3D modeling apps can’t make it to the web soon enough and Chris Chalmers of Bios Design Collective could very well be pointing the way. His new, custom lamp fab site Fabripod is the foundation of a Kickstarter project set out to combine 3D design and web based visualization in a ingenious way… and as far as I’m concerned, Chris is on the cusp of defining the future of interactive 3D apps and how we can create and make our ideas. It’s the Chrysalis project, a project combining Grasshopper and Processing to deliver online Making App. Sound strange? Not to worry, we spoke with Chris about the project and how it’s shaping the future of design.

Chrysalis: Grasshopper + Processing

SS: Can you give us an overview of the Chrysalis project on Kickstarter?
CC: Chrysalis, is a tool for translating designs made in Grasshopper (an associative algorithm editor used with Rhino 3D) into Processing (an open-source, web-based 2D/3D visualization programming language) sketches that can be used as web apps for digital making. Basically, if you’re a visual designer, Chrysalis will make it possible for you set up a web storefront that lets people customize a design and then export it to another service (like Ponoko or Shapeways) for making.

Designers can use Chrysalis in 3 easy steps:

Step1: Create your design in Grasshopper
Step2: Use Chrysalis to convert your Grasshopper file to Processing and post to the web for users to customize
Step3: Send the customized design to a web-based making system like Ponoko to be digitally fabricated and shipped to your customers as a kit!

SolidSmack: Where did you start your exploration into adaptive 3D software and Processing?
Chris Chalmers: It all started with flash and action script, which was probably an introduction to programming for a lot of designer types back in the early 2000s. When I finally got around to my MArch in 2007, there were all these scripting interfaces for 3D cad programs like Maya and Rhino. It was a natural transition. But I always missed the share-ability of flash. When processing came on the scene it was hard to resist; Its so accessible. when I first saw it, I couldn’t really NOT download and play with it.

SS: What caused you to realize how the two could be used together?
CC: The inspiration really came from nervous system when I was looking at their code as a model for an interactive public art piece we were doing at BIOS. They do some pretty amazing things with processing that are difficult to come close to without really becoming an expert coder. But I noticed that a lot of the same modeling operations exist in grasshopper: mesh subdivision, Catmull-Clark smoothing etc…

Now I want to be clear: I’m not saying that fancy modeling tools are all that it takes to create the truly excellent designs on the nervous system site. Jessica and Jesse are talented and creative in the extreme. It’s just that most designers think visually and its quite an abstraction to design objects by writing lines of code. So I saw the nervous system work and I thought: wow, what if designers who already have the talent to create really cool things could get them into processing without having to learn how to code?

SS: How will Chrysalis be used/delivered? Plugins? Programs? Web apps? Mobile apps?
CC: Implementation of Chrysalis will have three parts:

  1. A grasshopper component with a button on it that starts the translation process from within grasshopper.
  2. A set of processing libraries with methods for creating associative 3D geometry in Processing. There are already some libraries out there that can be used with minor modification. Some will be written from scratch.
  3. An app written in processing that reads the XML from the grasshopper file and maps the components listed there (and their connections to each other) onto the objects and methods in the corresponding processing libraries.

Putting this another way, Chrysalis will be an add-on that the user downloads and runs inside grasshopper. Pushing the “Chrysalis export” button from within an open grasshopper file will cause a processing sketch to be generated that has the same geometry and UI controls (sliders, buttons etc…). The user can then make additional modifications to the sketch and publish to the web using the processing editor.

SS: How has you’re background in architecture, involvment in sustainable design and interest in biomimicry played a part in your design and the Chrysalis project?
CC: Architecture is a broad discipline with many different interpretations and methods of practice, not all of them building related. I see a part of my life’s work as re-imagining the tools of design and how design happens among the always varied mix of stakeholders in every project.

Sustainability is a design goal that I happen to believe is part of every good design. Regardless of what particular goals you have in your designs, using specialized tools can make it easier to achieve those goals. This is where associative modeling techniques come in because they allow you to specialize your own design tools for a particular goal.

Biomimicry is not a goal but another example of a specialized tool: one which attempts to adapt observed natural processes to a design process. Associative modeling (also called parametrics) is also well suited to biomimicry for the same reasons. By specializing your own tools, you suddenly have access to a new paradigm of meta-design – that is – design of process rather than a product. This is not a new thing, it goes back to Frei Otto in the 70’s and at least as far as Gaudi in the late 1800’s. However now it is accessible to designers without an extensive background in engineering. Chrysalis is the next iteration of making this kind of design accessible.

SS: The focus is on designers and makers, but I see this being applicable to introducing engineers, students and creatives about adaptive 3D and Processing. What other applications do you see Chrysalis being used for?
CC: I have been asking Chrysalis backers to share their reasons for supporting the project, and posting the best responses on the Fabripod and BIOS websites: I am surprised at the variety of applications people have in mind. I will continue to post these as they are sent to me and encourage all of your readers to contact me with their own ideas for how web-accessible 3D interactive models and environments could be used in their work.

SS: Is there anything else you would like to add the project or 3D technology?
CC: Just that I’m a huge proponent of DIY technology and anything we can do to allow people to take design and making into their own hands, and especially to share designs and collaborate with each other, is a big step toward a future I’d like to live into.

A big thanks to Chris. To help fund the Chrysalis project, visit the Chrysalis project on Kickstarter.


Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.