Grant Diffendaffer

Design. Make. Educate.

I’m fresh back from Washington D.C., where I attended several days of festivities for the opening of “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.” An incredible time was had by all. If you read my last post, you know that my creative colleagues in Five Ton Crane debuted our latest work there. It’s called the Capitol Theater. It was commissioned for the event and built from scratch (not a modified vehicle), in just ten short weeks. If I may say so myself, it’s beautiful.

As a team, we made everything right down to the black and white movies. I myself designed the decorative steel end-caps on the end of each row of theater seats. I also laid much of the tile floor and contributed with a few carpentry odds and ends. The seats are my pride and joy though–drafted in Rhino and laser cut from 1/8″ steel.

Enjoy the photos. If you can make it to D.C. by September, I highly recommend the show. It is free to visit and extends into the surrounding neighborhoods, helping make it the largest ever show put on by the museum. The museum itself is beautiful too, and has the distinction of being the first building in the country built for the purpose of art exhibition.

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Five Ton Crane is profiled in the New York Times! So proud of my friends and what we have been able to create for this occasion (and everything leading to it). I visited the Renwick Gallery back in 2008 when I was in town to participate on a creative jury for a show at the Bead Museum of DC. Little did I know that 10 years later that said scrappy museum would be gone and I would be finding my work presented with that of my friends in the museum dedicated by the Smithsonian to showcase American craft.

The article highlights pieces commissioned for the show, including that of Five Ton Crane. Read to the end to see two preview pictures of our creation, the Capitol Theater, an Art Deco movie house on the back of a big red bus. The photo of the theater seats is such a tease for me–I designed the decorative steel endcaps just out of view in the image. I’ll be looking forward to sharing images of those as well as more of the rest of this gorgeously detailed piece after the show opens next week.

Grateful for the opportunity and the hard work of many friends over many years to make this possible. Well done Five Ton Crane. See you in D.C.

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You read that right. As part of the upcoming exhibition at the Renwick Gallery, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, Five Ton Crane has been commissioned to create a mutant vehicle–an art car. In the great tradition of the event and of our creative collaboration, we are proud to present the Capitol Theater, a vehicle designed to convey one not only through space but through time. It is a mobile movie palace from another era.  Grand and curvacious, the open air Art Deco inspired theater bus seats 12 and is filled with lush detail (including films) from a crew of hard working artists that produced this new old wonder about in three months.

If you are in the Washington D.C. area, be sure to check it out. If you aren’t, maybe you should get there. You’ll find the Renwick Gallery just across the street from the White House. The show will be up from March 30th 2018 until Jan 21st, 2019. The first floor, including the Capitol Theater, closes September 16th, 2018, so be sure to make it before then if you can.

Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, Totem of Confessions, 2015, Photo by Daniel L. Hayes.

According to the Smithsonian,

Large-scale installations—the artistic hallmark of Burning Man—form the core of the exhibition. Individual artists and collectives featured in No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man include David Best, Candy Chang, Marco Cochrane, Duane Flatmo, Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, Five Ton Crane Arts Collective, FoldHaus Art Collective, Scott Froschauer, HYBYCOZO (Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu), Android Jones, Aaron Taylor Kuffner, Christopher Schardt, Richard Wilks, and Leo Villareal. Multiple installation sites have been selected throughout the neighborhood surrounding the museum for No Spectators: Beyond the Renwick, which will include works by Jack Champion, Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson, HYBYCOZO, Laura Kimpton, Mischell Riley, and Kate Raudenbush.

Here’s a look at some of the local art heading to the Renwick, including a peek at the Capitol Theater. I feel honored to have been able to design the theater seat end-caps, which I prototyped in plywood using a laser cutter, and which were cut in steel using another laser cutter, and then cleaned up, welded and painted by a crew of amazing people while I was busy crawling around laying tile on the theater floor. I’ll be sure to post photos of my handywork as well as the rest of this outpouring of creativity–after the show opens, March 30th.

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One of my most exciting recent projects was my involvement with the Gods in Color exhibit at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. I was invited by Curator Renee Dreyfus to projection map a large marble panel from the ancient Parthenon. The museum had in their possession a plaster replica of the approximately 5 foot wide panel, which was “liberated” from Greece under the Ottoman Empire by the Earl of Elgin, who from 1801 to 1812, moved almost half the marble sculpture from the Parthenon to Britain, where they now controversially reside in the British Museum.

