Fashion designer, 3D technologistVisit this innovator's website
Fashion goes 3D
Francis Bitonti considered devoting his career to writing, architecture, or marine biology—until he was introduced to programming in a math class. Soon after, he discovered his passion for uniting design, computers, and 3D technology to create stunning objects. Today he’s head of Francis Bitonti Studio, an interdisciplinary studio that designs for industries including luxury and fashion. His work as a 3D fashion designer has been published internationally and is showcased in the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and the Museum of Art and Design.
Photoshop.com: How did your early interests inform your creative path?
Bitonti: Growing up, I wanted to be a writer, and I started out as a writing major in college. But then I took a calculus course that introduced me to computer programming. I realized the enormous potential of making beautiful 3D shapes on a computer—and the ability to actually print and manufacture those shapes—so I changed my major. I graduated with an art degree from Long Island University, and after that I pursued a degree in architecture at Pratt Institute.
Photoshop.com: How did you make the connection between fashion and 3D?
Bitonti: Early in my career I worked at Acconci Studio, where I learned about many different disciplines and became interested in fashion. 3D printing was still in its infancy, and I wasn’t thinking of designing clothing yet. In fact, I was struggling with what could be made with 3D. I tried a lot of things, including bike racks for the New York City Department of Transportation. It was difficult for me as a young designer to see 3D printing as a sustainable production technology for the things we were designing in the studio, as production costs were so high. It wasn’t until I collaborated with fashion designer Katie Gallagher on a series of belts that I got to know the fashion industry better. That was when I saw how 3D technologies could profoundly influence the fashion industry.
Photoshop.com: Why are fashion and emerging 3D technologies a fit?
Bitonti: Both couture and ready-to-wear brands want to be able to create intricate forms, lacy patterns, and complex geometries without extra costs. They also want to make custom items for people and produce things on the fly without having to stock inventory. Couture designers are asked to work with craftsman from a particular region, producing regional work and encouraging local production, which is what 3D printing enables. 3D printing enables many of the qualities for all brands that have been unattainable for most people in the world. The technology is moving us towards a future of bespoke localized production.
Photoshop.com: Tell us about a favorite project.
Bitonti: My studio collaborated recently with Michael Schmidt Studios and Shapeways to create a fully articulated 3D-printed gown designed specifically for Dita Von Teese, the American burlesque dancer and model. The gown has nearly 3,000 unique articulated joints and is adorned with more than 12,000 Swarovski crystals. Once the fabric was created, a laser “sintered” the nylon into form, a process known as select laser sintering, or SLS. It’s a remarkable thing that had never been done before.
Photoshop.com: You recently showed off your Molecule 3D-printed shoes. Can you tell us more?
Bitonti: I created a shoe collection to explore the use of computational systems for developing complex, highly detailed spatial patterns, textures, and color gradients. I wanted to think about adornment as a 3D spatial thing and not something confined to a surface. I used an algorithm to intelligently “grow” pairs of shoes. For the shoes, I started with something called the Game of Life, a mathematical system that has intelligence that controls the form and geometry. I like to think of design as a puppet being manipulated by some form of artificial intelligence. In this case, the algorithm controls the geometry and color of the shoes. The collection was finished using Adobe Photoshop CC and printed on Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 3D printers.
Photoshop.com: What impact do you see 3D having on fashion over the next few years?
Bitonti: Designers of all kinds, not just those in fashion, need to start thinking about objects in a different way. The formation of objects is very much subject to advancements in software, and the materials that make up products are malleable, modifiable, hackable, and shareable in the way that digital media is. Over the next two to three years, 3D technologies will become widely adopted, and 3D printing will stop being newsworthy; instead, it will be expected. 3D printing will be involved in some way, I would expect, for all products.
Over the next five years, I predict that 3D printing will become even more ingrained in manufacturing processes and supply chains, and manufacturing will completely change and as a result the way things look will completely change. What we think of as efficient functional forms will be forever changed. One of the things we will see is that more goods will be manufactured at or close to their point of purchase or consumption. The same product might be produced slightly differently in different cities, because people have different skills and each local area has varying requirements for products. Today, most items are produced in just a few factories in the world, but everything might one day be made in every metropolitan area.
Photoshop.com: What role does Photoshop CC play in your design process?
Bitonti: I started in 3D printing in 2007 when the technology was in its infancy. I grew accustomed to not having any software tools to work with. Many 3D modeling packages and plenty of image-processing software were around, but there was nothing specifically for 3D printing—nothing to help me deal with all the material conditions and constraints I needed to work with when designing for 3D-printed materials and objects. In the past, we typically would have to hack three or four different software packages, moving things back and forth. Now with Photoshop CC, we’re able to work entirely within one environment.
Also, Photoshop CC has allowed my studio to use color in a way that isn’t possible using other software applications. The gradient color transitions were very difficult and labor-intensive to achieve in the past, but Photoshop CC allowed us to streamline this process, saving us hundreds of hours of work to achieve this effect. The other challenge Photoshop CC helped us overcome was handling enormous polygon counts generated when designing for 3D. Photoshop CC also automatically corrected for thickness of materials.
Photoshop CC today is an approachable tool for people who may not have training in computer-aided design (CAD) software. The app has lowered the barriers to entry for those who have a design sensibility but are not super-technical. There’s no doubt it will bring more people into the 3D space.
Photoshop.com: Tell us about your first commercial products releasing this year.
Bitonti: I created these projects as brand prototypes to show people what can be done with 3D printing. No one is more willing to take risks than me. Jewelry will be the first thing when I launch in February 2015, with shoes and clutch handbags to follow. I also launched the Cloud Collection to prove that distributed production methods will work. We will sell our design files and find ways of dealing with digital resource management, distribution, and quality control. The Cloud Collection is essentially a lab for figuring out solutions to problems that have kept people from getting into the 3D space. Long term, we want to create a viable business model and a lifestyle brand.