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I am looking for the best way to make a model comprising of many thin layers.. each with their own unique shape and editability...such as this:

enter image description here

Would it be best to model the object first then divide down into layers? Or to avoid having thousands of seperate objects and risk crashing.. could something be achieved with modifiers such as the array tool? Thanks

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Start with a landscape (this one was created with the A.N.T. landscape generator).

enter image description here (Click on the images to enlarge)

In a different layer I added a plane and used an array modifier to stack up vertical iterations of the plane. This will be used to cut slices across the landscape.

enter image description here

Then a Boolean modifier in intersect mode, with the landscape as target object :

enter image description here

Now hide the layer with the original landscape and add a solidify modifier. Make the thickness the same as the offset for the array modifier:

enter image description here

Editability:

Since this is done with modifiers, the landscape remains fully editable and the contour slices will accommodate to the modified landscape.

Thickness is fully customizable with the solidify modifier, and the array modifier can be set to have more or less detail in the z axis.

For a smoother result, the original landscape could use a subsurf modifier:

enter image description here

obviously the more detail, the more computing power will be needed for this project.

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For editability you can do a series of filled 2D curves with some extrusion and stack them up. The shapes could also be done as SVG in some other software like inkscape or illustrator and then imported into blender.

enter image description here

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