Kacie Hultgren

3D Printing Crusader, Designer & Educator

A Short Introduction

Photograph by  David Neff

Photograph by David Neff

My name is Kacie Hultgren.  I live in New York City, more precisely: Long Island City, Queens.  I'm a designer, focused on set design for live performance.  I've been using desktop 3D printing for scale model building since 2011, and my experiments led to an online following in the 3D printing community under the handle "Pretty Small Things."  I use 3D printing, I share 3D printing, I teach 3D printing.  Read on to find out how I got started.

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My 3D Printing Story: How I Got Started 

I work as a scenic designer in the theatre industry.  The workflow is similar to an architect's.  Instead of buildings, I design the environment where a play takes place.  I create color renderings, draft plans and elevations, choose materials, specify hardware and build scale models.  It’s last part, scale models, that drew me into 3D printing.  

Model building for me and my industry, has quite a bit of heart.  The styles I’m working in tend to have more flair the big glassy skyscrapers, so my model building style does too.  The scale is typically a little bigger - 1/2” to the foot - not as big as a child’s dollhouse, but big enough that detail matters.  It’s a traditional affair: elmers glue, gesso, paper, exacto knives, mat board, basswood, scavenged jewelry findings, spray paint, etc.  

I’ll share a secret with you: I’m actually not a very good model builder.  I don’t have the dexterity or patience for detail.  I bought my first 3D printer, a makerbot thingomatic in the fall of 2011, to be my assistant. Specially I bought it to make chairs: I always seem to need a dozen, they’re incredibly time consuming to build, I hate doing it, and they can’t be bought commercially in the scale or style I need.  

An interesting thing happened after I got my 3D printer.  I started sharing the source files on thingiverse, which is a web repository and community for digital fabrication files of all sorts.  I never intended to share my design work with others.  I come from an industry with closed ideas about intellectual property and creative work, but those first 3D triumphs felt like something to brag about.  The first design I posted online was a pair of Queen Anne chairs.  I woke up the next morning to find photos from half a dozen people had printed it all over the world.  Who knew a bunch of geeky 3D folks would be into dollhouse furniture.  

3D printing has made my work easier - automating parts of my workflow, making complexity and intricacy really achievable, even on a tight schedule

I still build models with paper and glue, though as the build size of my 3D printers increase, so does the proportion of 3D printed parts in my models.  3D printing has made my work easier.  By automating parts of my workflow, complexity and intricacy are achievable on a tight schedule.  But the bigger paradigm shift for me was that it took a process off my desk, out of my studio and out into the world.  I could have shared my process in a variety of ways, but sharing digital files on this technology platform made it compelling and easy to do so.  The work I do isn’t private anymore - it’s public - and I never imaged anyone would be interested.  Other people give my work context and meaning that I never attributed to it.

Now: What I'm Up To

I still work in the theatre industry.  I'm lucky to work on a handful of Broadway projects each year, as well as regional and touring productions.  I also spend more of my working hours in the 3D sphere.  I share my knowledge by creating tutorial content for Lynda.com, give lectures and teach workshops.  I continue to build a repertoire of 3D printable designs, some available under creative commons licenses, others as retail products available on Shapeways.  I've also been proud to be part of the MAKE magazine 3D printing test team for three years running.  I'm excited to be a part of the growing 3D printing industry.