3D Print: Atlas (Portal) Part2
Atlas's custom base is now finished. Look at the lights, lookit!
Cake, and grief counselling, will be available at the conclusion of the test.

Well, It's long over due, but it's finally complete.  The custom base for my Atlas model has been completed and they've now been fitted together.  With this, Atlas now has a proper USB cable to provide it with power and has a fancy base to show it off.  I've always said the custom base would be it's own mini project and to that effect, "part 2" of the Atlas build.  So here's it is!

YouTube Video

As normal (when I have a video available that is), I'll start with an embedded Youtube video.  This video is a little short as it's pretty much just a showcasing of the finished project rather than going into lot's of detail.

3D printing is said to be "cheap" and affordable, but unfortunately that's not something I would completely agree with.  It's at it's lowest and most affordable price to the public consumer, but it's still expensive enough to be something you can't afford to do every week (especially when you add up the material costs for post-printing work) and it's something that can quickly become expensive once you get over a certain sized print.  So I wanted to see if I could bring the costs down by 'scratch building' certain parts instead of 3D printing the entire thing.

So once I determined how big the base would need to be for Atlas to sit on it, I thought I may be able to make the large red button part myself with some raw materials.  After all, it looks fairly basic enough, right?

[Attempted plaster base, that eventually ended in a failure.  "To the bin with you sir!]

I cut off the end of a CD spool case I didn't need, shaved off the outer edging (as I wanted a 45 degree edge and this got in the way of that) and then glued in some cardboard cut-outs I made to act as guides for when I carve in the cross indentation in a moment.  I then filled in the entire piece with plaster, left it to dry for a little while, but not completely.  When it was semi-hard, I then cut the cross indentation details (this is where the cardboard within the plaster helped guide me).  All in all it seemed to be going ok, a little lumpy, but nothing a little sanding wouldn't cure after it had fully set.  Great! ... but things didn't go to plan.  I left it to dry for about a day and half and came back, it was still a little soft, had cracks everywhere and eventually crumbled.  An utter failure! It could have been that I should have done this in layers leaving it to dry in between them, or added some 'netting' to the plaster to help it's structural integrity or it could have been bad plaster (as I got it from a £1 shop).  All I know was it was a failure and I didn't want to delay things further by trying out different methods.  So I had to abandon this and go down the more expensive route; 3D print the entire thing (I don't really have the necessary tools to cut something accurately like this out of wood and CNC doesn't appear to be any cheaper than 3D printing, in fact it's more expensive judging by the quotes I got!).  See below for a picture of the plaster base I tried making, when I left it to set over night.

Making the 3D model

So now I was committed to printing the entire thing, it was time to make the actual model file I was going to have printed.  Up until this point I only had a rough model I quickly made in Modo during "part 1".  I was going to carry on in Modo, but recently I used Solidworks for the Claptrap project and learning from that experience, the design of the button would be quicker to do in Solidworks than Modo, as it was fairly simple in design.  So, I began modelling this in Solidworks and in a few hours I had a model file ready.  Some detail, as always, had to be sacrificed due limitations of the printers/printing material or due to post-printing reasons, but all in all I was pretty happy with the detail in the model :)

[Finished model in Solidworks, ready for upload to the website for printing]

Post process after printing

Smoothing out the parts

Once I uploaded the model file for printing and received the parts, I went through the usual smoothing stages.  As always, very repetitive, very time consuming and it tends to be pretty boring! This is always my least favourite part not only for these reasons, but my fingers ache quite a lot after doing this as it generally is 1-2 full days of sanding (as mentioned in other posts, I do it all by hand as I find it's easy to rub away detail you want to keep if you're not careful).

[Parts smoothed out]
[The base beginning to take shape, reminds me of the X-men symbol]

The parts were really nice and smooth after this and all the stepping that naturaly comes from SLS printing was virtually gone (the appearance contradicts this in the in-progress photos, but trust me, it was gone :P).

The original plan was to have the base be free-standing.  However I felt that the base flexed a bit too much and I was worried it was prone to damage.  So I decided to mount this on some MDF.  I've used MDF as a base in the past on the lightcycle project, so I've learned a thing or two since then.  I chiselled out some channels for the wiring to fit in like last time (a lot neater this time now I've had some experience in doing this)and then I tried something new.  I 'sealed' the wood.  This is because MDF absorbs paint a lot and when it absorbs moisture from the paint, it doesn't look great (It looks patchy, tacky and 'furry' on the edges) unless you use a very heavy body and gloss paint like I did last time.  This time I wanted to use a thinner paint so, this is why I 'sealed' it with a cheap mixture of glue and water.  It worked really well and the MDF was very smooth to the touch.

Painting and applying the finishes to the parts

Most of the prep work was ready, time to paint the pieces.  I mixed up my paint colours to match the game as best as I could, and then put them in bottles for easy access when airbrushing.

[Really digging that red button]

Painting the 'ring' section of the base was pretty hard as I needed to mask off areas between colours for some clean lines.  Anyone who has tried doing masking around curves probably knows this pain, but eventually I got my masking laid down.

