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Upon a Pond - Investment Casting a 3D Printed Sculpture

In the early months of 2016, John Troy O’Sullivan contacted me to discuss the potential of a rather large public art project that was to be produced in bronze from investment casting techniques. This was not the first time we had spoken, as it was him who initiated my first ever prints that were destined to be burnt, melted and sacrificed for his own personal stainless steel investment casting project.

Not having seen any drawings or renders, it was very hard to visualise what was being described as a collection of spheres, collars and pipes or even gauge the size of what was to become. 

One thing was for sure however, I was keen!

Once we were given the green light John started to fire some CAD files my way, nothing to major at first, some splitting of objects to fit my printers build volume but this was not unfamiliar territory. Further on in his email trail the files slowly grew larger and larger. What have I got myself into… I soon started to realise the time and effort this project was going to take, but little did I know, the end result was going to be truly and quite literally monumental.

We kicked the project into gear by starting with some spheres.

I decided to split all of the files into smaller sections, even the ones that were small enough to print whole, as anyone familiar with 3D printing knows, printing a round object off the flat build plate can be extremely difficult. The lower half of a sphere has huge overhang angles and evening using support material with optimum printer settings, it's very difficult to achieve a nice round underside. Printing the spheres in sections means I can orient each piece in its optimum direction to achieve the best finish quality straight off the printer, and then simply glue them back together post print.

Some of the larger spheres were a little challenging, the biggest consisting of 8 separate sections. This made gluing the pieces together a very delicate and fiddly task requiring a fair bit of gap filling and sanding. I knew there must be a better way to achieve a nice smooth finish on these spheres… if only I had some way of mounting them in my drill press… 

After trying to find a local supplier for a reversible chuck that could hold the spheres and fit my drill, I suddenly realised, what if I just printed one? A quick search later and I had found just what I was looking for, 24 hours later and I had spheres mounted in the drill press, sandpaper in hands, meticulously sanding the surface like a potter shaping clay.

We had initially planned to investment cast all of the corner “bendy straw” collars. This meant printing each collar in sections, gluing them together and attaching the gate system to each half that was required for the casting process. One tired evening, without thinking I glued the first collar sections together on the uneven surface of my workbench instead of on the flat granite bench top. This ultimately led to a frantic struggle, attempting to reshape the not so bendy “bendy straws” with a heat gun and wire ties, an unsuccessful combination. 

After the initial panic I assessed the situation and realised that all of us had overlooked one simple aspect, the collars were in fact a suitable shape for sand casting. This ultimately quashed the requirement to attach the fiddly gate system that joined each half together. A huge relief as after the nightmare with the first collars, I really wasn’t looking forward to printing 11 sets of these.

This awesome project took nearly six months of printing and around 25kg of plastic filament to complete. Plus the 14 months of design, time to investment cast all the parts, clean them up, assemble them, paint them and site instillation. This entire process was taking place in the background while the Albany Stadium Pools were being built. Do stop by and take a look, your kids will love running through the neat erupting mist.

Artwork by Seung Yul Oh

The Artist: Seung Yul Oh, Born in Korea 1981, moved to New Zealand and became a New Zealand citizen where he studied and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from Elam in 2005. During his time as a Masters student he was an active exhibitor, achieving early attention with an exhibition in which he deep fried all his paintings, gaining him a high profile as a young artist.

Currently Seung Yul Oh works fulltime as an artist, dividing his time between Auckland and Seoul. Occasionally called on by Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts to work with students in ‘contact tutorials’. 
Considered one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary artists, Yul Oh has exhibited works at Te Papa, Auckland University, the Newmarket Sculpture Trust and the Melbourne Art Fair.


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