Printing Yoda Heads: Re-Makers Riffing!

We had a comment recently from a nasty little troll (gasp! on the Internet!). The claim was that most makers are really just “copiers” because they’re not doing original work, whatever that would mean, but instead just re-making projects that other people have already done. People who print other peoples’ 3D models, or use other peoples’ hardware or software modules are necessarily not being creative. Debunking a cheap troll isn’t enough because, on deeper reflection, I’m guilty of the same generic sentiment; that feeling that copying other people’s work isn’t as worthy as making your own. And I think that’s wrong!

In the 3D printing world in particular, I’m guilty of dismissively classifying projects as “Yoda Heads”. About ten years ago, [chylld] uploaded a clean, high-res model of Yoda to Thingiverse, and everyone printed it out. Heck, my wife still has hers on her desk; and alone this is proof that straight-up copying has worth, because it made a sweet little gift. After a while, Yoda gave way to Baby Groots, and strangely enough we’re back to Yoda again, but it’s Baby Yoda now.

Does filling the world with more Yoda Heads, vomiting toothpaste or not, further creativity? I’d argue it does. It’s actually a moderately difficult print — those spindly little ears present an overhang challenge that’ll definitely help you calibrate your cooling, or force you to learn something about supports. Pushing your limits in 3D printing teaches you about the tool and what possibilities it presents. Mastering a tool is an important step toward using it creatively. And then there’s “riffing”.

Jazz musicians don’t just get up and play improvisational solos that come magically into their heads. They’ve spent hours in the shed, copying the ways that other players have interpreted the classics. Which is to say, they become creative through copying. Transcendental, inspirational, original moments come about through hours and hours of filtering other peoples’ work through your fingers, ears, and lips until it becomes a part of you and eventually bubbles up through your musical sensibility.

The same goes for any “derivative” project. We just covered a tuning-fork-based clock that was a remake of a previous incarnation, but in the process of re-making, it morphed a little bit into something more aesthetically post-apocalyptic. We’ve seen possibly a million word clock builds, but [t0mg]’s version this one is beautifully laser-etched into paint on the back side of glass, and made me think that you could do the same with the coating on the back side of a mirror. Riffing. I could go on for hours.

So maybe it’s not as sexy to re-make someone else’s project, but it can be tremendously valuable. It’s how we learn tools, how we increase our creative vocabulary, and it gives us a chance to explore something cool that someone else has done from the inside out. Copying should be seen as essential skill-building, despite our cultural prejudices against it. Go out and print yourself some Yoda Heads (metaphorically) without shame!

50 thoughts on “Printing Yoda Heads: Re-Makers Riffing!

  1. If the only way to be creative is to be the only one with the idea, we’d likely still have square wheels because round wheels are a derivative work.

    To the troll, I say this:
    If you are unhappy about the works being submitted to hackaday, or any other publication, submissions are free. We need to see all of your individual, creative ideas that don’t derive anything from anyone else. The only way forward is to follow your own complaint. Show us how terrible we as a collective are contrasted to your great abilities.

    1. I think you are only creative if you make something new or change it so it serves a new purpose or gets better. But imo you can be a maker without being creative. I once designed a cover for the fuses for an oldtimer for someone. I got the measurements and made something new, unique. But it was in no way creative. It just was technical design. It would make me a maker, a designer, bit not creative although I created something. Different example I am going to build an ergodox(split keyboard). I modified existing files to serve my purpose better(I changed the position of the cutout for the connector). It will make me the maker of this keyboard but not partially creative.

  2. You don’t have to take a Sith stand on this.

    In software, you can ask to use code and make it better, for your purpose. And please share that too, it makes the whole bigger and better.
    But even with printable models, there is sometimes lots of room for improvement, simply because you see a different fit to it.

    The idea is that when you share things, other people can use it. Use it they way they like. You don’t have to dictate what is an orginal idea to them, that would kind of defy the purpose of sharing.

  3. If you are just downloading someone’s STL file and printing it, then I tend to agree, you aren’t being creative, though there is certainly nothing wrong with that, just give credit where credit is due. ” found Fred’s great design and printed a copy”.

