Boris Story

The True Story of Boris

In 1984 Jon Hunwick joined Delcam (or Delta CAE as it was known way back then) as technician to the DUCT Development Unit in Cambridge. After an initial training period learning how to do routine stuff like making sure the PRIME 250 computer started up every morning, and creating backup tapes (reel-to-reel!) of all the previous days’ work, David Sturge came to him one morning with a copy of the DUCT 4.2 manual and some brief training notes, and simply said “Learn this…”.

At about the same time, Gavin Miller ( joined the unit as a post-graduate student working on advanced ray-tracing. A massive Sigma frame-store was brought into the department for Gavin to use, but it required huge amounts of processing power, so Gavin found himself having to work overnight most of the time so he did not have to share computer time but had the 250 all to himself.

As well as producing some interesting ‘mechanical’ effects, lighting, shadows, reflections etc. Gavin was particularly interested in natural phenomena, such as rippling water, fractal landscapes and especially hair (being somewhat challenged in that department himself). After being successfully able to create the effect of fuzzy dice, Gavin was looking for a more interesting challenge, but what?

The answer came at about 2:30 one Tuesday morning. A large, and exceptionally hairy, spider fell from the ceiling, landed on his keyboard, and then nonchalantly lowered itself to the floor before disappearing under the skirting board. As it progressed across the floor it grew bigger in Gavin’s mind until, to his imagination at least, it appeared the size of the small dog.

Next morning, when Jon arrived, the following conversation took place…

Gavin: “Morning Jon, I want you to make me a spider in DUCT”

Jon: “You can’t be serious”

Gavin: “Yes I can. It will be fun, and then I can render it all furry”

About an hour later Gavin disappeared into the town centre and returned with a wooden toy spider. This was made of flat sheets of pre-cut plywood which could be slotted together to form a 3D model. Jon took all the individual pieces and traced them onto graph paper. Over the next couple of days the coordinates were transferred into DUCT and slowly Boris took shape.

Gavin then set to work and produced some spectacular images:

Boris image 1 Boris image 2 Boris image 3

Not satisfied with simply being able to create fancy pictures, another part of Gavin’s work was to create DUCT’s first multi-surface machining algorithms, using a technique called Z-buffering. Jon worked out how to machine and assemble the legs and pedipalps (not antennae – spiders do not have them) onto the main body, and the finished model was cut on the University’s Bridgeport Series 1 CNC milling machine. This was quite amusing as one of the University technicians was so arachnophobic that he would give the machine tool a very wide berth whenever he entered the workshop. The finished Boris looked like this:

Final Boris Model

About a month later, Jon took the metal Boris to an exhibition in London. Hugh Humphreys visited the show for a day, immediately fell in love with Boris, and decided to take him back to Birmingham to become the company mascot.

Since then Boris has become the official Delcam logo, and hundreds of metal versions, in differing scales, have been produced. He has also been seen in STL format, and some rapid prototyping machine vendors even issue an STL version with each new machine.

The only question that remains is where the name ‘Boris’ came from. Well, the answer is very simple, if a little dull. Many years ago, the British rock band ‘The Who’ had a song about a spider. The song was called ‘Boris the Spider’.


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