaging lab at the New York University School of Medicine, we have a Fortus 360mc printer that was bought to print housing for custom made radiofrequency MRI coils. I was curious to see if we could also use this printer to print anatomically accurate medical models and successfully printed aorta and pelvis models. One day, while carrying one of my aorta models around the hospital, I ran into one of our urologists. He asked me if that was an aorta I was carrying, I said yes, and then he
asked if I could also make kidney tumor models. This led me to test various printing technologies, and I was able to develop a method to create multi-color kidney tumor models.

Cyant: How were you able to create 3D models of organs that can be 3D Printed?

Nicole: In order to create 3D printed medical models from medical imaging data, the 3D medical images have to be segmented, that is, the contours of organs need to be traced very precisely. Then they need to be converted to a file format that the 3D printer understands. Various FDA approved software platforms are available for this and I have become proficient in using several of them.

Photo Source: Nicole Wake

Photo Source: Nicole Wake

Cyant:  Once the models are created, which technologies did/do you use, and did you need to create anything new for your purpose?

Nicole:  To print multi-color, multi-material 3D printed models, I initially used the Connex500 (Stratasys, Eden Prairie, MN) and most recently have been using the J750 (Stratasys, Eden Prairie, MN). This polyjet technology allows me to print a translucent kidney, along with the other key anatomical structures printed in various colors. The translucency of the 3D-printed models allows easy visualization of the location and size of the tumor as well as the relationship of the cancerous tumor to key anatomical structures such as the renal artery, renal vein, and renal collecting system.

Cyant: So this is opening some really interesting possibilities for medical applications! How is your idea helping physicians plan surgery and obtain new modes of visualization?

Nicole: 3D printed anatomical models help the surgeons to get a whole new perspective of the anatomy of interest. Instead of planning surgeries by simply looking at the medical images on a 2D computer screen, surgeons can hold these life-sized physical 3D printed models in their hands and immediately understand the disease. Patients, medical and/or biology (even high school!) students and professionals alike can better gauge actual dimensions (“My kidney is that big?”) and learn very intuitively from the 3D prints.

Cyant: How are you working with people with diverse skill sets (doctors, technicians) to put your idea to fruition? How receptive were they to your ideas? What have you learned from them in the process?

Nicole: I work closely with our urological surgeons to use 3D printed kidney and prostate tumor models for pre-surgical planning and intra-operative guidance. The urological surgeons believe that these models help them to understand the anatomy and plan procedures. Recently, we performed a retrospective study to determine whether patient-specific 3D printed renal tumor models change pre-operative planning decisions made by urological
surgeons in preparation for complex renal mass surgical procedures. Three
experienced urological surgeons reviewed each renal mass case individually and in a random order to plan an intervention first based on images alone, and again based on images and the 3D printed models. The urological surgeons completed questionnaires about their surgical approach and planning, comparing presumed preoperative approaches with and without the model. In addition, they recorded any differences between the plan and the actual intervention. The results revealed a change in the planned approach in all ten models!

Photo Source: Nicole Wake

Photo Source: Nicole Wake

Cyant: Given this initial success, what are your next steps and what are you hoping to achieve from here?

Nicole: I am continuing to study the use of 3D printed kidney and prostate tumors in pre-surgical planning. With a fascination for the interface between technology and healthcare, I hope to develop quantitative metrics of how the 3D printed models can make an impact in patient care. We really want to show how these models can be helpful for patients and help them understand and manage their disease.

Cyant: Finally, what words of advice do you have for parents, and young Cyantists, who are inspired by your work and might one day want to work at the intersection of 3D printing and medicine? Are there skills they need to acquire? How can they cultivate their creativity?

Nicole: 3D printing is an enabling technology in medicine and many other fields. Exposing young Cyantists to stories that demonstrate how 3D printing is being used in medicine could help them to develop an interest in the field. In addition, young Cyantists could cultivate their creativity by learning how to use 3D modeling software and the steps required for 3D printing.

Thanks to Nicole for describing her forward thinking work and providing photos illustrating it!

Today's #CyantistWeLove: Brian McLean, Director Of Rapid Prototyping At Laika, And The Laika Team

Creativity can manifest itself in many different ways and you can find the connection really unexpectedly.

