The Top Applications of 3D Printing in the Movie Industry
Special effects have become a major attraction for moviegoers, and it’s no surprise that additive manufacturing is gaining ground in the film industry. 3D technologies are being widely employed on diverse film sets, ranging from animated movies to Marvel blockbusters and even Avatar. These technologies are leveraged to bring costumes, props, one-of-a-kind design prototypes, and other objects to life, enhancing the overall realism of films. To help outline that, we have curated a collection of the most awe-inspiring and captivating applications of 3D printing in the movie industry!
The Animated Film Missing Link
LAIKA Studios released an animated film called Missing Link in April 2020. They worked hand in hand with Stratasys to 3D print puppets that represent the different characters on screen: thanks to PolyJet technology, they can even include colors and textures, faithfully reproducing the expressions of each one. More than 300,000 parts were 3D printed, whether for the sets or the facial expressions. The result is amazing!
If you are a Marvel fan, then you know who Hela is – otherwise, let us enlighten you. She is Thor’s half-sister who appears on the screens in Thor Ragnarok, also called the Goddess of Death. So of course she has the costume to goes with it and what interests us today is her headpiece. This one was 3D printed after scanning the head of Cate Blanchett, the actress who played the role. SLS technology was used along with a composite powder reinforced with carbon fibers, offering both lightness and good stability. According to its creator, the helmet weighs about 4 lbs (1.8 kg) and was printed in several parts to be able to put it together as Marvel wanted.
Marvel’s Thor Saga
However, Hela’s costume is not the only example of 3D printing in the iconic marvel movies. In “Thor: Love and Thunder,” the Formlabs Form 3+ 3D printer is prominently featured in Jane’s laboratory. In a previous film, “Thor: The Dark World,” Thor’s iconic hammer, Mjölnir, was brought to life using binder jetting with polymer powders on a Voxeljet printer. This advanced printing technique resulted in an astonishing level of detail on the final hammer, as showcased in the accompanying video.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Another Marvel blockbuster using 3D printing is the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. For example, in the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy,” prop specialists FBFX Ltd used 3D printing to make Star-Lord’s mask as well as the armor costume for the character Korath, the first time that the team produced a fully 3D printed costume that was worn in a movie. The team used an Objet500 Connex printer, which can combine multiple colors and materials into a single object thanks to its use of Stratasys’ PolyJet technology. Additionally, another props team, Prop Shop, based in the UK, worked on Guardians of the Galaxy. Using 3D printing to make some of the iconic weapons as well as parts of the ship.
Black Panther and 3D Printing in the MCU
As you might have already been able to tell, Marvel Studios is at the forefront of integrating 3D printing into the world of cinema. They recognize the technology’s ability to create tailor-made models within the tight deadlines of the industry. Back in 2018, we saw this in action with the blockbuster film Black Panther, where 3D printing was used to bring Queen Ramonda’s extraordinary costume to life for the movie. And in the highly anticipated sequel, Wakanda Forever, 3D printing once again took center stage, showcasing intricate and meticulously crafted costumes. Renowned designer Julia Koerner, known for her groundbreaking work that combines architecture, 3D technology, and fashion design, was the mastermind behind these visually stunning outfits. These examples highlight the incredible potential of additive manufacturing within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Iron Man’s 3D Printed Suit
We continue with 3D printed applications in Marvel movies with the famous Iron Man suit. Contrary to what you might expect, the armor was not created in real life by Robert Downey Jr., the actor who plays Tony Stark, but by the American special effects studio Legacy Effects, which specializes in creature design, prosthetic makeup, animatronics, and special suits. In order to save time and costs, additive manufacturing and 3D technologies were used. Last but not least, these are particularly useful for testing prototypes or producing spare parts. It is also amazing to see how many self-created, 3D-printed Iron Man suits are created within the Maker community, some of which look very similar to the original.
The Demogorgon Creature from Stranger Things
Since the release of the first episode in the summer of 2016, the American series Stranger Things has been a great success. Directed by the Duffer Brothers, the series plunges viewers halfway between science fiction and horror, including several fantastic creatures. Among them is the Demogorgon, a predatory creature that seeks to eliminate humans. The reason we’re talking about the Demogorgon in this ranking is that California-based design studio Aaron Sims Creative used 3D printing to design it. To do so, the studio used its four Formlabs 3D printers to individually print the 20 parts that make up the creature, which stands about 50 cm tall.
A 3D Printer in Ocean’s 8
Have you seen the movie Ocean’s 8? If the answer is yes, then you may not have noticed a detail. In this spin-off of the Ocean’s saga, the team of spies resorts to additive manufacturing to replicate jewelry and costume jewelry illegally. In the scene in question, we can see in the background how a MakerBot Replicator Z18 3D printer perfectly creates a Cartier diamond necklace that even convinces Anne Hathaway that it is real. Now, some viewers and tech enthusiasts doubt that this desktop machine is capable of achieving such a perfect final quality and finish equal to that of real jewelry. Still, it is impressive to see the prominence 3D printing is gaining in the movie industry. Besides, who are we to doubt the magic of cinema?
Even if you are not a big movie fan, you will most likely be familiar with Agent 007, the infamous Bond, James Bond. The Bond film series has been around since the 1960s and now consists of 24 official films. During the filming of the sequel “Skyfall”, which was released in 2012, the series also decided to use 3D printing. For example, Propshop Modelmakers Ltd, a company specializing in the production of film props, commissioned Voxeljet AG to produce a total of three Aston Martin DB 5 models. This is due to the fact that the prohibitively expensive car needed stunt doubles, so to speak, which could burst into flames in action scenes. So the German 3D printing manufacturer used its VX1000 industrial large-format 3D printer in binder jetting to produce the vehicle models, which ended up looking confusingly similar to the original.
