Ukiyo-e, Ancient Japanese Art Revived with 3D Printing

We have recently been contacted by Shusuke Osanai, a computer graphics designer from Tokyo, Japan. Shusuke recently produced a stunning piece of art that is 3D printed, though that is not obvious at first sight. This certainly got him our attention as we were keen to find out more about how he had created this sculpture that was also showcased at the Tokyo Designers Week 2014.

Here is what Shusuke had to say about the sculpture:

What Inspired You to Create This Piece of Art?

The art work was inspired by the world renowned ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai. Ukiyo-e is a genre of woodblock prints and painting that became very popular in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries. My challenge was to bring ukiyo-e to modern times and create it in 3D.

 The finished Ukiyo-e sculpture


Can You Explain the Scene Depicted by this Sculpture?

In Japanese, the sculpture is called kei-sei kei-koku (傾城傾国). Directly translated this means that a woman can bring ruin to a castle or a country with her beauty. Or, in other words, a women can seduce anyone or anything with her beauty.

There are three figures in the sculpture: a girl, a dragon and a samurai. A spell has been cast on the samurai turning him into a creature or yo-kai (妖怪). The sword wielding samurai is defending himself against the attacking dragon ridden by the girl.

The dragon and the girl are based on contemporary design while the samurai is based more on traditional Japanese design. I wanted to show how modern technology and art can benefit from the past.


How Did You Create and 3D Print the Sculpture?

The model was created using Maya and Zbrush. The sculpture was then divided into 45 separate pieces with some 40 different Japanese sword models. The sculpture measures about 43 cm in height and given the complexity of the print, I used the Upplus 2 3D printer in order to keep costs down. Most parts were printed in ABS; using one 3D printer I took me about 15 days to print all the different parts.

The only drawback to using a FFF 3D printer was that the distinctive layers of plastics could be seen fairly clearly on the surface of the sculpture. The alternative of using an industrial grade 3D printer was discarded though as this was cost prohibitive.

At the end of the day, the layered appearance of the 3D print wasn’t an issue since I was planning to cover the sculpture in Japanese paper such that the individual layers would no longer be visible.

What Techniques Did You Apply to Create the Final Finish of the Sculpture?

Once all the building blocks of the sculpture has been 3D printed, they were carefully assembled then covered in small shreds of traditional Japanese paper. To give the sculpture a real ukiyo-e look, I used paper from the days of Katsushika Hokusau. I purchased a couple of book from the Edo period (1800’s), tore up the pages then glued the paper shreds on the rocks and the swords of the sculpture. The reason why the sculpture looks old is due to the fact that it is actually covered in 200 year old paper!

For the final touch, I used India ink and a brush to add texture and other details. I used the kasure technique (intentional streaky brush strokes, common in Japanese calligraphy) to express the bold and powerful look of the ink.


What Did You Learn by Creating the Kei-Sei Kei-Koku?

Even though advancements in technology open up totally new ways of creative expression and freedom, I still believe that there is always something to be learned from the past. For this sculpture I fused cutting edge 3D printing technology with the classic Japanese ukiyo-e look, combined new and traditional materials, mixed modern and traditional characters to create a work of art that combines past and present.

We find the Kei-Sei Kei-Koku sculpture to be quite exceptional: not only is it visually stunning but it does also represent a perfect marriage between ancient art and leading edge technology. What do you think of this sculpture? Feel free to share your opinion below.


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Ukiyo-e, Ancient Japanese Art Revived with 3D P... - April 6, 2015

[…] Discover how Shusuke Osanai uses 3D printing and 200-year old paper to create a stunning sculpture that combines past and present in a unique way.  […]


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