"If you must blink, do it now... Pay careful attention to everything you see..." urges Kubo, the Hero of Laika's latest Stop Motion Animation feature film: Kubo And The Two Strings. And if you follow his advice, not only will you be transported into his enchanting journey and story, but you will also be left with wonderment at the creative and technical works that supported this beautiful animation.

Source: LAIKA Animation You Tube Channel on 2016-10-05.

Laika is a pioneer in using 3D printing in Stop Motion Animation, and their approach has enabled a brand new appreciation for this form of animation. We were so fortunate and grateful to have a conversation with the force driving this artistic and technical evolution, Brian McLean, Director Rapid Prototyping at Laika, who received a Scientific And Engineering Award (Academy Plaque) from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his work. Brian works everyday at the intersection of art and technology, but always letting the creative side drive the technical side, and making sure everything is rooted in the practical. We are excited to share a summary of the Q&A we had with him:

Cyant: As a "traditional artist", what brought you to 3D Printing and how did you introduce the connection between 3D Printing and animation?

Brian: From a young age, I was very drawn to arts and sculpting. When I got out of college I actually did not know how to write an email. I had worked on traditional model making and sculpting, and computers felt very intimidating, just like 3D Printing can be intimidating today. And I rebelled against it, I wanted nothing to do with the computer. I focused on traditional model making, and was introduced to people who'd made a name for themselves doing practical things. And that was at a time where most of the studios were moving to digital. My wife enrolled into an industrial design degree, and as I helped her learn some of the required digital tools, I became more comfortable with the technology. Fast forward two years, I was teaching a class on traditional model making and I was exposed to a 3D printer. Thanks to Yves Behar's leadership, The California College Of The Arts was investing into Polyjet technology, which could offer fine details and dimensional accuracy. I was put in charge of researching and buying the 3D printing equipment, teaching it and bringing it to the curriculum for the industrial design and architecture students. Because of the exposure to that very type of 3D printing technology, I called an old colleague, Martin Meunier, to take a look and give his thoughts. We started to ask: "Could it be possible to do stop motion animation?" with this technology, which could yield objects almost as smooth as you could expect from mold and cast. We submitted the idea to Laika and they accepted it. If we had known how hard it was going to be we may never have done it! But we were naive and eager, and very focused on the practical, physical objects we could hold in our hands, which were beautiful. And it quickly grew and grew from there.

Photo source:  Laika

Photo source: Laika

Cyant: Your department unites arts and technology and is a true “Cyantists” department! Could you please describe how you assembled your team, and how this diversity has been working well to produce a film like Kubo And The Two Strings?

Brian:  Throughout most of Coraline, what made it successful is that the people we brought in had practical, art backgrounds, they were not "computer people". Coraline was the first stop motion film shot in US in over a decade. But the fact that we were coming with a practical background helped showcase to the community that this could help the field, not hurt it. So we were hiring people with practical skills and teaching them technical skills. For follow on films, Paranorman, The Boxtrolls and Kubo And The Two Strings, which were getting more complex, we had to bring in people with more computer skills and teach them the practical side of things. It turns out it was difficult to do in this way around: they were computer geniuses but were missing the practical and physical experience on how objects fit together. So the balance has been hard to achieve. However, we have definitely found over the years a whole group of people who were mostly working in the physical domain to start with, but had transitioned to digital over time. And it's those people who have that passion for the practical who really make it work.

Photo source:  Laika

Photo source: Laika

Cyant: So for Kubo, what had to be created to make this movie so visually and artistically stunning, and elegantly showcase the beautiful storyline, while seamlessly blending several technical elements including Computer Generated effects?

Brian: Starting Paranorman, Laika started doing "hybrid film making", that is we were focused on the story to be told, and creating the world we needed to create to do that, without letting ourselves be limited by the media of stop motion animation. We always try to have everything we do rooted in the practical. So we try to figure out how to do things in the real world first and then determine if it needs to be transitioned to CG. For example, Oliver Jones and the team at the rigging department had to prototype crashing waves with a black plastic bag on an undulating grid and filming it frame by frame, or taking chunks of cut out paper also on undulating grid system, and animate it frame by frame. Then once we'd figured out what that needed to look like, we transitioned it to Steve Emerson at the visual effects department, so they could recreate the effect and rebuild the scene while keeping it rooted in our original world because that CG effect was going to have to live side-by-side with it. It is the attention and dedication to that process that has allowed us to make it invisible to the audience members. And throughout our process, it is amazing how often the creative side drives the technology use.

