Surfacing is Your Friend
If you have found this page, I am sure you are aware that the majority of SOLIDWORKS users mostly use the program for its mechanical design aspect. It’s great at making geometric models, but did you know there is also an organic side to SOLIDWORKS with surfacing?
Many people rarely venture to the Surfaces tab on the CommandManager, or commonly use splines in their sketches. These tools are sometimes underrated, as they open up a lot of flexibility to your design. Surfacing can be used to make complex geometry that would be very difficult with standard extrusions, lofts, and sweeps. You can use it to add to, repair, and modify imported existing models. You can even use surfaces to create more organic forms that would typically be difficult to create with standard solid modeling. For instance, a model of a cat and a dog.
Where to start?
A while back I decided to attempt to model my dog Piper in SOLIDWORKS, with the end goal being able to 3D print it, paint it, and make it into an ornament.
Whether you’re taking on a simple project or a more complex one, it’s important to consider your design intent before you dive in. The first thing I considered was my sketch layout and necessary planes. I started by taking some profile pictures of my dog. A basic side view, top view, front and back to start. This helps with proportions and allows you to scale your model and get the basic overall form of the model. I held up a ruler to her head and measured the approximate size. By scaling that image first, I could use the scale tool and scale the rest of the sketch pictures appropriately.
Channel Your Inner Artist
From there, you want to think about how you would draw a dog. Yes, like on paper with a pencil! You break it down into basic shapes and then blend them together, something like this. This works for more than just animals too!
The overall idea is that you want to recreate these main shapes in SOLIDWORKS. It is a good idea to strategically use your default planes as well as custom ones, to sketch these basic forms into your model. The spline tool will most likely be your friend. You can use splines to create complex curves, which is a common occurrence in organic modeling. SOLIDWORKS supports B-Splines and Style Splines. They can be controlled and modified with various controls but can be unruly at times as well. If you want a few pointers on taming splines, check out this post from a co-worker of mine.
Think about a specific portion of your model, and think about what the 3D shape looks like from different angles. Let’s say the large area that makes up the main (chest) area of the animal. You can use a sketch plane that is perpendicular to the one that the main shape is built upon, to start building a wireframe sketch of the 3D form of the body.
Build Upon Your Wireframe
Once you have the basic wireframe of the form, you can use a combination of surfacing tools to start building up your surfaces. There are lofts, sweeps, and a variety of surfacing tools. The boundary tool feature is one of my favorites. It lets you create surfaces that can be tangent or curvature continuous in both directions (all sides of the surface).
Sometimes, however, a technique might not give you the result you were going for, and that’s okay! If this happens, deep breath, you might have to try another approach. I recommend exploring multiple tools, as they each have their own strengths. Knowing which one to use in which situations can be helpful. I often try several approaches to see which method is the most successful and creates the best geometry for that specific application. Usually, a combination of techniques is required, and it’s best to just experiment with what works well for your design.
The End Game
Once you have your surface bodies or a combination of surfaces and solid bodies, you can start using different techniques to merge or combine them together. Some tools like the Thicken and Fill Surface command have an option to “Try to Form a Solid.” You can also combine bodies with the appropriately named, Combine command. Your end goal is to have a single solid body.
Once you have a single solid body, you can start to add details such as main fillets and smooth out the areas where different bodies come in contact. The smoothing of harsh lines will add softness and help blend the main bodies.
From there, you can add some final details to your model. For instance, if it’s an animal, things like the mouth, nose, and other small features can really make your model look complete. Don’t forget the Mirror command as well, as it can save you a lot of time on symmetrical features, like eyes, ears, and even limbs.
In this example, the cat body I built was actually being used to create a planter for a succulent to make a “Flerken.” For those of you that have not heard of a Flerken before, it is a creature from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is a cat-like life form that has octopus-like tentacles coming from its mouth. If you’re interested, you can learn all about Captain Marvel’s cat on Marvel’s website here.
I built the main body as normal but built the head tilted back and the mouth wide open, like a dish. The idea is that you could place a succulent plant there, representing the tentacles emerging. The plan is to 3D print a small version out for my desk at work. Check back later to see the finished result!
Just Try It!
So in conclusion, building up multi-bodies and venturing into the Surfacing tab can be a great way to create some very organic forms in SOLIDWORKS. You will most likely come across some difficult areas, but with some practice and exploration of the variety of tools SOLIDWORKS has to offer, you can create something a little out of the ordinary, and have some fun with it too! If you want to learn more about Surfacing techniques, you can also check out the Surfacing class we offer at CADimensions here.
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