Pacific Rim – 3D Printing as seen on the big screen: Hollywood Superheroes, Monsters & Props.

If you have seen blockbuster ‘Pacific Rim’ recently, you would have experienced the impact of 3D printing on movie production.

3D Printed parts on the big screen

No you did not see a Stratasys Objet Connex on screen, but what you saw was printed costumes and props made using Stratasys 3D Printers (both PolyJet and FDM technologies).

But what goes on behind the scenes? In the case of television, movies and video games, visual effects are produced by expert “shops” such as Legacy Effects and FBFX Ltd.

Though it’s not a technique that’s much discussed outside the industry, 3D printing is increasingly being adopted as a way to help make movies more efficiently and quickly than ever, according to Jason Lopes, a system engineer at Legacy Effects, an Oscar-nominated effects studio.

In the past, designing complex props meant creating new handcrafted foam models at each step of the way. But now, because they’re starting with 3D reference art provided by the client, these expert “shops” can simply print out a miniature and present it to the client for approvals. Then, based on the feedback they get, they can go back to the reference design, make any necessary changes, and print a larger version. 3D printing helps bring designs for props, makeup or costume pieces from computer screen to a realistic 3D model in just a few hours – compared to traditional building methods. In shops that have multiple 3D printers, different designers can prototype their ideas simultaneously and in precise detail!

Legacy Effect’s Facility

Pacific Rim

In this video special effects supervisor Shane Mahan of Legacy Effects discusses making the pilot suits for Guillermo Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM. Over a hundred separate pieces were created for each suit and were extensively tested and meticulously designed and aged.

Legacy Effects also worked together with Hollywood big gun Stan Winston School to produce a 9.5-foot-tall, fully animated Pacific Rim robot for the technology magazine, Wired at the annual Comic-Con. More details here at the Stratasys blog.

The Wired Mech nearing completion at Legacy Effects

Iron Man 2

Another look at the “Iron Man 2” glove made using a 3D printer by Legacy Effects.

Last year, CNet also covered a story on why Hollywood loves 3D printing revolving around 2012’s hit Blockbuster, “Ironman 2”.

When director Jon Favreau and Paramount Pictures were making the hit 2010 film, they needed to find the best way to put together a physical Iron Man suit for certain scenes in the movie that couldn’t be computer generated.
Rather than build models by hand, as was long the practice in Hollywood, the filmmakers turned to 3D printing, one of the hottest technologies around.


If you’ve ever seen something come off of a MakerBot, or another low-end 3D printer, you might have trouble believing that the technology is capable of turning out something good enough to be used in a tent-pole movie with a 9-figure budget.

And that may well be true of the lowest-end consumer-quality machines. But with higher-end 3D printers that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the quality is much higher — to the point, explained Bruce Bradshaw, director of marketing of Objet Geometries, where the layering of the printouts is so fine that it’s nearly impossible to see any of the tell-tale layer lines that often betray that an item has been 3D-printed.

Objet’s machines, which are used by Legacy Effects, produce models with a layer thickness of 16 microns, Bradshaw said, or the width of one-third of a human hair. And that precision and quality, he added, is ideal for teams in the entertainment industry like Lopes’.

Bradshaw pointed to the work done using Objet machines on “Iron Man 2,” as well as more than 200 individual facial models used for Henry Selick’s stop-motion film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline.”

For his part, Lopes, a system engineer at Legacy Effects, said that one of the biggest benefits of using 3D printers is that the machines can be counted on to turn out just what they’re supposed to, time after time after time. “I print more and have less problems,” said Lopes of his 3D printer, “than I do with my traditional Epson printer. I run it 24-7. It’s nonstop.”

Lopes said that though Hollywood has been slow to recognize the value of 3D printing, producers are starting to catch on to what the technology has to offer.

“We walk them over to the technology and show them and blow them out of the water,” Lopes said. “I think it’s starting to infiltrate more in Hollywood, and more and more people who know what comes out of our studio are seeing how this technology can assist any industry.”

Summit, who has long been a proponent of 3D printing, and who teaches about the technology at places like Stanford and Singularity University, recognizes that what it can do at the high end is almost available to anyone who can get their hands on one of the machines.

“Especially now, when that technology has become so much more consumerized, it’s no longer the domain of wizards and magicians…and that’s disruptive,” Summit said. “You don’t have to have a degree [in 3D modeling] anymore to get fairly compelling results.”

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