123D Creature Is an Awesome Exercise in Facing Your Monsters
Man may not have been meant to meddle with the primal forces of nature, but sometimes it's hard to resist the temptation to create your own vaguely humanoid, multi-limbed life-form. For those times there's 123D Creature, an easy-to-use iPad app that not only gives your mind free reign for some fun virtual genetic tinkering, but also provides the chance (at additional cost) to turn your creation into a real-life figurine.
123D Creature is available in the iTunes App Store for US$7.99,
I finally tried it, and I wish I would have done so sooner -- and that's not because I'm awesome at creating creatures. I wish I would have tried it sooner because 123D Creature has revitalized my faith in humanity.
Unlike so many gimmicky apps that plague our existence, 123D Creature makes a basic promise and then overdelivers: Use the app to build, sculpt and paint creatures that you can manipulate and view from all angles. It gets better -- after you create a creature, you can upload it to an in-app 3D printing service called Sculpteo that will turn your virtual creature into a real figurine they'll ship to you.
When you stop to think about it, this entire premise wrapped up in an iPad app is simply amazing. OK, it's not flying-cars-of-the-future-amazing, but still; I have to encourage everyone to shell out $7.99 even if they don't like monsters and are afraid of their own imaginations.
Why? To support this sort of innovation.
How Does It Work?
To create a creature, you start with a four-legged blob that's vaguely humanoid in shape. This is the initial skeleton-builder mode. You add bones and joints by tapping and dragging. To view your creation from other angles, just swipe and twist until it spins on a virtual axis. It's surprisingly easy. Sure, you'll have some swipes that do nothing discernible, but if you keep at it, you'll eventually get the thing to spin and zoom to give you a new view, so you can make your creature's arms bend in a vaguely evil way.
After you shape the bones, add limbs and twist the body around, you can make it fatter or skinnier in all the right places. When you're satisfied with the basic shape -- think clay modeling or Play-Doh here -- you "bake" the skeleton. I'm not sure what happens in this process, but my iPad 2 had to think about things for a minute or so.
After it's baked, you get to use sculpting tools. One tool lets you drag across the surface of your creature and carve out a section, while another lets you sculpt to create ridges like horns, muscle, or tumors. You can also flatten an area (handy for feet) or grab and stretch (handy for evoking agony).
Paint, Lighting, and Background
After sculpting, you can virtually paint your creature. Using a paint brush or airbrush, you can select standard colors or paint with textures, like hair or feathers.
Because the image you're working with at this stage is sort of 3D, you can add lighting effects to give it shadows (surprisingly cool) as well as add background colors, tones or swirls. You can also use a photo from the camera roll on your iPad as background. I tried a quick snapshot of a MacBook Pro, but I recommend that you go outside and take some low-angle shots into which you can plop your creature.
After you create your scene, you can share the image via email and social media, or save it to your image library.
What about the figurine? That also is easy to create. After your creature is far enough along, a new option to order a 3D print appears. Tap it and you'll upload your creature to Sculpteo, which will generate three size options for you along with price quotes. A small creature that I invented costs $11.20 plus tax and shipping for a figure that's approximately 3 x 2 inches in size; the 4 x 3, or medium size, came in at $25.05, while an even larger version was around $75.
There are a couple of caveats with the figurines: They're breakable, and if you try to make really thin arms, tendrils or horns, those areas will be fragile. While you might create an awesome virtual paint job, Sculpteo doesn't provide a painted real-life figurine.
Last of all, there's a built-in cloud-based community, which lets you upload your creations to share with other users. Some are odd, funny, sculpted heads of The Incredible Hulk, or flat-out amazing aliens. The nice thing here is that you can also download and open these creatures.
If you're not a particularly creative person, you'll likely surprise yourself with your abilities. 123D Creature starts out with several how-to pages that break down the creation process and talk you through the steps to build your own. You'll learn about bones and limbs first. You might pause for a second and wonder what you got yourself into, but stick with it. I was worried that it would be too hard, but I managed to build a froghumanoidhammerhead in about a half hour of trial and error. There is an undo button which will bring you great comfort.
What's next for me? It crossed my mind that I don't have to just build a monster. You could sculpt the love of your life. Or better yet, a nifty little custom iPhone dock.