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MakerBot founder Bre Pettis heads back to the garage

Earlier this month we learned that CEO Bre Pettis was stepping down from his role leading MakerBot. Now we know what he’s going to be doing instead: Going back to his roots and heading up an experimental workshop inside a Brooklyn garage.

The new project, called Bold Machines, has its headquarters on the first floor of an industrial building on a quiet, shady street. The idea behind Bold Machines is to give artists and businesspeople the tools needed to incorporate 3D printing into their projects. It’s a small shop so far, with only four employees. It will be a division of Stratasys, which is the parent company of MakerBot.

What kind of 3D-printing experiments will be taking place at Bold Machines? It’s hard to tell at the moment, as Pettis considers Bold Machines to be somewhat of an incubator. Hopefully, talented makers and designers from both commerce and the arts will flock to his workshop to use its 3D-printing capabilities to make their visions into reality, and that’s why the front of the house is a traditional white-walled gallery space, where Pettis and Bold Machines will be able to put on shows featuring successful experiments.

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Margo and her nemesis

One hint as to what Bold Machines might produce in the future can be found on MakerBot’s crowdsourced design repository, Thingiverse. Bold Machines uploaded the files to 3D print a figurine named Margo on Monday. Margo, an “ordinary Brooklyn girl with a workshop under the Brooklyn Bridge,” is the main character in what will, hopefully, one day be a full length film. Currently, anybody with 3D printing capabilities can download the files online and produce their own Margo figurine. According to Pettis, it’s an advanced design, but it’s a straightforward job because a finished Margo doesn’t need extra scaffolding or design elements to support her weight.

Next week, Bold Machines plans to release the files to produce Margo’s nemesis, a hulking businessman chomping on a cigar. “We wanted to launch the Margo merchandise first, in the tradition of Transformers and G.I. Joe,” Pettis said. “We’re looking at what serial content looks like with 3D models.”

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Margo before painting

While making a movie may seem to be an unusual application for 3D printing, there’s actually a lot that goes into filmmaking that could be improved by the ability of 3D printers to quickly print iterations of models. The teams behind animated movies often spend thousands of dollars and months of time producing clay figures to scale, a process that 3D printing could streamline. Bringing this idea to its logical conclusion, stop-motion animators could conceivably use 3D printing to animate their films. “Filmmakers are dabbling with user-generated content from geek culture and fan culture. We’re starting with that,” Pettis said.

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The Bold Machines headquarters is primarily stocked with MakerBot printers at the moment, but the space will also have several Stratasys printers, which are more expensive, larger, and are targeted towards professionals. The first incoming Stratsys printer in the workshop will use wax, and there there will also eventually be a Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 model available for use. That printer uses PolyJet technology, which allows objects to be printed in multiple materials and colors, which will, in turn, give Pettis and his associates the ability to explore one of the primary Bold Machines focus areas for 3D printing: Custom jewelry.

“I’m really excited to get my hands on a solidscape printer,” Pettis said. “It makes high-quality watch cases and jewelry possible. Customized jewelry is one of my targets with Bold Machines.”

Pettis calls Bold Machines an “incubator,” but it’s not yet clear what the official business relationship will be between Bold Machines and its partners tinkering in the shop. There aren’t any announced partners so far, but Pettis wants to make his resources available not only to established companies and brands, but also to smaller artists and designers around the city. Conceivably a small artist could use Bold Machines resources and expertise in exchange for a small cut of their business, like Y Combinator or other internet incubators, but an established furniture company (for instance) would need to pay its way.

In the coming weeks, Bold Machines plans to announce a call for submissions for its first gallery show. They’re also looking for people with well-defined projects to partner with. If you’ve got a killer idea, are based in New York City, and need expertise from one of the biggest names in 3D printing, Bold Machines is looking to hear from you. Be warned, they’re not looking for designers who are just getting started in CAD — making 3D printing accessible is more MakerBot’s focus — but are instead looking for ambitious projects, from professionals like architects and furniture designers.

“I see Bold Machines as a garden,” Pettis said. “Now we’re planting the seeds.”

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