Parthenon Panel. Without projection mapping.

A fact not known to all who have grown accustomed to seeing classical sculpture as pure white marble is that all of these sculptures were once actually painted in full color. It is not known exactly how everything appeared but research has revealed the natural pigments that were used and where they were applied to the marble. It is thought likely that the surfaces were finished in rather garish fashion to highlight them from afar.

Parthenon Panel. Projection mapping by Grant Diffendaffer

For the exhibit, I used a painting that was a historical representation done by Rebecca Levitan, as part of a project at Emory University. For my part, I began by photographing the panel to create a digital 3D photogrammetric representation of the panel. For that purpose, I used 250 high res photos, which I processed using Autodesk’s Recap Photo software. From there I used a process that moved back and forth between ZBrush and Photoshop to accurately project the lines of the painting to the surface of the digital model.

My hope was to use this process to correct and align the artwork so that it would accurately display when shown from a single projector onto the surface of the actual plaster panel. This was something that was somewhat easier said than done. While I had hoped to make the actual projection alignment a digital process, using either scanning or photogrammetry, it ended up being a more manual process.  It was still a useful and productive journey for me to pass through that digital space, and it was clear to me that this is a useful projection mapping workflow–one that will get easier as software and hardware options combine to basically let projectors “see” what they are projecting.

Many thanks to all who made the project possible–Renee Dreyfus, Rebecca Levitan, and Rich Rice, as well as the photography department of the DeYoung.

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I’ve detailed a bit of the work done by Five Ton Crane which we have dubbed Oakland Squared. Created for an exhibit at the SF MOMA Artist’s Gallery, the large collaborative panels are composed of the work of many different artists, and are now hanging in the lobby of the Latham Square Building in uptown Oakland.

The works gained popularity for their ability to evoke the unique landscapes of the place that many in our Oakland based arts group call home, and for their unique way of providing an equal platform to so many artists at the same time, while showcasing a cohesive greater perspective at the same time. As a result, we were asked to create two new panels for permanent installation in the newly remodeled Moffitt Library at U.C. Berkeley.

Again working with the theme of scenes of the place we call home, these two new panels show views of the Berkeley campus, namely Sproul Plaza, home of the free speech movement and of the S.O.G.A. Gardens, land of the Student Organic Gardening Association.

It was a special honor for me to be involved with this project, as I had just become proudly employed in the U.C. Berkeley College of Environmental Design at the Digital Fabrication Lab, where they have bestowed upon me the title “Mechanician.” What that means is I was able to spend some time familiarizing myself with the tools of the lab, and in the process created a square composed of layers of material processed by laser cutting, laser engraving, and ZUND. Yes, ZUND. You know–ZUND, the all-powerful digital swiss army knife of industrial machinery. My 12″x12″ square is made of Acrylic, Wood, Paper, and Colored Pencil.


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I’ve been too busy doing and making to write much this last year but I’ve got to tell you to come on down to the original Maker Faire this weekend at the San Mateo Fairgrounds where you can hear all about it in person. I’m back with Steadcraft and eager to show you all of my latest creations. I’m busy in the studio right now putting last minute finishing touches on a collection of creations. Come see how my craft has taken a digital turn–with familiar handcraft like metal work and embroidery having found their way out of history–through circuitry melded with creativity.

I’ll be showing my latest machine creation–a P3Steel. Whut’s that you say? It is an open source 3D printer–a derivative of the most famous such design, a Prusa I3. Come find out why I thought it was worth my time to go down this particular kit rabbit-hole (Mostly it is a Spanish thing).

The main reason I haven’t been posting here (besides being busy building aforementioned metal beast), is that I have been heavily occupied by my new job (since September 2016) working as a Mechanician in the Digital Fabrication Lab (DFL) at the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley. There, we assist students in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning with the creation of models–an essential part of their process. What is digital about that? While students have been drawing with computers for quite some time, the fabrication side of things has taken a little longer to catch up. Now though, instead of primarily focusing on manually cutting and gluing everything, students also use computerized machinery. The lab has half a dozen laser cutters, 8 3D printers, a CNC router (with tool changer), a CNC mill and a Zund.

