Geometric Cat Sculpture: From 3D to Paper Mache

This is Buttercup. Yes, yes, she’s very cute. So let’s make a sculpture of her! You probably have a cat as cute as Buttercup (well almost as cute) so why not make your own art piece?
Buttercup Xmas
Here she is again hanging out with her doppelganger.
Cat Sculpture
Which one is Buttercup you may ask? I get them confused myself. Ok, enough nonsense.

By the way, this entire piece was inspired by the excellent concrete artwork by Saleh (his Concrete Cat Scarecrow).

sadeh concrete cat scarecrow

I wanted my own personal Buttercup, so here we are. Let’s Get Cracking!

What You Will Need

  1. 3D Model – Your own model or one downloaded from the internet (see the next section of this blog).
  2. Pepakura Designer Software – http://www.tamasoft.co.jp/pepakura-en/
    This software converts a 3D model into a project that can be printed on paper. The software is free to download but you can buy a license (which allows you to save your work). Saving is a great convenience of course but since you will be printing out your piece you don’t have to really save it unless you made a mistake and need to go back. So the free version will work fine. But this is great software, so if you like it and will use it often then buy it! Its cheap and awesome (currently $38 for a license).
  3. Printer and standard paper
  4. Spray Glue – To glue your printed paper onto your cardboard.
  5. Cardboard – I strongly suggest non-corrugated cardboard.
    corrugated cardboard
    DO NOT USE CORRUGATED CARDBOARD!
    cardboard
    So you probably will want to go buy some decent cardboard at an art store. Blick, for example, has a great 20″x44″ cardboard for under $2/sheet. Its a moderately stiff brown cardboard like a very strong cereal box or shoebox cardboard. Its about 1/8″ thick or so.
    Corrugated can be used as a last resort but it will be very difficult to bend small pieces at odd angles that are not following the lines of the corrugation. Also, you will see the corrugated ripple along all the surfaces of your finished sculpture.
  6. Paper Mache
    a. Newspaper torn into small strips (I used approximately 2.5″x 8″ strips.)
    b. Glue – flour and water or Elmer’s glue and water. (I used an Elmer’s Wood Glue that is waterproof).
    Elmer's Wood Glue Max
  7. Scissors, tape, glue stick (optional) metal straight edge, x-acto knife or cardboard cutter, and cutting matte (optional).
  8. Spray paint and sandpaper – Get the color(s) you prefer! If you don’t want spray paint, you can just buy some acrylic paint and use a paint brush (I’m not sure if you’ll need a primer paint or not). I chose a matte white spray paint that did not need priming.
  9. OPTIONAL – 1/4″ or similar thickness Plywood or Masonite for a strong and heavy flat base for the model. Masonite is a very hard and heavy type of particle board. You don’t really need to do this. I did this to make sure the base was very flat and hard. I used a Ziptool (a Jigsaw can also be used) to cut this base material. I wanted to make sure the sculpture would stand flat and not wobble around.

3D Model

This process is going to require some computer skills. If you use 3D software then you can create a model of a creature to turn into a paper/cardboard sculpture.

If you are not into 3D design, you can search the internet for “free 3D cat model“, for example. Or if you want to pay a small amount for a 3D model then look for paid models which you can probably get for $10 – $100. Just do a google search.

Pepakura Designer can load several file formats listed below:

  • Wavefront (*.obj)
  • 3D Studio (*.3ds)
  • Lightwave (*.lwo)
  • AutoCAD (*.dxf)
  • STL (Binary format) (*.stl)
  • Google Earth 4 (*.kmz, *.kml)
  • Hexa Great (*.6kt, *.6ks)
  • Metasequoia (*.mqo) * Highest compatibility

Just make sure you find a very very low rez model! Look at mine to see what I mean. A super detailed model that is rounded instead of faceted will be incredibly difficult to reproduce in paper. So stick to a modern faceted style low poly model! If you find a detailed model, you can use 3D software to reduce the poly count as well. I suggest 200 or less polygon faces. Also, I choose a nearly solid model for my cat. Her back legs are hidden and her tail is wrapped around her body. I did this to avoid any long and narrow areas.

If you can’t find anything suitable or this step is way too bewildering, then I can send you my model. Or my final pdf to print out. Send me a message.

3D Sculpt your Precious Buttercup

Here is our lovely model, Buttercup, photographed from the side and front views.

Halloween Buttercup_9176-Front

And here is the 3D model I created of her using Autodesk Maya.

Side-TriFront

This may look simplistic but with over 200 faces to cut out of cardboard, believe me, it will be complex enough. The smallest pieces can be very hard to work with using stiff cardboard (such as the small polygons in the ears). If you plan to print a huge piece then obviously it will be easier to handle the smaller polygons when they are not so tiny in your hands.

I used all triangle and quadrangles but I think that was an unnecessary step (tris and quads are important in the world of 3D and but not in the world of paper!). On paper its very easy to print and cut any sided polygon. But do try to avoid non-planer polygons. These are hard to work with using stiff cardboard. You will have to curve them to make them fit which means they will be fighting you until the glue is dried! If you want to avoid this altogether then use triangles. All triangles are planar!

Build your model to the scale you want the final piece to be. I made mine a life-size version of Buttercup so it was 16″ high. But you can make a 6 foot Monster Buttercup if you want! Export your model and hopefully the dimensions will be preserved in Pepakura. If not, you can scale the model inside of Pepakura as well (2D Menu>Change Scale…).

