Digital to Physical (Minecraft, 3D Printing and DMA)

Digital Media Art (DMA) has long embraced the virtual as an aspect and a venue for the production of art. In a project that I did for Zero1 and the Ural Biennial we were able to embrace the social connection established in the virtual environment / gamespace of Minecraft and export the data for 3D printing and unfolding in Pepakura. This post covers the first attempt to incorporate elements of this into the curriculum for Art 74: Introducation to Digital Media Art at San Jose State University.

Art 74 Visits Orwell

Art 74  is tasked with giving an overview of digital media (DMA) and new media art to students who are required to take it as part of the art program.  This includes all  art students as it is considered to be preparation for the major for ALL art programs. Because of this Art74 incorporates a wide range of skill sets.  Coming in and as an instructor I try to respect the diversity of digital experience and help students start using Photoshop (if that is what it means) and set up a good pattern of continued use and practice otherwise. At present the curriculum includes the following: Image Manipulation (Two Photoshop projects that are printed and finished), a hand coded HTML portfolio, extensive Documentation (a 10 page website using Dreamweaver), and a final project of the students choosing. This is all then contained in a final portfolio. Additionally we try to understand how new media and digital media are forms of art and read some of the theory behind this including both conceptual art and theories of new media.

In spring of 2013 Art 74 spent about 10 weeks in Minecraft (MC). Our start was slow, probably too slow, and I need to find a better way to do incremental projects that overlap other materials.  Minecraft embraces complexity, 3D social spaces, and in our case ideas of objects and data which includes the fundamentals of 3D printing and materials considerations associated with it.



Orwell is an artist colony on a private Minecraft server, it has a rich history of democracy, collaboration and art production.  Founded in late 2011 we were first a site for the collaboration “V2V” between the Zero1 Biennial and the 2nd Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art. We also formed our first democratic processes and built our downtown and welcome space. Zoning became an issue for us but we managed to settle that through the use of our democratic process. The greatest difficulty of the democracy was creating a fair, auditable mechanism for voting. We realized that the system had to function ONLY within MC and that it had to be verifiable after the fact, if a player voted for a proposal they had to be able to see that vote in the counting. We ended up sacrificing anonymity and extending the period of elections since our server could not support all of our registered players at the same time.

democracyFocus of interaction and reasons for using Minecraft:

Building Sculpture

The goal was to create “physically” interactive pieces that represent culturally significant objects at a low resolution which requires an understanding of the nature of the object itself. In the process of doing this we discussed materiality, the digital, shape/form and the relevance of culture in determining what objects have the greatest impact. Users gravitate immediately to pixel art which seems to be a first step in visual representation in the lego-like game-space.


The environment allowed us to work collaboratively and to have group critiques in the space. We watched as our peers built objects responded and were inspired by these objects. We moved from pixel art to art history and to original pieces publically discussing the evolution and working both inside the class period and outside it.


Artist in Residence

Utilizing the space socially includes bringing in an outside artist from an international call. Yagiz came in at the tail end of the semester but was able to make a presentation to the class on our final day. It was interesting to see the thinking involved in and the depth of the project he was working on, especially since he was focused on sound in a physically creative space. His interest spun the interaction in an interesting direction.

Printing & Data

Data extraction was pretty straight forward but nonetheless complex through mineways, meshlab and finally into the UP! software as an .stl file.  The real challenges involved understanding how construction influences fabrication and the properties of the materials that were being exported compared to the construction mechanisms that were used in the virtual environment.

DSC_0083Chapel by Michael Amundsen


All told we just did not move fast enough to garner real excitement, the students loved seeing work that had been created in world being extracted but most of the printing took place after our final meeting which meant a giant amount of work for me to connect them to the equipment and no chance for inspiration across groups.