Automated Custom Manufacturing with Blender

Sep 20th 2022

Every now and then, you get a project that's so different and so cool that it just demands to be shared with the world. The project I'm about to share with you is exactly one of those.

See, the thing is that when most people think about Blender and how it's used, they default to thinking about the media and entertainment industries: games, movies, and television. But Blender—and computer graphics in general—gets used in all kinds of interesting ways. Some of those uses may seem bizarre at first blush, but when contemplated more deeply, they make absolute sense. We see Blender and CG used in architectural visualization, automotive design, scientific research, industrial design, and even product development.

That last category, product development, is the example we're talking about here. About a year ago, Orange Turbine connected with the cool folks over at Ellio Labs. Ellio Labs is in the health and beauty industry and they have a very beneficial mask product for helping people reduce the growth of those unsightly bags under their eyes. Of course, every person's face is different, so each mask needs to be custom-tuned to that person's specific face. The process starts with facial scanning technology to get a good 3D model of the person's face. Using that model as a starting point, a designer at Ellio Labs could model a mask with a perfect fit, customized for the person wearing it.

Unfortunately, even with process conventions and extensive use of templates, this process took 90 minutes per mask and often involved a lot of manual modification and refinement, sometimes requiring expert-level understanding of Blender’s features. That's not exactly a workflow that scales to help a lot of people in a timely manner, even if Ellio Labs went through the expensive process of adding more artists to the team.

The solution? Automation! The team at Ellio Labs did a fantastic job of documenting their modeling process. That documentation went a long way to helping us at Orange Turbine define and adhere to a specification for a customized add-on within Blender. The importance of good documentation can’t be overstated for automating any process. It’s especially helpful if that documentation includes the motivations behind taking a certain approach. There are a million different ways to solve any problem, so understanding the reasons for each decision is important for anyone trying to automate it.


For more details on this project and using CookieCutter to generate wizard UIs in Blender, be sure to check out our talk at Blender Conference 2022.

What we produced is more than a mere add-on, though. Blender's Python API is fully featured and allows for more than just automating common tasks. Really, what we built was a full micro-application that's custom-suited to their production pipeline, all on top of Blender and Orange Turbine's CookieCutter framework.

The mask creator add-on we created is basically a customized mode of Blender that's specific to creating Ellio Labs' masks. Unlike many Blender add-ons, this one follows a more "wizard"-like interface. It guides the user through a sequence of steps to generate each customized mask with all the small, but critical adjustments necessary for comfort, fit, and functionality. Here's a video of the tool in action from Ellio Labs website:

And the tool works very quickly. Before, the process of manually creating a mask took a skilled Blender designer around 90 minutes. With this mask creator tool, that same mask can be generated in less than 5 minutes.

Ellio Labs now has a tool that they can use to scale their manufacturing process and get more of these masks in the hands—well, on the faces—of the people who need them. What's more, the software development of this mask creator wizard happened alongside the actual product development of the mask itself, allowing for faster prototypes and design iterations. This gave the team at Ellio Labs the ability to arrive at an optimized design faster than they otherwise may have.

Blender gets used in all kinds of interesting and powerful ways. Some of those uses are in media and entertainment, but there are many like this example from Ellio Labs that are in an entirely different realm. Orange Turbine is here to help.

Do you have a project that could use some automation or custom development? Get in touch with us and let’s show the world what you’re really capable of!


Jason van Gumster