User Spotlight

form•Z free is proving exceptionally effective for beginning fabrication students

When we were considering the introduction of form•Z free as a reduced version of form•Z, our expectation was that it would popularize 3D modeling even among lower and middle school students. To our delight it is working great as a general introductory modeler and it is proving especially effective in the newly popular area of digital fabrication. Here is the story at one of the highly ranked design schools.

The Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) has been part of the form•Z Joint Study Program (AutoDesSys' academic lab and class licensing program) for more than 20 years. Professor Brad Jirka has been the Principal Investigator from the beginning and form•Z has been an integral part of their design curriculum ever since. He recently provided very insightful feedback on how the MCAD has integrated form•Z. Using two levels of form•Z applications, form•Z quickly and seamlessly produces exceptional results with the latest fabrication and 3D printing technology.


Since open dialogue and feedback are fundamental components of the form•Z Joint Study Program relationship, we want to publish Prof. Jirka’s recent thoughts and observations, because they describe so comprehensibly the complete integration and practical use of current form•Z applications, within a leading design school. "We have been using form•Z as our primary modeler in our sculpture and furniture programs for the past two decades. Over the course of that time we have added a digital lab to the 3D area that includes 3D printing, 3D scanning, laser cutting and CNC routing. Our model had been to offer both introductory workshops and Digital Fabrication courses to advanced students.


This fall we are introducing New Practices to our 3D Foundations program. The program has been built on hands on processes, like woodworking, metalworking, and soft materials, in concert with the conceptual concerns of the object and space. This fall, based in response to the new realities of "making", we are adding digital fabrication to the 3D Foundations program. This means that every first year student in Media Arts, Design, and Fine Arts at the college (about 180) will be introduced to digital fabrication and print their creations on one of our ten new 3D printers.

We have piloted this program a few times in the past but our sticking point has always been how to effectively deliver 3D modeling in the short timeframe of an first year class (along, of course, with output volume). We had used form•Z, looked at bonzai3d (predecessor of form•Z jr), and tried "throttling" form•Z by limiting tool access, but the depth was still a bit too overwhelming for the short experience. We also reviewed a number of software options (63 to be exact!!!) but did not find a simple entry application that presented a professionally based interface and decent options for our goals.


Enter Z free. What really changed our thinking was, actually, form•Z free. The beauty of Z free is the shared interface with the advanced pro version that makes the training not only transferable but retains enough of the professional level tools to allow effective creative exploration while sort of "self-throttling", so somewhat "containing" the wanderings of the student in their experience.


When reviewed by the faculty teaching 3D Foundations form•Z free was instantly seen as the tool we needed and led them to excitedly campaign to add this New Practice this fall. The ten new printers were added to meet our volume needs for the first year students. We are doing a 3D faculty workshop to bring everyone up to speed late this summer in preparation for their fall classes. We think adding Digital Fabrication and foundry casting to every 3D Foundations class starting this fall, in addition to working in wood, metal and mixed media, will yield a "makers" creative paradise. And an experience well beyond the traditional foundations course still taught at most art colleges.

At the same time we have opened the advanced Digital Fabrication class to all students in all majors. While the intro 3D Foundations courses will be using Z free, the advanced classes will continue to use (form)Z pro, with the younger students (we hope) transitioning more readily to pro after their introductory experience in 3D Foundations.


Of course, what has always made our program work, has been AutoDesSys' easy and generous support of the academic environment with the Joint Study Program and access for students, staff, and faculty to professional versions of form•Z over all of these years.
We are excited about these new curricular initiatives and the opportunity to bring 3D Digital Making to all of the students at MCAD. I am sure it will be interesting to see what an additional 200 students will bring to our explorations digital creation.

I will let you know how this all plays out…. I suspect it will be a bit mind-numbing to coordinate.

Your PI at MCAD,

We are very grateful for Professor Jirka's comments and we hope his thoughts inspire everyone else as much as they inspire us. We are proud to present the stunning results of some of his students' efforts

For additional information on the form•Z Joint Study Program please read HERE