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iMaker Academy: 3D Printing Classes for the Next Generation

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We recently sat down with Mark Loertscher, founder of iMaker Academy: a Salt Lake City, Utah based workshop and 3D printing bureau. 

Mr. Loertscher began his career in graphic design “but yearned to create 3D models and animation.”  He studied Computer Animation at BYU while “3D printing was making its debut at the Industrial design department.”  At the time, however, Mr. Loertscher says that he didn’t think much of additive manufacturing, except to dream of the day when “the 3D models [he] was building at the time” could become an actual, physical reality.

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Mr. Loertscher goes on to explain that after graduation, “I got into compositing and effects for the movie industry [and then] started hearing of affordable 3D printers from the various tech news sites and my interest was piqued again.  What was especially inspiring was the story of the man who bypassed the insurance and medical industries and printed out his own prosthetic for his son at very little cost.” 

“I knew at that moment that 3D printing was now poised to make a huge difference in the world, and that it could be used to bypass man-made roadblocks.” 

Mr. Loertscher began using a MakerBot Replicator 2 to make his 3D models a physical reality.  Soon after, the idea for iMaker Academy was born.  As he explained, “iMaker Academy is a school and 3D printing bureau that caters to the exploding interest in Minecraft and helps kids build and print their own creations.” 

“I came up with the idea when my kids became addicted to Minecraft, and my eldest son started building machines and fantastic structures without any guidance, [save a few examples from YouTube] and his own imagination to fuel him.  After he built his own version of the Statue of Liberty, I knew that Minecraft was something now much more than the sum of its parts: easy 3D [modeling] for kids and adults alike, with endless possibilities.”

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“The relatively low costs of 3D printing made it a perfect companion, and I started looking for ways to make 3D prints from Minecraft models.  I happened upon a story of two MIT students who had written a script to extract a Minecraft model and made it into an STL file.”

“I knew I had to make a school that let kids play and learn at the same time.  The school would never give a grade.  Instead, you get a 3D print or a product as your grade.  With my discovery of printcraft.org, I knew I had a way to make the business a reality.  Printcraft made it easy to pick a plot, build, and then transport the 3D model to me and my printer.“  (His MakerBot Replicator 2)

“If kids have played with Lego than they already know how to build models with amazing degrees of detail and very little planning time.”  Mr. Loertscher added.

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iMaker Academy’s Facebook page offers, “classes on building Minecraft structures, from simple to complex, and within a week you will have a 3D print of your creation.  All for only $20.  You can also send us your creation [a digital 3D model] and have it printed for only $10!”

Mr. Loertscher believes Minecraft is the best medium for introducing kids to 3D printing.  “The beauty of Minecraft is that kids can create unimpeded from the technical aspects of 3D modeling.  It caters to creation and thus inspiration can flow and incredible things can emerge.  When kids begin to build things they can branch into any subject they wish, from building and architecture to circuits and machine building (through the redstone aspect of Minecraft)….Not only can they do this on their own, but Minecraft encourages collaboration through its multi-player aspect.” 

“Every time I’ve mentioned the ability to 3D print in-world creations to a Minecraft player their eyes light up and it becomes a wow moment.”

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Mr. Loertscher went into further detail about the kinds of objects iMaker Academy can help kids 3D print: “if you can build it in Minecraft, we can print it.  Obviously a floating object can not be printed out of thin air, but even then the printer will build supports to hold up suspended objects.  Kids have already built castles, spaceships, and animals.  The possibilities are endless given enough time and imagination.”

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As you can see from the pictures above, the most interesting 3D prints to come out of the iMaker Academy so far have been a paladin action figure Mr. Loertscher designed himself, a Serenity (from the TV series Firefly) model, and these strange hybrid creatures:

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As Mr. Loertscher explained, “I had a friend that drew fantastic creatures, basically combinations of different animals to create a new whimsical creature.  A penguin combined with an octopus (penguipus) and a dragon mixed with a rabbit. (Drabbit)”

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As for the future of the iMaker Academy, Mr. Loertscher says, “we are going to be offering a full 3D printing bureau and as the business grows we can offer better and better quality prints for everything from toys to industrial design objects to videogame replicas and objects.  I recently modeled a replica of the original Halo Pistol and painted it to look like the in-game gun.  [shown below]”

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When we asked Mr. Loertscher about the future of 3D printing in general, he said, “eventually 3D printers will become as common as laser/inkjet printers are today.  Not everyone will become a 3D modeler, however, there still need to be inroads in 3D scanners and modeling to make them much more accessible to the general public.”

Evidently, that is one of Mr. Loertscher’s goals for iMaker Academy.  To help 3D printing become more accessible for everyone to use effectively, particularly the next generation.

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Photos and Quotes Courtesy of Mark Loertscher and the iMaker Academy  

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