The latest addition in the DFL is a desktop 3D scanner. I have recently picked up a Sony A7 ii (full frame digital camera)–with the purpose of upping my photogrammetry game. Come on down to the DFL (sign up first) May 30th, 31st, and June 1st and I’ll teach you everything I know about reality capture and 3D printing.

What else has happened in the last year…let’s see… In my life, I have also done a short creative stint with the Mythbusters production team as they reboot the series after the great Adam and Jamie moved on to other things.

I got to go to Mexico this winter where the best three hours I spent were in the National Museum of Anthropology. Besides being an overwhelming presentation of incredible ancient monumental (and personal ornamental) artworks, representative of fantastically developed long lost civilizations, it is probably the best place I have ever been for photogramettry. I could have stayed there for days on end.

I don’t have enough fancy tools in my life so I bought into a huge and powerful laser cutter.

I witnessed the kinetic creations of the otherworldly famous Kinetic Sculpture Grand Challenge.

I delved into 3D stop motion filmaking (my secret dream job).

I spent months trying to build a complete photogrammetry model of the Storied Haven. Part of the work that I do with 5 Ton Crane, this site installation is headed to the Hermitage Museum in Virginia. One of our previous projects, the Raygun Gothic Rocketship, was just installed outside the Wings over the Rockies Museum in Denver. We also made permanent installations of our Oakland Squared project in the Latham Square Building in downtown Oakland and the Moffett Library at U.C. Berkeley.

I managed not to get washed off the hillside in this winter’s epic rains.

And now I am digging into an upcoming exhibition at the Legion of Honor Museum.

Oh, also, I’m teaching a workshop on Photogrammetry, 3D Scanning and 3D printing. May 30th, 31st, and June 1st. Spaces still available! is down for the moment for repair, so stay tuned here for everything me, and come find me by the big door in the Expo Hall (Zone 2 by CCA) and I’ll tell you all about it in person!


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Five Ton Crane‘s “Oakland Squared” project was originally conceived for public installation in the outdoor window displays of the SF MOMA Artist’s gallery. After a six month installation there, they now have a new home in the newly-renovated Latham Square Building in uptown Oakland.
Each of the six original panels consists of individual 12″x12″ squares, created by various artists from our collective of several dozen. Via various styles, techniques, and materials, these multiple squares comprise iconic scenes of Oakland, the place where we collectively work. Long a home for artists, the city houses many peoples and industries, a heritage and history that we have each touched in our own unique way.
I contributed two CNC embroidered squares to this panel of the Fox Theater–just a block from where the panels now hang. So if you are in the neighborhood for a show at the Fox, come down Telegraph for a greyhound at Cafe Van Kleef, then walk next door to 1611 Telegraph Avenue and have a look at this richly detailed and diverse project.

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Maker Faire made for many interesting memories. We had a great show with Steadcraft and are already looking forward to next year. If you haven’t been before, put it on your calendar now. For anybody used to toiling in relative obscurity with some strange obsession, you probably have had the experience of finally connecting in person with someone who really understands what you do. Maker Faire is where all of these people find their tribe.

I didn’t get to range very far from the booth and there are several things I’m already feeling sorry for missing, but I made a couple discoveries I’m excited to share.


CNC embroidery attachment at Printrbot

First off, this amazing attachment that the folks over at Printerbot made which turns an ordinary sewing machine into a CNC embroidery machine. I didn’t see it in action, but from what I understand, it has a microcontroller and mechanics which allow it to accept SVG files (vectors) and to sew those patterns by moving the embroidery frame on the XY axis. I did’t see results from this machine either, but am looking forward to something that I can share with you here.

I loved this levitating sculpture from Nick Dong at Studio Dong

Other highlights included this electroluminescent Tesla with a FLIR camera and powerful digital projector being shown by Racing Extinction, an important documentary project depicting the plight of Earth’s species.

I didn’t make it over to see the La Attrata sculpture being constructed by Therm for Burning Man, but I found this photo and can’t wait to see the gorgeous stainless steel moth lighted and enlivened.

Lastly, I have to share this amazing looking update of the Printrbot Metal that is due to ship soon. Highlights include a linear rail motion system, increased build size (to 6″ x 8″ x 8″), and touchscreen.



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