The World of WearableArt™ has always been a playground for Wellington industrial designer Dylan Mulder: a chance to prototype new ideas, play with pop culture, refine his cutting-edge design and build techniques. This year, in partnership with both WOW® and Air New Zealand, the four-time WOW® finalist is pushing boundaries yet again. Mulder is taking his garment designs not just off the page, but entirely off the desk, creating them in virtual reality.
As a freelancer, Mulder, 29, works in industries as diverse as engineering, gaming, film, jewellery, medicine and sport. He enjoys merging the precision of mathematics with organic design; a typical job might see him 3D-scanning the surface of a rock to create man-made stone, used for building blocks in the walls lining new highways, or designing and 3D-printing a new set of flexible legs for a local man who was born without his own.
But in his spare time, Mulder makes garments to enter WOW®, drawing on international technological innovations.
“The cool thing about pop culture and those technological conversations is they’re always new and fresh, relevant and interesting, and only last for a small window of time,” he says. “It’s also fun anticipating where they’re going to shift.”
His first garment was in 2012, a Bizarre Bra named Ninja Fighting Fish, and used a typically diverse set of techniques. A computer-controlled cutting machine made wooden moulds, in which he formed the bra cups. He 3D-printed the base, and then had the leather detailing laser-cut, hand-riveting it together, using techniques he learnt while working on The Hobbit.
The next year he was ready for his first full-length garment and added a personal test as well. “I was working freelance from a laptop, and I challenged myself: Can I produce an entire full-length garment directly from a laptop without a mannequin? That would be quite an engineering feat.”
He could, and did – and Samurai Silent Dragon won the New Zealand Design Award. To make it, he 3D-scanned a person’s face to get the mask shape, had components laser-cut, and then custom-ordered his accouterments: screw-on spikes and fastenings.
In 2014 he developed his ideas still further. He moved from his laptop to a studio, and began to rethink the message he wanted to convey with his use of technology. His Emperor Hidden Moth and his Minions won second place in the Weta Workshop Costume & Film section. The garment was laser-cut locally at Wellington’s Human Dynamo Workshop, but he also wanted to use 4D methods in its design.
“There was this new concept of 4D-printing happening, where the product changes after it’s made in some way; for example, a tiny chair could be printed that grows after you put it in water, or changes colour under sunlight.”
He translated this into using paints that changed colour under UV light, and added to his garment a strobe light; a plasma disc that would interact with people touching it; a hidden smoke system made from e-cigarettes; and a USB-triggered sound system. He also added a 3D-printed prop gun.
“The potential advent of easily accessible 3D-printed guns was a really big thing at that time, so I made a prop gun as a response to the pop culture conversation,” he says. “The whole point was that it was meant to be as far from static as possible, the essence of 4D.”
Mulder is a one-man band compared to many in the design world. He begins his works by sketching on a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 tablet, then progresses to blocking them out and 3D-modelling, using software such as Rhino, ZBrush and Modo.
“I use about five or six different types of software because they all offer different functions. When you merge them together you create a completely unique product that you couldn’t achieve in one,” he says. “With my commercial work, I get engineering drawings, recreate that component in the engineering software and then merge it with organic software and I can ‘hybridise’ these two so you get an engineered design but with a cosmetic dressing, which is really nice.
“Usually you have a team that might do those parts separately, and it’s either form or function. I like to do both.”
He also uses several different handheld or desktop 3D scanners, including one for his mobile phone and the Structure Sensor, which attaches to an iPad. His 3D components are printed at home, locally, or wherever he can find the capability to produce what he’s after.
Skilled also in sketching and model-making, Mulder can hand-craft props and costumes using more traditional techniques such as fibreglassing, silicone moulds, and casting. He often sources components and paints from the USA and China, as well as local TradeMe and Wellington’s famed craft paradise, Pete’s Emporium. He’s also working on designing new apps using open-source software Unity, and Pepakura, a 3D-modelling programme that allows you to create a design, then print the pattern on paper, then fold it back up again into a real model.
This fluency with both traditional techniques and the newest of technologies has garnered attention from Air New Zealand, and this year, he partnered with the company to take another design leap forward: into virtual reality. Mulder not only entered another garment in WOW himself – one he promises is going to draw gasps from the audience – but he, WOW®, and Air New Zealand worked together on making a special exhibition piece to demonstrate the future of design.
To create this, Mulder used the HTC Vive, a virtual reality headset released in April this year. Air New Zealand flew him to New Plymouth and Dunedin, where he soaked up both urban and natural environments, noticing the landscape, weather, colours and local textures. He 3D-scanned what he liked, and also used the Vive’s headset and two virtual controllers to design his garment on a digital mannequin within Google’s Tilt Brush app, which allows artists to paint life-size artworks around them, like painting the air.
Mulder had never used full-room virtual reality to design before, and found it a huge step forward. “I’m able to walk around the entire room, drawing while kneeling or crouching, and it opened up new opportunities for me,” he says. “The potential for where I can take this software is huge; I can merge it into my commercial work right through to app development. Virtual reality is going to play a massive role for designers in the future.”
Where to next for Mulder, and the rest of the design world? “We’re already living in unbelievable times,” he says. “The culture of 3D printing is evolving at immense speed.” With the ability to print flexible, conductive resins, and combine several materials at once, he says the time to design, prototype, and test new products is slashed. In fact, that’s been one of the best results of his WOW® career – the ability to play.
“I’ve been able to test the latest innovative techniques and merge them into commercial work,” he says. “I attribute a lot of my success to WOW®; it’s created options where I can fine-tune the work I want to do rather than just take what I can get – which is huge for someone starting their career.”