3D Printing and how it changes how movies are made

3D printing has been used in the movie industry for decades, but technological advances have seen the use of it becoming more mainstream especially with the slew of blockbusters coming our way in 2019.

Whether it’s adding an element of futurism or merely showing the movie’s unique characterization, the world of 3D printing is opening up doors for amazing innovative possibilities that movie makers can utilize for more realism, meet tight deadlines and fulfill the high requirements of the industry.

There is still a lot of room for growth with 3D printing becoming more application-focused over technologies, and we have listed some instances of how they have been used in movies over the past decade.

Iron Man (2008, 2010)

There are many suits for Iron Man in the movie – main suit, stunt suits. 3D printing in this was able to help greatly with designers drawing an art concept and then producing that concept in just a few hours with an Objet Eden 3D printer for custom fitted prototyping before the final versions are cast.

Robert Downey Jr. who plays Iron Man, also commented that the original Iron Man suits made more traditionally were clunky to work with and extremely uncomfortable. But with the custom-fitted 3D printed suits, he was able to get in a lot more movement for the numerous action scenes, worked for long hours in them happily and comfortably.

Prometheus (2013)

UK-based film specialist, FBFX Ltd, used the Stratasys Objet30 Desktop 3D printer to design complex components for the space helmet used by lead actress, Noomi Rapace, in the movie, Prometheus.

With an in-house 3D printer, a 3D CAD file of the complex helmet can be created and 3D printed in just a few hours, which would have taken weeks traditionally. Designs were able to be perfected with extremely fine details and yet iterated quickly, while at the same time providing a more comfortable fit for Noomi Rapace without missing any deadlines.

Traditionally, it would have taken weeks to produce a final working model helmet, but the Objet30 was able to drastically reduce the development time while improving on the precision.

Pacific Rim (2013)

With the Objet500 Connex3 3D printer, Legacy Effects Studio created pilot suits for the main characters in the giant robot warriors’ movie, Pacific Rim. Having pioneered the use of 3D printing for special effects, the studio rapidly designed, built and adjusted objects accordingly in varying degrees of transparency, colors, flexibility, and other material properties.

The ability to iterate quickly and print on demand meant that designers were able to extensively test designs for over a hundred separate piece for each suit. For the battle in Hong Kong, for example, many of the miniature pieces seen in the scene were digitally designed and then 3D printed out.

Robocop (2014)

Legendary Hollywood special effects studio Legacy Effects has been relying on Stratasys 3D printing to create iconic and memorable characters for blockbusters like Avatar, Pacific Rim, and Iron Man. The 2014 Robocop movie was one where Legacy Effects worked their magic again with 3D printing.

Using Stratasys Objet Connex multi-material 3D printing technology, the studio produced every aspect of the Robocop suit – from helmets to boots – as master mold patterns. Depending on scene requirements, the pieces were molded and cast into other materials to create suit variants that could be used accordingly.

As much as 90% actual Stratasys 3D printed parts can also be seen in the movie, such as the gleaming red strip found on the helmet visor, that was 3D printed with transparent VeroClear material.

Another use can be seen on Robocop’s chest-armor piece which features extremely high levels of detail and is something that’s only achievable with Stratasys PolyJet technology.

Guardian of the Galaxy (2014)

The Objet500 Connex multi-material 3D Printer from Stratasys was responsible for numerous prototyping and vacuum-cast versions of Star-Lord’s helmet wore by Chris Pratt in the movie. The final model featured 3D printed interior and exterior detailing using rigid opaque (VeroGray) material.

Various 3D printing pieces including the entire ‘armor’ outfit for the character, Korath, played by Djimon Honsou, were produced with Objet500 Connex3 3D printers, and was the first time the company had produced a fully 3D printed costumer worn in a movie.

Apart from high precision and quality, PolyJet technology also delivers consistent reliability regardless of how many pieces are produced compared to traditional manufacturing.

Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings (2009, 2012, 2014, 2016)

A collaborative partner with Stratasys for more than a decade, LAIKA has been continuously investing and evolving with their 3D printing usage to advance the design and performance of their stop-motion models in their movies. The PolyJet-based technologies of the Stratasys J750 and Objet Connex3 allow the studio to have unprecedented design freedom, streamlined design processes and achieve realistic shot-by-shot customized animation.

Emotions and subtle facial performances never-before-seen in stop-motion animation, allow Laika to bring inanimate objects to life and tell really complex and enduring stories.

Missing Link (2019)

The latest movie from Laika Studios, Missing Link, which will open on 12 April, will feature the most in-depth use of 3D printing, using Stratasys J750. Their last movie Kubo and the Two Strings featured 64,000 unique faces, but the new movie will have more than 106,000 3D printed faces which will bring up performances up another level. For a particular one second footage, as much as 24 faces could be used just to animate the facial expression of a character.

With deadlines always a factor, the quick printing speed of the J750 meant that time wasn’t going to be an issue. A whole row of unique character faces, with different expressions, can be 3D printed in about an hour and 35 minutes.

While CGI is the de-facto standard for special effects, it doesn’t always seem real enough. Even though it is still a special effect, 3D printing can give an object or the scene a better sense of the real world even if it’s just a representation. Technological advances meant that 3D printing was destined to go mainstream and become a necessary tool.

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