Another note:

One thing I will say is that if your model is symmetrical, then you may be a little put off that Pepakura may not output a symmetrical set of cutouts! I made the entire upper portion of my Buttercup to be symmetrical from side to side. But Pepakura made all the cutouts completely different. Of course in the end, when you have cut and folded everything, this will not be visible so its really not important. In any case, to make a symmetrical set of cutouts, I decided to slice up my 3D model in Maya into several large pieces. By bringing half of my model into Pepakura, I was able to simply create a mirrored set of cutouts for each side.

Pepakura Designer Software

Pepakura Screenshot

Import your model into Pepakura. Here are some tips for using the software: http://www.tamasoft.co.jp/pepakura-en/howtouse/index.html

This cool software lets you unfold a 3D model and even lets you place little flaps (for gluing pieces together) where you want them.

Print It

Pepakura Buttercup-split clipboard output

Here is Buttercup on paper. Cool huh? This is the large PDF created from Pepakura (File>Print to PDF…) and when printed, it came out to 12 pages when it left my printer. Here are a couple of pages below.

Cat Sculpture v2_0955

I put my own handwritten notes on some of the polygons so that I could easily identify where they go on the model.

Cat Sculpture v2_0961

If you want to print at Kinko’s on a giant printer, that would be awesome and make things easier in the long run. But pricier too! Printing is free at home but you will have some extra work piecing all the pages back into one giant page.

Cat Sculpture v2_0962

I used scissors and a glue stick to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  I ended up reconnecting all 12 pages unless there was an area without any overlap.

Paper Cut

Cut all the big sections apart.  In the end, I was left with all these crazy paper islands.

Cat Sculpture v2_0974

Just Add Cardboard…

I used Spray Glue to glue all those papers onto my cardboard.

Cat Sculpture v2_0975

Start Cutting!

Now cut out the cardboard along the solid lines printed from Pepakura.

PS Yes, you are seeing correctly. That is corrugated cardboard! I learned the hard way not to use that stuff as I discussed above.

Cat Sculpture v2_0980

Score and Fold

Pepakura prints out 2 styles of dotted lines to denote mountain and valley folds. Use those dotted lines as a guide to score the cardboard (using a ruler and x-acto knife). Then fold the cardboard along those scored lines to make nice creases.

Cat Sculpture v2_0984

Cat Sculpture v2_0985

Start folding and gluing the flaps to make that insane mess of 2D lines into 3D objects! Its amazing to see the shapes begin to come together.

Cat Sculpture v2_0986

Cat Sculpture v2_0988

I used glue on the flaps and tape to reinforce the seams. I ended up leaving the tape on until the entire piece was almost finished for some extra strength.

Cat Sculpture v2_0993

In the following image you can really see how the corrugated cardboard made for a very messy and inexact head for Buttercup 😦  She didn’t appreciate that at all. So obviously highly detailed areas with small polygons are simply impossible to achieve with corrugated cardboard.

Cat Sculpture v2_1009

So after reprinting my Pepakura file and mounting the paper on high quality cardboard, I was able to obtain much finer results. The new cardboard is much stronger as well. Check out these babies!

Cat Sculpture v2_1007

Cat Sculpture v2_1012

Finally, here is the head in all is its glory.

Cat Sculpture v2_1023

And an ear…

Cat Sculpture v2_1017

Here is the body starting to come together. I kept the head separate for a while longer so that I could easily work in the hollow cavity of the head and body later on.

Cat Sculpture v2_1029

And here is the base for the body. I didn’t actually glue the base on until much later. But I did tape the body to the base to keep the body in shape.

Cat Sculpture v2_1031

Strengthen

With the head separated still and the base off, it became much easier to work on the inside of the large body cavity. Add several layers of paper mache on the inside of the body to give it extra strength. Do this on the inside of the head too, if necessary.

Cat Sculpture v2_1044

Cat Sculpture v2_1036

Create a Hard and Heavy Base (Optional)

I traced the base shape onto a piece of 1/4″ thick Masonite (or similar inexpensive material) and cut it with my Ziptool. If you don’t want to do this, then just use your cardboard for the base.

1/4

I took things a step farther! i found a small cardboard box that fit on top of the base and also found a large rock that fit snugly in the box. I then used glue and more cardboard to seal the box and attach the box to the base. The rock was very snug and there was absolutely no jiggle when the base was shook. This made for a very heavy base so the sculpture would not tip over.

Box with a rock inside

Attach the Head and Base

Attach the new base when all the interior paper mache is thoroughly dry. With the tape off and the head and ears glued on, things are looking pretty sweet!

Cat Sculpture v2_1566

Cat Sculpture v2_1564

Cat Sculpture v2_1561

Yes, baby! Maybe this is going to work after all!

Strengthen, Seal and Smooth

I added several final layers of paper mache to strengthen the sculpture. This also added a layer of skin to help smooth the gaps between all the faceted cardboard pieces. I also painted a thick layer of glue (I used a waterproof glue for all the paper mache) as a final seal. Unfortunately, the painted glue made the sculpture a bit bumpy.

Cat Sculpture v2_1575

Cat Sculpture v2_1583

Cat Sculpture v2_1592

Cat Sculpture v2_1580

Sand and Paint

I used fine sandpaper to smooth the sculpture as much as possible. I then put on several light coats of matte white spray paint. I went with matte white to imitate the cement/plaster look of the original inspiration.

Show it Off!

cat sculpture by brad wallace

cat sculpture by brad wallace

cat sculpture by brad wallace

cat sculpture by brad wallace

This was quite a time consuming piece to create. But it was worth it! (I think 🙂

Let me know what you come up with! Post it here if you want!

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