[I hate masking around curves!]
[Not too bad if I do say myself. Probably should have blended the post-shading a little more here or there, but all in all, pretty nice]

[Decal Issues :( ]

It was pretty terrifying when I was about to airbrush after the masking, as I had no idea if the curve line I masked would look good until AFTER I took the tape off.  For instance, if I started to wander during the taping, one part of the curve would be thicker than another and it would look pretty bad.  I just had to judge the masking as best as I could and bite the bullet and start airbrushing.  I also wanted to put in some pre-shading and post-shading, making it harder :S

Next came the decals.  I figured, "Finally, something that won't be too hard and is pretty straight forward", wrong! I made my custom decals on photoshop and printed them out to decal paper.  This is where the problem started.  When I wetted the decal paper to slid the decals off, the ink started fading and peeling off the decal transfer.  I figured it's probably because I used an inkjet this time around so I tried again on a laser jet this time (like I've done for all the other projects), but this behaved in the same way.  Something had to be wrong with the decal pages.  I didn't want to just waste these decals and buy new pages as these are more pricey than normal paper and I don't like wasting things.  So I tried a new idea.  I clear coated the decals BEFORE using water to remove them. This worked great.  Not only did it preserve the ink, it actually made it look a little deeper, a little more 'misty' (which helps with diffusion in what I wanted to do) and also made it harder for the decal paper to crumple and fold on itself.

The decals went on like normal seemingly and I then clear coated again to protect them now they were on the pieces.  However one of the decals started getting some strange bubbles after the clear coat, so there wasn't much I could do about it (it wasn't terrible, but a little disappointing).  I may need to think about looking into decal softener solution in future projects to try and avoid these problems.

[Windows and decals now in place]

Making the circuit

Most of the other work was now done, time to make the circuit for the base.  A very basic LED circuit as always and definitely not my tidiest circuit.  I needed to house everything in the middle and rather than having a clean circuit by cutting a fresh block of stripboard with the correct number of rows and length, I decided I didn't want the small cut-outs I had from previous projects to go to waste. So I used 2 old pieces of smaller stripboard to make the circuit. I also added some additional support raisers to help provide more support in certain places and keep the wires out of certain areas.

[Looks a bit messy, but it works]

Putting it all together

Time for the final assembly.  The 2 final steps was to connect atlas to the base circuit, so that they both share the same USB cable and to also assemble Atlas, the button, the ring and the wooden base together.

Assembling the ring, the corners and the wooden base were easy and straight forward (block 1).  Atlas and the red button were not a problem either (block 2).  Getting these 2 blocks connected together however, wasn't so easy as the wires were too short so that I couldn't have them side by side when soldering the 2 circuits together.  So I grabbed 2 pint glasses, a ruler and suspended block 1 above block 2.  This gave me enough room to solder everything together and then I assembled these 2 pieces to make the final project.

[The pint glass assembly line.  I'm thinking of patenting this idea ...]

The finished product!

It's been a long time in the making, but we're finally here and it's complete.  I'm tempted to make a perspex box to fit over the top just so it doesn't get dusty :P


  1. Incredible work!! Congratulations on finishing this amazing project! We featured you on our Shapeways blog today: http://www.shapeways.com/blog/archives/1862-3D-Printed-Atlas-comes-to-life.html

    -Natalia, Community Manager at Shapeways

    1. That's fantastic, thanks a lot for letting me know. Keep up the good work at Shapeways!

  2. love the video (and the work) what did you use to make that video :P awesome.

    1. Thanks!
      The video was done in After Effects and I made most of the 'assets' for the video in photoshop.

      The video footage (about half way through the video) was captured on my DSLR and I borrowed a friends glidetrack for it (I wasn't very good with getting a smooth motion though :S).

  3. Great work! What music did you use for the video?!!

    1. Thanks. It's Victims of Science - The Device has been modified.

  4. you may want to fix a typo in your video, otherwise it looks great - was the original intent that the button itself glows as in the game?

    1. Thanks. I would love to fix that typo (especially seeing as I copied that After Effects layer 3 times and as a result, the typo pops up 3 times), but unfortunately there's no easy way of doing this as far as I know on youtube. The only way I know is to upload as a new video, which means I would lose the current stats, comments and anyone who has embedded the video gets a broken link. Of course, if anyone know how to replace videos on youtube without losing all of this, please let me know :)

      The intention was to have the button glow like it is in the game, I know the LED colour doesn't match 100%, but it was the closest I could get at the time. I think in future projects I may play around with resistors to adjust the colouring to my liking on the cheap (RGB LEDs are too pricey at the moment).

  5. Where did you get the design drawings?

    1. I didn't use any official drawings as such. It was all pretty much done by eye using the game or pictures found on google images.

  6. Featured this brilliant Atlas figure on an article on various 3D printed Portal items at Coin Arcade: http://coinarcade.org/2013/03/25/these-3d-printed-portal-items-will-blow-your-mind/

  7. I'd buy this from you if I could. Awesome eye candy to have, really love it =)

    1. Haha, thanks! Afraid this one is staying right here with me .... for now anyway :)

  8. Hi Psychobob,

    I love what you did with Atlas, it's really amazing!

    I'm looking into making a working Super button, with light color switch and a companion cube to go with it.
    Is there any chance you can share the button model for my project ?

    1. Thanks Matz13.

      Afraid I'm not actually going to be sharing the model with anyone or uploading it anywhere.

      At the end of the day, this design belongs to Valve and I've contacted them at the point of making any of these models. I have not had a response from them about how they feel about this, so until I do have a response, I don't plan to share the model files just in case they do not want me doing anything. If I share the file, this will mean that I can't stop it's distribution should Valve not want the file to be shared.

      Hope you understand.

    2. I understand, I wouldn't want you to have to stop your awesome models because of that.

  9. Amazing attention to detail. Inspirational