    And now I think of sewing. Many people start with a pattern and use it to cut material and sew a garment. But I give a seamstress (or seamster) credit for creativity because there is craftsmanship involved and hands on work and skill involved even sewing to someone elses pattern.

    In the case of 3D printing, there is not a lot of skill and craftsmanship if you are just printing other peoples designs.

    1. I would label this the ‘photography isn’t art’ argument, and disagree with you. If making the CAD is artful, then making the CAD into a physical object is as well.

      As someone who works in the AM industry, I get a lot of questions from people about 3D printing, especially the dreaded ‘what printer should I buy?’

      And my first inquiry has developed over time into this:

      Do you want parts, or a printer? In other words, do you care about the output or the process?

      Your argument is a ‘parts’ argument, and neglects the creativity of the process. If that Yoda head was printed in Hastelloy, or only resolvable under an electron microscope, I bet you’d change your tune.

      I came to this conclusion because I personally care about the process, and couldn’t give a fig about what is being printed.

      I’ve printed thousands of parts I didn’t design via a dozen different printing processes. Parts ranging from hypersonic aircraft widgetry, to spacecraft components, to Yoda heads, and there’s very little difference between the them to me.

      The manufacturing portion of the toolchain is no less important than ideation, and is a creative pursuit in and of itself.

      1. Funny, I thought about photography when thinking about this. Would I be creative if I owned a high end photo printer, downloaded someone elses photo files, and printed them? Well, I have “created” something in doing so, so it is trivially true in the literal sense, but I really think it would be absurd to say I am creative if I just print someone elses image.

        And indeed I didn’t miss what Kyle points out, but there is little that is creative about learning to use your tool, though a creative person does need to master their tools. It is necessary but not sufficient. I have had to learn to master my sewing machine to be able to create things with it. There is nothing creative about practicing scales on your musical instrument, though it is almost certainly a necessary step towrds creativity.

        1. Deleted my awesome reply with a fatfinger on mobile so here’s the cliffs notes:

          Your ‘Tea, Earl Grey, Hot’ example isn’t representative of the current state of the art, and won’t be for a long time.

          It’s Saturday and pigeon chess was never my first choice of diversions. Enjoy your weekend.

  4. If I were into conspiracies, I might think that the printing of Yodas, groots and tugboats, was part of a liberal scheme to sequester carbon- it comes out of the ground as oil and goes back into the ground (in a landfill) as Yoda. At least it keeps it out of the air…

    It doesn’t bother me so much that people, even adults (OK, that bothers me a little), want to print starwars toys, but I don’t understand the need to keep showing them off all over the internet. We’ve all seen the Yodas, groots, owls, tugboats, etc., a million times. If I have to look at one more I’m going to puke.

    Please, if you must print that sort of trash, keep it private, like certain other activities you would be ashamed to do in public.

    1. Well said! When I got my 3D printer, I quickly determined that I was never going to print one of those darn tugboats or some figurine. And I never have. And I feel that I am a better class of person for this decision.

          1. You don’t learn anything about overhangs, surface ripple finish, etc from XYZ calibration cubes. (OK, maybe you can see some ringing in the X,Y letters if you’re driving it too fast, and you can certainly learn something about flow rate if you pack it full.)

            The benchy is really very well designed to illuminate flaws in one’s printing. And for that, they’re small too.

    2. “print that sort of trash, keep it private” etc.

      Nope. This is exactly my point. People learn to do things through positive reinforcement, and many of the people simply printing out Other People’s Designs are still getting their feet wet.

      It’s far too high a hurdle to require them to also learn 3D design — they’re just trying to get their heads around the machine — that comes later.

      Think about how you learned to talk. Parents said “wow! cool!” when you said “banana”. This positive reinforcement keeps you learning. Granted, we don’t celebrate Shakespeare for the way he says “porridge”, but his parents probably did, at least for a while.

      Requiring mastery of folks who are just starting out is a sure-fire way to kill their enthusiasm.

      So if it makes you want to puke, please do so quietly, and privately.

      1. This 100%. When I assembled my first 3D printer and got a Benchy printed I was excited, and shared pictures of it on social media. Kind, helpful people commented on what they could diagnose about my printer from the quality of the print, and helped me fine tune some things to get a better print. Others enjoyed seeing someone else starting out on a journey they had enjoyed themselves. It was all positive, encouraging and reinforcing. If you (mrehorst) don’t like that sort of thing there are unlimited other distractions on the internet you might enjoy, rather than trying to be a gatekeeper setting up barriers to others learning skills and enjoying themselves.

