Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do. David Bachman: I am both a professor of mathematics and a design professional. As a math professor I publish research on abstract, 3-dimensional geometric shapes. I teach a variety of traditional math classes, and occasionally co-teach with our art faculty. As a design professional I do a number of different things. I regularly show my own artwork in various galleries across the country. Through my company, David Bachman Design, Inc., I do a lot of freelance CAD work, helping people turn sketches into 3D-printable or CNC-machinable digital designs. Recently I have become a certified Rhino specialist, and have started offering Rhino corporate training classes.
Novedge: Where does your dual life as a design professional and professor of mathematics cross over?
David Bachman: My interest in 3D printing started many years ago when making classroom models to demonstrate calculus ideas. I then began creating more abstract models to demonstrate my research, and slowly became interested in presenting those designs to a larger audience, purely for their aesthetic value. This started me on a path of learning, both about good design principles, and about a variety of software and hardware tools. Now I spend more of my time doing design work than mathematics research, but I often call upon my knowledge of mathematics to tackle design challenges. Occasionally I come full circle, when those challenges lead me back to thinking more deeply about the mathematics.
Novedge: You just published a book on parametric design with Grasshopper. Tell us what's in the book and what we can take away from it.
David Bachman: Grasshopper is a free plug-in for the CAD program Rhinoceros3D. It enables designers to construct complex objects in Rhino by putting together sequences of simple, customizable commands. However, rather than specifying these commands by writing code, the Grasshopper user just drags and drops boxes and wires. It’s a natural way to interact with the design software, where the underlying logic of constructed objects are immediately apparent at a glance. The book is organized in three parts. The first part is a basic introduction to some of the most common Grasshopper components, each presented with a little tutorial to demonstrate its functionality. In the second part I go through a few in-depth case studies to demonstrate the power of Grasshopper. Finally, the last part of the book is meant to be a reference guide. There I’ve reprinted and reformatted all of the help file information about every Grasshopper component, so the user can quickly find what they need without hunting through endless menus in Grasshopper. Novedge: Who should get this book right away? Who is your target audience?
David Bachman: The book is mainly intended for use by Grasshopper novices. If you’ve never touched Grasshopper before, this is definitely the book for you. However, even the most experienced Grasshopper user may be interested in some of the in-depth applications in the second part. There are a few techniques there, of my own devising, that others may find interesting. I’m hoping to eventually publish a sequel which will be exclusively targeted toward more advanced design professionals.
Novedge: Can you list some of your favorite design software tools?
David Bachman: I mainly use Rhinoceros3D and Grasshopper. For rendering I’ve been using V-Ray. I also like Autodesk’s sub-division modeling plug-in tool T-splines, and since they’ve discontinued their Rhino support, I’ve started learning Fusion360. For working with meshes I love Autodesk Meshmixer.
Novedge: When did you become interested in 3D printing?
David Bachman: I started experimenting with 3D printing about 8 years ago. Since I was mainly interested in making demonstration models for math classes, everything I did then was made by typing equations into Mathematica. The first CAD software I used was Cheetah3D for the Mac, but soon after that I moved up to Rhino .
Novedge: Do you 3D print the objects yourself or do you use a 3D printing service?
David Bachman: I have a Flashforge Creator FFF machine that’s about 5 years old that I use for inexpensive prototyping, and for student assignments. It’s a really stable machine that’s run reliably with almost no maintenance since it was purchased. For finished products I rely heavily on Shapeways . They have a tremendous range of materials available, and I haven’t found anyone with comparable quality at their prices. I do a lot of jewelry-scale work with their precious metal options, and larger sculptural pieces with their “full color sandstone.” Novedge: I see you have cooperated with Henry Segerman, mathematician and Novedge Blog acquaintance. What did you two work on?
David Bachman: Henry and I visit each other often to share ideas about mathematics and 3D printing. We have a few prototypes of pieces we’ve created together, but the only thing we’ve finished so far is a piece with Robert Fathauer to illustrate a wonderfully brain-like developing fractal curve on a sphere. Novedge: You are a teacher, are there any lessons you have learned from your students?
David Bachman: As a teacher I try to help students learn some mathematical tools that they can use in their design work, and learn how to use some software so they can actually make use of those tools. However, once they know all that the ability to create unique and interesting designs comes entirely from them. At that point, I always learn as much from them as they do from me.
Novedge: What is the best advice you would like to give to future designers?
David Bachman: Each kind of design software is suited for particular kinds of tasks. For example, some may be better for character modeling, while others are better for architectural applications. Those just starting out should learn a little about as many tools as they can. Learn just enough about each so that they’ll know which ones are best suited to the kind of work they want to do. After that, focus on becoming really proficient with those.