Build a drone with Fu­sion 360

Jort van Wel­ber­gen uses Fu­sion 360 to con­cept a drone, then gives tips on get­ting the most from the free soft­ware

ImagineFX - - Contents -

See how Jort van Wel­ber­gen uses Fu­sion 360 to create a 3D drone con­cept.

Fu­sion 360 is rel­a­tively new, re­ally ex­cit­ing and – most sur­pris­ing of all – free CAD mod­el­ling soft­ware, which has gained a lot of in­ter­est from the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. you can get it from

CAD soft­ware is used to de­sign ma­chine parts; it’s Boolean based and uses meth­ods that are quite dif­fer­ent from polyg­o­nal mod­el­ling soft­ware such as Maya or 3ds Max. It also di­rectly in­ter­acts with both CNC milling and 3D print­ing ma­chines, which en­ables rapid pro­to­typ­ing of what­ever ob­jects you want to model.

This makes it very in­ter­est­ing for the film in­dus­try for in­stance, where con­cept mod­els can be printed on set and be used the next day. It also means that me­chan­i­cal parts are far eas­ier not just to make, but also to run mul­ti­ple stress tests on.

In this work­shop I’ll show you the process that I used daily to make the props and even ve­hi­cles of the space sim­u­la­tion video game Star Cit­i­zen. I’ll show how I solve re­al­is­tic prob­lems us­ing this new soft­ware, and how I take a con­cept from a quick sketch to a fully work­ing, re­al­is­tic end prod­uct.

I hope I can get you ex­cited to try it out for your­self and see what type of cre­ations you can come up with!

Do­ing re­search and where to look 1

Ev­ery de­sign starts with a brief. For this Imag­ineFX de­sign I wanted to create a re­al­is­tic re­con­nais­sance drone, used by a fic­tional pri­vate de­fence force. It has to be por­ta­ble, easy to re­pair and op­er­ate, and con­sist of high­end mod­u­lar parts. Most of all, I want to make it feel as if it could be built straight­away by a film stu­dio work­shop.

Get­ting ref­er­ence is cru­cial, but ob­tain­ing the right ref­er­ence is even more im­por­tant. As a con­cept artist it’s your job to pro­vide new and orig­i­nal ideas. There­fore, you should re­search as much as pos­si­ble on ev­ery­thing re­lated to what you’re de­sign­ing. Make sure to watch videos of things be­ing taken apart, for in­stance, to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what­ever you’re try­ing to create.

Sketches and it­er­a­tion 2

Fu­sion 360 is pre­cise and ac­cu­rate, but for the early sketch­ing stage I pre­fer to use SketchUp Pro. I mainly work in cylin­ders and boxes and try not only to ar­range them in a vis­ually pleas­ing way, but also take into ac­count how a de­vice will be used – how would it be as­sem­bled, how would it fly, how would it land, and so on.

Im­port into Fu­sion 360 3

I up­load my cho­sen block­out into the cloud of Fu­sion 360, so I can bring it in and start mod­el­ling on top of it. I also bring in a scale model, so I can eas­ily see if, for in­stance, the but­tons and bolts are the cor­rect size. I tend to create a new project for ev­ery new de­sign, so I can eas­ily find all the parts with­out be­ing distracted.

Block out in Fu­sion 360 4

I tend to re­model ev­ery­thing in Fu­sion 360 us­ing boxes and cylin­ders. I start by copy­ing my ini­tial block­out but quickly sep­a­rate the parts of my drone. From re­search I know I need com­po­nents such as a bat­tery, com­puter and mo­tors. Here I used a two-part frame: a flight frame of car­bon and a com­po­nent frame out of 3D printed plas­tic.

Fu­sion 360 work­flows 5

My main work­flow is work­ing from sketches and with the timeline, which is the de­fault. This en­ables you to re­use and ad­just the steps you take. I use the Sculpt­ing work­flow for or­ganic shapes such as the props, which is a form of Sub-D (sub-di­vi­sion) mod­el­ling. I try to use pat­terns a lot and will keep work­ing in one com­po­nent for as long as I can to keep things or­gan­ised early on.

Fu­sion 360 tools 6

Work­ing from sketches I ex­trude forms, adding and sub­tract­ing shapes to suit. I also use a lot of split body com­mands to create cut lines and flush com­po­nents. Fi­nally, I use the Cham­fer and Fil­let tools for the round edges and faces. These sim­ple tools, when used cor­rectly, can yield great re­sults.

Fin­ish­ing the block­out 7

Once I’ve blocked out all my main shapes and a mocked-up body that will serve as a guide­line, I split up my main com­po­nents so I can start de­tail­ing them out in­di­vid­u­ally. This is es­pe­cially use­ful for parts that I’ll re­use, such as the pro­pel­ler arms. Fur­ther­more, as your mod­els be­come more com­plex, Fu­sion 360 tends to get laggy. Split­ting things up is the best way to deal with this.

The frame serves the fea­tures 8

The first thing I do when de­tail­ing is re­work the frame. It’s re­ally only there to sup­port the com­po­nents that go into it. Make sure you don’t have ex­cess ma­te­rial, and try to use light re­in­forced struc­tures wher­ever pos­si­ble. Build the frame around the fea­tures and keep in mind where bolts and ca­bles will be at­tached.

Keep­ing things or­gan­ised 9

I’ve al­ready men­tioned that I split ev­ery­thing up into com­po­nents. I then use a new main assem­bly where I bring these all to­gether and up­date them ev­ery time I save a new ver­sion. This will en­able me to look at the big­ger pic­ture. It’s a bit con­fus­ing at first and not as fast as work­ing in reg­u­lar mod­el­ling soft­ware, but this is just the way Fu­sion 360 works.

En­hanc­ing the body­work 10

The body’s main func­tion is to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble parts of the drone from the el­e­ments. I like to make it fit as tight as pos­si­ble over the frame and parts while still main­tain­ing an aero­dy­namic shape. Be sure to hol­low it out too, and add a way to con­nect it phys­i­cally to the frame. In­ter­sect­ing ge­om­e­try is phys­i­cally not pos­si­ble.

The smaller de­tails 11

Ev­ery mo­tor needs power, and ev­ery part needs to be at­tached to the frame in one way or an­other. I re­ally like get­ting this deep into a de­sign, al­though it’s not al­ways needed. I try to think about all my parts in a log­i­cal way, tak­ing into ac­count the ef­fects of weight, ma­te­rial and force on the de­vice.

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