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
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 http://ifxm.ag/f-360.
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.