LAIKA taps on Stratasys J750 3D printers for the Missing Link

LAIKA is back with their newest animated feature movie, “Missing Link,” which has opened in theatres worldwide from 12 April. The studio’s fifth movie once again taps on Stratasys PolyJet 3D printing technology, and also relied on the use of Fraunhofer IGD’s Cuttlefish 3D printer driver to create charming character models.

Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by Hugh Jackman and Mr. Link (right) voiced by Zach Galifianakis in director Chris Butler’s MISSING LINK, a Laika Studios Production and Annapurna Pictures release. Credit: Laika Studios / Annapurna Pictures

Based in Portland, Oregon, the award-winning studio has been leveraging on 3D printing technology from Stratasys for quite some time to bring imagination to life – creating the most realistic, true-to-life 3D printed puppets with traditional handcrafting for its previous feature films such as “Coraline,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” and “Paranorman.”

For the “Missing Link,” Stratasys J750 3D printers were used to produce over 300,000 parts – from 106,000-character facial expressions, Nike Air Max Susan, down to the smallest set piece. With the J750 perfectly designed with true multi-color and multi-material capabilities, parts came with outstanding color consistency and operation for LAIKA’s stop-motion animation.

3D printed facial expressions of Mr. Link.
3D printed facial expressions of Mr. Link.

Besides the J750, LAIKA also leveraged on Fraunhofer IGD technologies because of their unrivaled color consistency and geometric accuracy. Laika had early beta access to the J750 before it was released commercially, but they found the software for it pretty limited which is where Cuttlefish came in. The combination of the Cuttlefish software and the J750 allowed the studio to produce the most highly sophisticated colored 3D prints ever.

While a major barrier to wider adoption of additive manufacturing technology remains the learning curve of design (DfAM), LAIKA is proving that manufacturing movie magic is not impossible by fusing the use of 3D printing with traditional handcrafting, as well as the hybrid use of practical effects with CGI.

Piecing Mr. Link together.
Piecing Mr. Link together.

As usage and adoption grow, designers will get more at ease with 3D printing which in turn helps to cultivate their confidence to become more innovative and creative in their jobs. By using the best tools available for each job and fitting them together, a more cohesive picture with scaled models and precise expressive characters is formed in the “Missing Link.”

The “Missing Link” tells the story of an explorer who encounters a Sasquatch-type creature living a solitary life in the Pacific Northwest and must guide him to his Yeti cousins in the fabled valley of Shangri-La deep in the Himalayas.

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