Melissa Ng makes intricate Dreamer Masks and fantasy wearable art for ambitious creatives who want to take people’s breath away. With a love for blending new and old processes and a knack for fantastical elegance, she creates all kinds of fine complexities. As a New York-based self-taught artist who started 3D printing in 2014, combined with a background in media and public relations, plus her experience as an owner of two other small businesses, she has an unconventional approach when it comes to creating art. Within less than a year in the 3D printing arena, she won the Adobe & Shapeways 3D Printing Design Competition with her very first 3D print, she then helped design the aesthetics on a gorgeous 3D printed prosthetic leg, and she created masks for a JiHAE music video starring The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus. Since then, she has expanded beyond 3D printing (although it is still used throughout the design process). You can find her Dreamer work on her website, Lumecluster.
Melissa, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
My background is in media and public relations. Aside from Lumecluster, I also manage two other small businesses. Back then, I was looking to fill this weird void in my life but I didn’t know what it was that I was looking for until I learned about 3D printing one day at a NYC Maker Faire in 2013.
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
One day back in 2013, I realized my lifelong desire was to be a fantasy artist. But the big question was…what kind? I tried countless mediums over the years on my free time (acrylic paint, charcoal, watercolor, sculpting, digital painting, ink drawing, pyrography, laser cutting, etc.) but nothing ever held my interest for long. But when I stumbled onto 3D printing at the NYC Maker Faire back in October 2013, I saw an opportunity to do something new and challenging. But I didn’t want to blindly waste my time or money, so I gave myself a time limit of three months to learn how to 3D model and 3D print something and whether or not it was worth pursuing. By early 2014, while I was making my first 3D model (Dreamer Mask: Illumination pictured on the right), I learned about a Shapeways & Adobe design contest. So, I entered my first 3D print into the contest, which I happened to win, and got to display my piece at a NYC gallery. I decided to take that experience as a sign that I might be onto something.
How did you come to build Lumecluster?
Before 2014, Lumecluster actually started off as a doodle blog about marketing and my experiences as an entrepreneur. After 2014, when I had won a competition with my first 3D printed model, I decided to change Lumecluster into “a place where Dreamers find courage.”The site became a place where I’d share my pieces that also have inspirational messages/meanings that people can connect with.
I wanted to use the contradicting intricate details and tough armor to describe the struggles that come with pursuing your own dreams. The designs are a visualization of the dream’s beauty, spontaneity, fluidity, and chaos. At a glance, the structure may seem delicate, but it’s actually quite strong and flexible.
This was a weird idea to the people around me and many didn’t think I’d make anything of Lumecluster especially since I “don’t have a design degree” and didn’t have any history or experience in 3D modeling / 3D printing. But since I began in 2014, I’ve been featured on sites like The Guardian, Forbes, Tech Insider, had the fortune of designing for some of my favorite actors, and somehow even found myself taking on Marvel as a client. Despite the naysayers, I’m still here. I never anticipated any of this and I still have a hard time believing it. Sometimes, I receive emails and/or artwork from people sharing their stories with me about their own dreams and how my work has helped inspire them to keep up the good fight. It’s a huge honor to know that my work has moved others in some way. What they may not know is that their stories continue to give me the courage to keep it up.
Could you explain furthermore the products that you are providing?
I make intricate Dreamer Masks, armor, and fantasy wearable art for ambitious creatives who want to take people’s breath away. Whether it’s designing for someone’s photo shoot, music video, show, event, etc. my bold promise is to make a piece that will make people’s jaw drop.
What are your main inspirations when creating a piece?
Fantasy novels and my favorite roleplaying games (RPG) have always been inspirations for my work. I also love Art Nouveau artists like Alphonse Mucha, and especially jewelry designer René Lalique.
My biggest (and most recent) influences come from 15th-century gothic style armor and 16th-century tournament/parade European armor design. I remember always spending the most time at the arms and armor section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York.
Nowadays, when it comes to fantasy armor, I always want to make sure I have a good grasp of armor functionality and design. While I care about creating beautiful armor designs, I also think it’s important to make fantasy creations as realistically believable as possible. And the best way to do that is by looking back into history. So, I’m constantly learning, visiting the museum, buying new research texts, scouring the armor forums/groups, meeting with armorsmiths, and learning with anyone who has greater armor knowledge to help me create better-informed designs.
Why using 3D printing for your pieces?
I chose 3D printing because I felt like it was the best option for me to be able to bring my intricate ink drawings to life. I had also already tried so many mediums. It felt like 3D printing was one of those things I really needed to give a shot as well before writing it off. Right now, 3D printing is mostly involved in creating my master copies of a design, which are later cast or thermoformed. Occasionally, 3D printed pieces may also play a part in special one-off custom creations.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about the Lumecluster or your career to share with us?
My Lumecluster office is nested within my other company, PianoVerse, which is a music center here in Queens, New York. Imagine walking by that office after a music lesson and suddenly seeing a bunch of armor pieces and masks staring back at you. It causes much confusion and baffled stares.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman in 3D Printing?
I’m paraphrasing these but I’ve dealt with comments like, “I know this is sexist but I’m surprised you can do this. Especially armor design” and several instances when I’ve been asked in-person, “So, you actually did it yourself? Does someone else do it for you? Wow, it seems kind of random…”
It’s a bit frustrating when the first reaction is often some level of surprise. It would be wonderful to see the day when a woman’s credibility, knowledge, and skills are trusted from the get-go instead of often being questioned first.
Overall, I feel like there’s a constant pressure to prove myself, especially since there has been no shortage of people trying to (incorrectly) explain my own work to me (especially when it comes to armor design and research). I’m totally up for proving people wrong about what they think I (and other women) am capable of, but we really shouldn’t have to.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
I’m planning a reveal for my new fantasy armor line(s), which will be released in parts and be made available in my shop. Right now, the focus is on the most challenging part of the armor — articulated gauntlets. The images I’ve shared are only prototypes and not the final versions. Official announcements about gauntlet & mask shop releases are shared in my free newsletter.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
I love passionate makers like the e-NABLE Community who are using their 3D printers to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those who need them. Also, the efforts going into 3D organ printing are exciting 🙂
What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?
For me personally, it’s having access to a wider range of durable prototyping materials that can withstand a lot of heavy-duty testing.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:
- As an artist?
The material options and high-resolution desktop 3D printers.
- As a woman?
I never really thought about how 3D printing was interesting for me as a woman. I just saw 3D printing and believed it could serve a purpose for me.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
I don’t really feel like I can comment on the 3D printing industry as a whole since my knowledge doesn’t extend into that many industries, haha. But in terms of 3D printing in the realm of costume design/prop making, I feel like there are still many who put their hopes in 3D printing as the solution for many or even all of their problems (especially among newcomers to 3D printing). If I had a dollar for everytime someone said, “3D printing can print everything for you,” I’d be rich.
Overall, I want to help people realize that 3D printing is just like any other tool that anyone can learn to use. But as of right now, there still seems to be plenty who are taken in by the novelty and the “endless possibilities” of it all. These folks are also the ones who are the quickest to find disappointment and frustration.
3D printing is not magic and should never be considered as such. But it does do wonders for accelerating creative design development. In the end, the focus should not be on 3D printing itself, but how it can blend into and enhance the creative work that you already do.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
Representation is important and seeing more diverse role models within 3D printing is definitely key. When we see those that we can connect and relate to and/or look like us, then that helps us imagine what’s possible for ourselves.
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)?I love Blender and my Formlabs Form 2.
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? Honestly, I’m very curious about playing with a Markforged 3D printer…
Thank you for reading and for sharing!