        P.S. Those prints are most likely made of PLA, so not derived from oil, but plant starch.

  5. ” Pushing your limits in 3D printing teaches you about the tool and what possibilities it presents. Mastering a tool is an important step toward using it creatively.”

    Considering the current state consumer 3D printers are in (much like VR), this gets people comfortable with the idea, and helps work out the flaws. Creativity will come, just be patient.

    1. Printing out yet another tugboat would help if you were actively involved in the development of the machines, but most people with 3D printers aren’t, and their input would be redundant – the developers already know what the problem is without ten thousand people filling up their bug trackers complaining about it.

  6. The question is, isn’t the point of a 3D printer that you can make stuff that you need with it? You want a baby Yoda, you print a baby Yoda, and it doesn’t matter one lick how you got it – you now have it.

    The whole debate points to an underlying issue: the 3D printer itself isn’t justified because the things that you print are generally not valuable or practical. It comes to a question of why you would spend so much time and money to print a plastic baby Yoda? What’s it for? People who try to develop 3D printers have an obvious point in printing trinkets to test their machines, but other people who came later, people like the author of this article, are having to rationalize their actions as “art” or “practice” or “creativity” since they’re just pressing the button.

    When the hypothetical “troll” comes around to say “but aren’t you just copying?”, this justification crumbles because you are literally just copying – and the fact that you still need to tinker and tune these machines for the time being is missing the point. Yet, someone else might spend equal amounts of time and money collecting blue porcelain cups, and they don’t have to explain it – as if anyone had to justify their idle past-times as something else.

    At the end of the day, maybe branding yourself a maker has actually turned you into a poser, who tries to find some sort of self-worth from being able to print a baby Yoda. Otherwise, why would you care?

  7. When it comes to 3D printing random things or copying projects or treading well beaten paths, I think that people forget something about making: it’s supposed to be FUN.

    Making something just because you have fun doing it and sharing it just because you want to is enough to justify any project. Who is some random stranger to tell me what I should and shouldn’t enjoy?

    1. That often over looked, we make things, fix things, or modify things, mostly for fun. It’s not always about the finished project, it was the fun and knowledge we gained, in the build process. I’m not master of my 3d printer, but there are always tweaks and adjustments, before I get a part I’m happy with.

      I’ve notice these sorts of ‘trolls’, here for years. Sort of figure this is the place to go, to find ideas for commercial products. The thought of just making something, with parts and materials on hand, even though you can order a commercial version cheaper, is creativity, and you learn something. You might even make choices, that actually improve, what you could have just bought. Lot of things aren’t exactly what we want, lot of features we would never want or use, or lacking so functionality, that’s easy to add. We build it, we actually get just what we wanted. Not everything has to be intended to be mass produced.

      It’s not so much the project, but the people who post them should be commended. Takes a lot of work to document a build, specially for something others might want to do. But after posting, there are thousands of questions, suggestions, and requests for changes. Usually, it is, what it is, and most people are ready to move on to another project, rather than spend a lot of time, with one already complete.

  8. I can add some suspiciously depressing observations: almost no one is creative.

    There’s a psychological test for this, called the “Creative Achievement Questionnaire”, you can find it online and take it yourself. Don’t do that.

    Seriously, don’t take that test – it’ll only make you depressed and want to give up being creative.

    The median score for this test in the general population is… wait for it… zero. About 70% of the adult population scores zero on this measure of creativity.

    Of further note, creativity follows a Pareto distribution; meaning that the amount of creativity people have is an inverse exponential curve: most of the creativity is generated by a small number of people, and the vast majority of people who even score on the creativity scale score below 5.

    About 70% of the population score zero, of the remaining 30% we see that 70% of *those* people score a 1, and of the 30% of the 30%, about 70% of *those* people score 2, and so on.

    About half a million books are published each year, the square root of that number have half the sales (Pareto distribution…), the square root of the square root take up 3/4 of all sales, and so on. Stephen king sells a lot of books, while the vast *vast* majority of writers have no sales at all.

