BOY WALKING | WITH RONNIE VAN HOUT & UAP

Artist Interview: Ronnie van Hout from UAP Company on Vimeo.

Captured in mid-motion, lost in thought, is a giant figure dubbed, Boy Walking by artist Ronnie van Hout. This towering landmark situated in a civic parkland along the Dominion Road edge of Balmoral’s Potters Park in Auckland, New Zealand, was commissioned by Auckland Council and manufactured by Urban Art Projects (UAP) over the course of 18 months. Fabricated using a relatively new process including robotic milling and 3D technology, this work tells the story of van Hout’s commitment to experimentation.

The human scale at work
Why so Big?

The mammoth cast aluminum sculpture stands tall at 5.6 metres, with a horizontal dimension of 2.9 metres by 1.75 metres. Van Hout’s intention was to deliver a sense of scale and proportion with respect to human form and the surrounding landscape. As we grow, our relative scale in relation to objects shifts. In this sense, the sculpture is only large in relation to other human bodies. Van Hout jovially describes it as, “…kind of a child-made giant”.

Fabricating the head
Robots, AR, & VR

To bring Boy Walking to life, van Hout had his son digitally scanned in a striding pose, then scaled up to full size using a 3D modeling software. The fabrication of the sculpture involved a time-consuming and exacting process, including efficiency in grinding, filing, sanding, painting, and cleaning. Design Robotics worked closely with UAP’s craft makers to enhance existing knowledge in robotic fabrication.

From material selection, to design documentation, and advanced manufacturing efficiencies were built into the workflows. Virtual Reality (VR), via the use of Fologram mixed reality software, assisted patternmakers in evaluating and refining the 3-D digital model. This resulted in a segmented approach, whereby the form was cut into smaller, manageable sections in preparation for robotic milling.

A robotic arm was used for pattern milling, which at the time of fabrication was a relatively new process for UAP’s Brisbane foundry. Each pattern was cast individually in aluminium, and welded together to create the complete sculpture. In the painting process, Augmented Reality (AR) HoloLens headsets with Fologram were used to further extend human ingenuity by producing a vision of stripes and blocked colors over the actual work. This enabled the painters to clearly visualize and mask out specific sections, increasing the efficiency and accuracy of the painting process.

Matt at work, perfecting the stripes
Happy Painters Craft Perfect Stripes

According to UAP’s expert painter, Matt, the marking process took approximately one hour, where normally it would have taken him up to three hours. Van Hout remains captivated by the quality and accuracy of the painted stripe pattern Boy Walking’s shirt: “The overall finish is amazing! The paint finish turned out so much better than I would have expected.” To achieve such fine results, UAP experimented with a proprietary Grasshopper tool, which allowed them to reposition and refine the 3D model multiple times in virtual space. The outcome was then recalibrated in AR prior to the painting process.

AR also allowed van Hout and UAP’s team to visualize the size of the sculpture in relation to the site. This technology helped in assessing the overall aesthetic of the work, informing design changes and improvements throughout the production process. For those involved in the craft making process, incorporating advanced manufacturing technologies was like having an extension of the hand.  For van Hout, the process assisted him in maintaining the conceptual integrity of his vision. When asked about his thoughts on the process, without hesitation he jumped at the chance: “It would be great to experiment with this [again] in the future and see what is possible.”

Boy Walking insitu, Auckland, New Zealand
Design Robotics, UAP, & IMCRC

Through the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating with UAP to explore the use of robotic vision systems and smart software user-interfaces to streamline the process between design and custom manufacturing. Enhancing UAP’s ability to manufacture high-value products while reducing the time and cost of manufacturing, the project is an industry-leading initiative that provides not just a competitive advantage to UAP, but benefits manufacturers across Australia.