3D Printing is on the cusp of allowing everything the human race has ever designed to be redesigned.

Cyant: What has 3D Printing specifically enabled and what envelop did you push to make each movie and Kubo And The Two Strings in particular?

Brian: With Coraline, we were using Polyjet technology with hand painting. We moved to ZPrint technology for Paranorman, and were able to print faces in color. And with this shift, we had to develop a number of post processing techniques and make sure we were achieving the necessary consistency. One of the limitations of ZPrint technology is its dimensional accuracy and fine feature details. For Kubo, we had to produce really detailed characters, and the technology that had been the backbone of the two previous films was no longer going to be sufficient. So we were able to leverage the reputation that Laika had acquired, and work with the 3D Printing company Stratasys to obtain one of their early technologies, the Connex3. This technology allows 3 color 3D printing but does not make it possible to print gradients. We worked in partnership with them to co-develop our own software and texture mapped color assignment, and we worked very closely Jon Hiller, independent software developer, to take his AMF software and tweak it for our production needs. Still again, the creative and physical requirements of how the characters should look were driving the final decision making. Thankfully our technical strategy paid off and the 3D printed faces, Monkey in particular, were approved. So what had held Stop Motion Animation back and we were able to solve with our technology development over time, is keeping the audience fully engrossed in the movie and characters, and maintaining the emotional connection, through fine details and facial expressions. This was something that Computer Generated Animation had addressed because it could bring that additional resemblance to real life. But we were able to solve this with 3D printing because we could obtain a dynamic range of subtle and precise facial expressions. To put this in perspective, traditionally, there are several techniques for Stop Motion Animation: claymation which can be messy, and with which the work is more visible; mechanical animation, which uses silicon skin that is pushed around as need be, but is not the best technique for broad expressions and changes; replacement animation, which uses hand sculpted expressions, but is ultimately not good for subtlety because of the variations between each sculpt. So 3D printing has allowed us to obtain the same type of subtlety that can be expected with Computer Animation, and combine it with replacement animation to enable greater expressiveness.

Photo source:  Laika

Photo source: Laika

Cyant: What words of advice do you have for parents, and young Cyantists, who are inspired by your work and might one day want to work at the intersection of 3D printing and stop motion animation / storytelling? Are there skills they need to acquire? How can they cultivate their creativity?

Brian: I can speak as someone who from an early age on, was drawn to the arts. Creativity can manifest itself in many different ways and you can find the connection really unexpectedly. Being able to encourage kids to be creative and artistic and allowing them to explore fields that may not seem like opening a career, is hard to do, but I think it’s necessary. Looking back at my journey, if I had not had the support from my family I may have had to choose another career. Arts and creativity are so important in our culture and our communities, and it is important for parents to find ways through which kids can feel supported in those fields. And as kids grow as students, there may be zigzags, and exposure to different people and different techniques, but it is part of the journey and learning who you need to be. The more tools they will have under their tool belts, the more they will be able to solve problems. And twenty years ago, the drive to find that art-meets-tech connection was not obvious: you were either art or tech. But there was never this idea that they could come together. Thanks to recent technology changes, such as smart phones, app development, building things really quickly in software or with 3D printing, the art-meets-tech connection has been brought back to the forefront. And we benefit from that everyday, that is a perfect blend of artists, technicians and computer geniuses that come together to solve a common problem.

Again we are grateful to Brian McLean for this Q&A, and Laika Publicist, Maggie Begley, for permission to use the images shown in this post. We leave you with a featurette that recounts the crafting of Kubo's magical journey, under the vision of Travis Knight, Laika's CEO.

Source: Laika YouTube channel. Hear from some of the filmmakers and voice talent as they discuss what went into designing and creating the world of Kubo.