    It’s depressing, really.

    As a further observation, I note that the vast majority of articles and videos of people doing “science” is actually people reproducing what other scientists have done. Ben Krasnow is mostly a reproduction shop (with a little bit of science), Tech Ingredients is somewhat sciency, but just about everyone else is just reproducing something “neat and interesting”, and claiming that it’s “Science!” for audience appeal.

    Also depressing.

    There are mitigating factors and some nuance in the Creative Achievement thing, but article commentary is the wrong place for discussion. Contact me on .IO if you want more details.

    1. The “Creative Achievement Questionnaire” is flawed in the sense that it scores recognition, not creativity. These are not the same thing. For example, for visual arts, you get one point if you have taken formal lessons and seven points if your work has been criticized in the national media.

      Some self-taught artist who paints for a hobby, could be the next Picasso for all we care, but they never get the publicity and they would get zero points. Meanwhile, some no-talent hack celebrity on grant money, puts semen and blood in a blender and ignites a national debate about art, they score high in the list and get called creative.

      Well… they are creative, in the same sense as how con men are. This is because public recognition can be gained by two means: massive marketing, and being extremely provocative. One is conformist and appealing to the lowest common denominator (manufactured pop art), and the other is the calculated opposite.

      1. And on the point of conformity, the most creative art – which we could call “good art” – is never the most popular art because it must be specialized. In order to attract the greatest masses and publicity, you can only do mediocre art that most people find at least mildly enjoyable and few people hate.

        In other words, being a celebrated public figure means you have to find a formula that people like, and that is pretty much the antithesis of creativity. It’s solemn and rigorous work, almost a science, that record labels and movie studios, publishing houses etc. are doing all the time: picking from ideas and authors those that they believe match the winning formula and then pushing them onto the public with great fanfare and humongous advertising budgets. These people are then lifted into the public consciousness and become the lauded authors that we call creative, even though they’re really picked up by an algorithm and the truly creative people are left pounding sand.

    2. I love even the basic idea of a “creativity” standardized test. It sounds like performance art!

      Is it multiple choice?

      Is it a joke?

      If you finish bubbling in all the bubbles with a number 2 pencil, do you automatically fail?

      How did Vincent van Gogh score when he took it?

      You’ve totally piqued my curiosity.

  9. There are a couple of other angles on all this.

    One is, “what is your definition of creative?”. As usual there is more than one definition and argument flares up because the parties on opposite ends of the conflict are using different definitions. Plenty of grey area helps a lot too.

    So consider a symphony orchestra playing Beethoven. Are they creative? In one sense yes, in another no. They didn’t compose the symphony, they are just grinding it out — that is one extreme. A music box could do it. Of course that isn’t true, they are highly skilled musicians, and each time they perform they are creating something — but in a very different sense than Beethoven composing the symphony.

    It is a bit of a stretch to compare someone “grinding out” a yoda STL file on their 3D printer to a player in a symphony orchestra, but the claim here seems to be that the millions of people with 3D printers doing that are indeed creative. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a troll and should be dismissed.

    The other angle is who cares? If you are happy printing Yoda’s, more power to you. If you feel some need to label yourself as creative, well go ahead and do so. If you expect the population of the planet to applaud you as a creative genius, well it probably ain’t gonna happen.

  10. I cannot do art. I do not have an artistic bone in my body. I envy people with artistic talents. And I am not certain how to measure creativity or artistic talent, or if there is an objective and repeatable way to quantify creativity. But I know good art when I see or hear it (similar to that judicial statement on porn).

    After almost 40 years of designing electrical stuff and writing code, I can say with certainty that very little of my professional work was creative or original (but my employers or clients never had any complaints). Being clever and unique should not be the an aspiration of an engineering endeavor. Engineering is, in fact, the ultimate realm of the ‘copier’. Being unique is the realm of PhD-level stuff in the physical sciences and mathematics.

    1. That’s just nuts. Engineering is a very creative endeavor. It may not be art in the sense that it can be appreciated by many, but it is creative. You have to solve problems given a very specific set of tools and circumstances. Sometimes there’s only one way to do it, other times there are many ways. In the end, you deliver one solution that does the job based on your knowledge and experience. If that’s not creativity, nothing else is.

