Faculty member Carla Diana has just had a wonderful and unique book published by Maker Media, entitled "Leo the Maker Prince." The book marks a watershed moment in both publishing and digital fabrication, since the title is the first book about 3D printing targeted at kids. (The book is available at Amazon here, and it's 3D models can be found on Thingaverse here.) We sat down with Carla to ask her a few questions about the book, how the project got started, and a little bit about what be next for Leo!
Products of Design: Tell us about the genesis of the project. You’ve had a life-long love of The Little Prince, and you’re a bit of a hacker. What made you combine these, and what were the challenges in manifest it as a story?
Carla Diana: As a technology-focused designer, a big part of my work involves being hands-on with new tools and processes. When I got a 3D printer of my own, I really revelled in the thrill of be able to rapidly go from sketch to physical part, and savored the satisfaction of having something that I dreamt up in my imagination manifest as a tangible thing with such a high level of resolution. I knew this experience was a story I wanted to share with a wide audience, particularly with kids who will grow up with 3D printers in their lives in one way or another.
I started to imagine the 3D printer as a friendly character who worked with me to nurture my creativity. When I sat down to write the story and began thinking of the relationship I have with this magical 3D printing creature, I began to see parallels between that relationship and the one between Saint-Exupéry as the narrator and the Little Prince. That’s when it really clicked. The Little Prince is a book that impressed me at an early age, and one that I’ve returned to it at different stages of my life as a reminder of the importance of creativity and imagination. I love how the Little Prince character coaxes the author to express himself through drawing despite having had that desire beaten out of him at an early age; and I love how the Little Prince takes his drawings and brings them to life through storytelling, just as my printer brings my drawings to life in plastic.
PoD: So perhaps a kind of a retelling...from 2D to 3D?
CD: Yes! I also remember being very impressed by the fact that Saint-Exupéry himself had drawn the illustrations in The Little Prince as a means of telling his story alongside the written words. When I thought about my 3D printing story, I knew that, like Saint-Exupéry, I wanted to tell it in words and in pictures. And when I really thought about it, I knew that I would also have to tell this story in objects. My sheep drawing would have to become a 3-dimensional figure that could be held in my hands. And the power and magic of 3D printing rests in the fact that by sharing a file, that sheep could eventually be held in the hands of the reader as well. (In fact, as of this writing, there have been over 300 downloads of the sheep.)
From that moment on I knew that objects would be central to the narrative–not just stories about the objects but the objects themselves as core narrative elements. The biggest challenge was to craft these objects and develop the story in tandem, revising and refining them together.
PoD: It’s interesting, where fiction authors typically spend time helping the reader “conjure up” images, and perhaps picture book authors spend time helping the reader make a deep connection with the images, your task was to have the characters transcend the pages of the book; they needed to have a life “outside the book.”
CD: That’s very true, and was a really juicy challenge. Each object had to make sense with the story, be visually interesting, communicate clearly to an audience of young readers, and crafted in a way so that it could be robust and easily replicated with 3D printing technology. What followed was an intense period of many months of brainstorming, sketching, prototyping and writing while working along side my design assistant, Alexa, my story editor, Cindy, and my book designer, Nicholas.
PoD: Well, it also seems reasonable that these characters would want to find a life outside the book. Have you given consideration to expanding these stories through other media? Animation, video games...plush! come to mind. (Well, probably plush probably conflicts with the central premise!)
CD: I have thought about this a lot. I’d actually love to see LEO come to life as an animation, and as a character in an app that helps kids build simple 3D models of their own. 3D printing for consumers is in its infancy, and the learning curve required for todays tools is way too steep for the casual user to step in with confidence. A “LEO builds” app could be specially crafted to ease people in.
And yes, I’ve thought about vinyl and plush, but that totally seems to defeat the purpose of giving people a download and encouraging them to make a sheep or other LEO-based toy of their own. The path from creator to consumer is just so elegant the way it is right now.