By Claire Witherel, Education Commons 3D Printing Intern

It all started last fall when Eric Baratta, Lecturer in Theatre Arts, reached out to Chava Spivak-Birndorf, Education Commons Librarian, to discuss incorporating 3D printing into his Spring 2018 course, THAR 130: Introduction to Theatre Design.

To say that Chava and I, the newly minted 3D Printing Intern, were stoked, would be an understatement. Three things in particular that made working with Eric particularly exciting:

  • One, active-learning by engaging students with technology has been an integral part of the Penn Libraries’ Commons for the last decade.
  • Two, this wasn’t the first time Commons Staff has worked with Eric; Suneet Sharma, a WIC Intern Alumni, helped teach a short introduction to SketchUp, a 3D modeling software, back in 2014.
  • Three, the Education Commons has had a 3D printing service for the past few years, but this was the first time a course instructor expressed interest in collaborating with us on a class project.

Through a combination of one in-person meeting and a few email exchanges, Eric and I determined that 3D printing would be best attempted towards the end of the semester with the final project, paired with a workshop and 3D modeling and printing office hours. For the assignment, students were instructed to revisit the first scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and conduct a scenic study via SketchUp to utilize elements of design (line, dimension, movement, light, color, and texture) and principles of composition (unity, harmony, contrast, variation, balance, proportion, emphasis, and rhythm/movement). To facilitate ease in 3D printing this assignment and review, Eric and his student designed a stage template in SketchUp, where all students would build their designs, and we 3D printed one copy of the stage for each of the students’ printed sets to fit into.

The first workshop occurred during a class session early in the semester, where we discussed the 3D printing service at the Education Commons and best practices of 3D modeling for 3D printing.

Professor and students working in the Education Commons Seminar Room

After going over that information, Eric provided an example final assignment submission, which I used to walk through how to work with a SketchUp model to accomplish the requirements in element design and principles of composition, but tailor the model to facilitate a high-quality 3D print. The last part of this workshop included time to work with students’ preliminary designs on a high level to encourage them to design their projects to print successfully.

Immediately following the workshop, the stage that the students would use finished printing on the gMax printer, which was great to show students how the 3D printer operated and what the finished product looked like.

Over the course of the semester, as students finalized their designs, I held office hours and individual consultations in person and via e-mail to ensure students’ models were properly designed to become an optimal 3D print as a whole or as individual pieces.

The results of the final project in SketchUp and in 3D-printed form were truly excellent. Students were receptive and able to make changes that I suggested to their models to make them more ‘printable’ and these translated to the physical medium extremely well.

At the end of the semester, the class met to review and discuss their assembled sets.  Reflecting on the assignment, Eric told us, “Some of the projects were successful as SketchUp models and this carried through to the model. The simplicity of [one student’s] SketchUp design carried through in the physical model elegantly and we explored nuance by adding lighting from varying directions. [Another student’s] project struggled for clarity in design intent as a SketchUp model, but was a different project altogether as a 3D print. Not only did the designed forms become visually compelling, the concept behind the forms crystallized. I found this pretty remarkable.”

Eric continued, “Interestingly, the students who felt that their prints didn’t live up to the design ideas explored through SketchUp understood the issues behind the printed model failure, which were mostly issues of scale.  Useful group discussion ensued as students were reflective and critical in a constructive review of why things worked in one medium, but not another. I didn’t anticipate the usefulness of the 3D models in fostering this type of critical discussion.”

This project, course design, and integration of the Education Commons services showcases how engaging the addition of technology through two different mediums makes a unique educational experience for students. After the project wrapped up, Chava said, “This is exactly the kind of work we want to do with the EC’s 3D printing service. While we gladly offer 3D printing to everyone at Penn, we are particularly interested in finding ways to incorporate 3D printing into courses and to make it accessible to students who may not have much experience with the technology.”

Would you like to incorporate 3D printing in your classes? We would be more than happy to work your class and to discuss possible projects. Don’t hesitate to reach out at

One thought on “3D Printing Meets Theatre Set Design @ Education Commons

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s