    2. I strongly disagree that engineers should be copiers. The word comes from the Latin ingenium, after all. I feel sorry for you that your career has involved very little opportunity for creation.
      The most valuable contributions made by engineers are the creative leaps we call inventions. These can be big and world changing or small and niche but if I went through my career without ever inventing something I would consider it an utter failure.

      1. The modern use of the word actually comes from the scandinavian languages. “Göra” means “work”, whereas “ingen” is equivalent to “none”. Den göra ingen means “it doesn’t work”, which can be flipped around grammatically to say “ingengöra” which is a “do-nothing” – like the trammel of Archimedes which you can crank, and it literally does nothing.

        The IPA pronounciation of ingengöra is enɡənjœːɾ or “ingenjer” – “engineer”

  11. This is a good time to quote Carl Sagan: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

    Nothing created by humans is truly original. Everything is derivative of other things, and looks more and more derivative as you break it down into components.

    I’d also point out that the common collective term is ‘makers’, not ‘creators of original work’. If you pick up some mud and squeeze it into a rough ball, you’ve made something. Nothing about it is particularly exciting or interesting, but you’ve made something. People consider dorodango interesting though, despite the sphere being possibly the least novel shape in the universe. The Avogadro Project is also, when you boil it down to minimal terms, devoted to making a shiny sphere.

    The correct axis to discuss the subject is directed effort by the person who made the artifact in question.

    It isn’t hard to build a machine that generates polished spheres.. there are plenty of existing designs. That means we could make a machine that creates dorodango with no more human involvement than pushing a button. There would be lots of other technical issues to settle.. correct consistency of the mud, drying times, machine speeds, etc. The person who works out all those details and establishes a highly reliable and repeatable system will have to invest a lot of directed effort, while the person who just pushes the button on a correctly tuned system invests almost none. But both walk away with shiny spheres.

    That doesn’t mean we should disregard the person who just pushes the button though. That negligible-effort shiny sphere might spark their interest enough to make more. As they make more shiny spheres, their knowledge of the subject, aesthetic taste, and technical ability grow, and the amount of directed effort they invest just keeps growing and growing. They can end up doing work that only other experts have the vocabulary to truly appreciate.

    Of course they might just stick the shiny sphere in a drawer and never make anything that requires signifiant effort in their lives. Either way, it’s their decision.

    By the same token, making negative comments about someone else’s work (without ever producing work of one’s own) is easy, vastly unoriginal, and derivative.. a shiny sphere can stand on its own, but a snarky comment about it doesn’t make much sense without the object for context.

    It is possible for someone who starts that way to learn the what constitutes useful feedback, develop their own knowledge and taste for a subject, and eventually understand how to say, “this is a magnificent piece of work, though I personally dislike it.” Truly good critics have invested lots of directed effort in their craft.

    Or the person could just keep taking cheap shots at anything that dares to intrude on their attention, digging themselves deeper and deeper into a trench of belief that trying to actually do anything is scary and futile. They can also spread that belief to beginners who are vulnerable to such abuse. The measure of their ‘success’ is the number of other frightened, non-creative, non-making people around them, because they aren’t even secure in their denial unless there’s a crowd to back them up.

    So encourage directed effort, regardless of the amount or the end result. Starting something new is scary enough on its own, and giving up is always easier than doing more work. There’s no need for a DIY/FOSS community devoted to maximizing the number of people who never get very far. But when was the last time you heard someone complain about a glut of experts willing to help and encourage someone who’s still fighting with the basics?

    The ones who eventually give up will self-select, even with encouragement. No one needs to do it for them.

  12. There might be a “language” question here. We can only understand something if we have a word for it. Point in case is the word “maker”.
    We invented “cook” and “hobby cook” : the former “creates” dishes, the latter “copies” them.
    Nobody wil have this discussion if someone at home makes a dress, based on another ones design.
    In ICT, we even make a distinction between (front-end, back-end, …) developer, analyst, system engineer, network engineer… and nobody will question the fact that te system-engineer pulls something in from source (gitlab), compiles it and uses it.
    So why do we question this when it comes to 3D printing ? Maybe because the word “maker”, (artistic) “creator” and “user” happen to coincide ?

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