Revolutionizing Movie Making through 3D Printing

By December 2, 2016 No Comments

Coraline. ParaNorman. The Boxtrolls.

What do these movies have in common? They were produced by animation studio LAIKA.

They were also created using 3D printing.

Why 3D Printing Works in the Movies

For LAIKA’s animations, 3D printing allows the company to generate hundreds, even thousands, of character models. These models must have minute differences in their facial expressions to create the stop-motion animation that has made the company so popular.

Before 3D printing, these different scenes would have been hand-drawn. Or even built by hand. Let’s just say it took a while.

(And if you had a teary-eyed moment during Skyfall when the Aston Martin DB5 was obliterated, know that particular vehicle was also a 3D printed model. Whew.)

Lessening the Need for Hand-Made Props

In the Marvel movies, Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit is often computer generated. But in Iron Man 2, there were scenes where this wasn’t possible. They were being filmed live action, so Robert Downey, Jr. needed to be wearing the suit.

Making a suit by hand was possible. And was the common practice up until now. But it’s also time-consuming. 3D printing the needed suit was much quicker, so that’s what the effects studio opted to do.

And as much as effects studios may not like to hear it, movie producers don’t need to rely on them to create these pieces. Companies across the world (some specializing in the entertainment industry, others not) offer 3D printing services. You provide the 3D files, your object is printed, then it’s shipped to you. It won’t be long before movie makers can just go to their local UPS store to have props 3D printed.

Making the Approval Process Simpler

Switching a 3D printer to a new project is as simple as programming in a new 3D file. This allows those making props to print small versions during the approval process.

Once approved, those small versions are reprinted full scale. And they look exactly the same.

3D Designs are Readily Available

Modern movies often rely on computer-generated imagery (CGI). CGI requires 3D reference materials.

An effects studio (such as Legacy Effects that worked on Iron Man 2) can request those 3D files and use them to create the necessary movie props. That means:

  • Steps (such as foam models) can be removed from the process
  • The 3D printed objects look like their digital counterparts (provided no one messes with the 3D files)

Other Uses of 3D Printing

Once a movie is put out, the printers don’t get to rest. 3D printers can also be used to create marketing pieces such as:

  • Action figures (especially ones for limited runs that are different from the mass-produced ones)
  • Costumes for Halloween and cosplay
  • Models of sets

Revolutionizing the Movie Industry

3D printing has found its way into almost every aspect of movie making. Character models as mentioned above. Props. Costumes. Parts of sets. Marketing materials. And studios are choosing 3D printing to save time, save money, and create more practical and realistic objects. How much longer do you think it’ll be before every part of a movie is 3D printed?