Chase Me is a short film by French director Gilles-Alexandre Deschaud that tells the story of a girl in a mystical forest. The film used time-lapse animation, which explains why more than 2500 parts had to be printed. For the production of the parts, the artist used exclusively the Form 1+ 3D printer which uses the SLA process. The 3D printed puppets have a resolution of 100 microns and it took about a week to create a four-second sequence. In total, the director spent two years on the project.
Recreating Dinosaurs With 3D Printing for Jurassic Park
Dinosaurs may have been extinct for thousands of years, but thanks to 3D technology, paleontologists and other dinosaur enthusiasts can replicate some of their features. One of the first examples of this was actually done by the character Billy Brennan in Jurassic Park 3, when he 3D printed a replica of a dinosaur’s resonance chamber in order to recreate the sound made by the creature. Several years later, in order to make Jurassic Park World, the franchise once again used 3D printing, but this time to make the dinosaurs’ skulls. Then again in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, four full-scale dinosaur replicas were made along with others done with processes like CNC milling for the movie itself.
3D Printing in the World of Kubo
Kubo and the Two strings is a LAIKA studio production directed by Travis Knight, released as a family film in theaters in 2016. The animated movie uses a special technique in which 3D printing is used to make limbs and facial expressions A total of 23,000 faces were made for the 22 cm puppet of the main character, Kubo. Through additional manual manipulation, about 48 million different facial movements could be created for Kubo.
Pinocchio, the Marionette from Guillermo del Toro’s Animated Film
Another compelling example of 3D printing in the world of cinema is showcased in Guillermo del Toro’s latest animated film, Pinocchio. The intricate creation of this puppet was entrusted to Laser Prototype Europe Ltd (LPE), a reputable company located in East Belfast, United Kingdom. Notably, LPE houses the oldest rapid prototyping service office in the entire British and Irish region. Tasked with bringing the marionette to life, LPE utilized high-resolution metal 3D printing technology, employing either DMLS or SLS (the specific technique was not disclosed). The challenge lay not only in capturing precise details in each individual part, but also in seamlessly assembling them to create a fully articulated and mobile puppet. With careful attention to craftsmanship, LPE successfully printed and assembled the pieces, culminating in an awe-inspiring final product that captivates audiences in the film.
3D Printed Dentures in ‘Renfield’
The highly anticipated movie “Renfield,” starring Nicolas Cage as Dracula, hit the cinemas mid April this year. An intriguing aspect of Cage’s portrayal is the incorporation of 3D printed dentures, showcasing the intersection of technology and movie magic. By employing digital scans of Cage’s teeth, a dental technician utilized 3D printing to create customized dentures, ensuring a perfect fit and enabling him to convincingly embody the character. This innovative application highlights the growing role of 3D printing in the film industry, where it enables the creation of intricate and lifelike prosthetics for an enhanced cinematic experience. The use of 3D printed dentures in “Renfield” exemplifies the expanding possibilities of 3D printing in both dentistry and movie production, showcasing its potential to revolutionize the field of prosthetics and character design.
3D Printed Props in HBO Series ‘Raised by Wolves – A New Humanity’
The producers of the HBO series “Raised by Wolves – A New Humanity” collaborated with Dreamsmith Studio, a company specializing in prop manufacturing. While additive manufacturing was already utilized in the first season, it became an integral part of prop production for the second season. The team primarily relied on the large-format Form 3L stereolithography printer, using SLA technology and a range of resins. This approach provided several advantages: the Form 3L printer was reliable, capable of capturing intricate details, and user-friendly. It allowed ideas to be brought to life while minimizing trial and error, enabling the team to focus on more creative tasks. The use of 3D printing allowed the creation of lifelike silicone replacements for actors, reducing the need for live usage. Additionally, it facilitated the production of masks and complex forms that would have been challenging with traditional methods. Dreamsmith reported significant time and cost savings through 3D printing. Another benefit was the ability to scan actors’ faces remotely from anywhere in the world, streamlining pre-production work.
Star Wars – Lightsabers Created through 3D Printing
Who would have imagined that the iconic lightsabers from the beloved Star Wars films are actually produced using 3D printers? Thanks to the advanced technology offered by manufacturer Markforged, companies like Thingergy Inc. have the ability to craft high-quality film props using additive manufacturing. Alongside their work on lightsabers, Thingergy has also played a significant role in developing the armor worn by Moff Gideon in Star Wars: The Mandalorian, and their expertise has been enlisted for four different Star Wars shows. As one of the most sought-after prop houses in the industry, Thingergy has also contributed to the creation of creatures and monsters for popular series such as Stranger Things, Umbrella Academy, and various other films and TV shows.
3D Printing Used to Create Costumes for Avatar 2
In the production of Avatar 2, the second film in the Avatar saga released in 2022, 3D printing was employed to produce some of the costumes. The decision to utilize additive manufacturing was not explicitly explained. However, neither director James Cameron nor costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott emphasized the speed of the process. They both stated that the fabrication of certain costumes took a whopping 200 hours “per garment,” excluding the preliminary design phase. It is difficult to ascertain which costumes were specifically 3D-printed, as some pieces were also meticulously hand-sewn.
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