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The Top Applications of 3D Printing in the Movie Industry

Published on July 9, 2021 by Madeleine P.

While special effects have become commonplace in cinema, it seems that additive manufacturing is also making its way into the bright lights. Hollywood is increasingly using 3D technologies to create costumes, props, and all sorts of objects to make their films even more realistic. Some even film 3D printers at work, showing the public all the capabilities of the technology. So we’ve put together a few applications of 3D printing in the movie industry, from facilitating the development of animated films to designing the famous costumes of our favorite superheroes.

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!

Hela’s costume

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.

Photo Credits: Ironhead Studio

Thor: The Dark World

3D printing was also used in the Marvel blockbuster, Thor: The Dark World, the second movie in the Marvel series featuring the famous Norse deity Thor. In the movie, the god of thunder is equipped with a hammer, Mjölnir, whose weight only he can support. In reality, the one in the film was printed using the Binder Jetting process and polymer powders on a printer from the manufacturer Voxeljet. The process allowed for an incredible amount of detailing on the final hammer, as you can see in the video below.

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 film. 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

3D printing is often used in the movie industry

Korath’s armor and Star Lord’s mask before painting and other detailing (photo credits: Marvel)

Black Panther and the use of 3D technologies in the MCU

It is clear that Marvel is one of the production companies that is integrating printing the most into film. This is because the technology makes it possible to manufacture custom models and within the short timeframes required by this industry. Another example of this we have seen in the 2018 film Black Panther, where additive manufacturing was used to create the costume of Queen Ramonda of Wakanda. Behind the design are the artists Julia Koerner and Ruth E. Carter, who took advantage of this technology to design this original outfit. Furthermore, we recently learned about a project that integrated Artec 3D’s 3D scanning solutions in the customization of a Lexus LC 500 for the movie Black Panther 2, scheduled for 2022. The initiative came about thanks to the team at West Coast Customs, who took 9 months to achieve a satisfactory result. Both examples show the potential of 3D in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

impression 3d cinema

The Lexus LC 500 and the 3D printed costume

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.

3D printing movie

Iron Man’s armor

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.

The final version of the Demogorgon

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 this industry. Besides, who are we to doubt the magic of cinema?

The diamond necklace replica

James Bond

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.

The Aston Martin DB5

Chase Me

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.

3D printing in 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. This was revealed by the character Billy Brennan in Jurassic Park 3, when he 3D printed a replica of a dinosaur’s resonance chamber. 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. Below is a making-of video that shows the scene where a velociraptor pops its head out of its cage. It turns out that before making the dinosaur on computer, the team 3D printed its head.

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.

Kubo is another movie that used 3D printing for props and characters

A film shot in stop motion with the help of 3D printed figurines

What do you think of the role of 3D printing in the movie industry? Let us know in a comment below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly newsletter, with all the latest news in 3D printing delivered straight to your inbox!

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  1. A Crown Fit for a Queen: 3D Printing Hits the Big Screen in Black Panther. More info here: https://www.materialise.com/en/blog/a-crown-fit-for-a-queen-3d-printing-hits-big-screen-black-panther

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