colonyMy list of “shows I need to start binge-watching” keeps getting longer and longer — almost intimidatingly so. Who needs a social life, though, really? The newest entry, which I just added to the list, is USA Network’s Colony, which centers on a family trying to survive in a near-future version of Los Angeles that has been taken over by mysterious invaders. There are aliens and it was created by one of the producers of LOST — how did I miss this one? Anyway, the first season finale just took place last week, and — spoiler alert! — one of the aliens finally revealed itself. The extraterrestrial was encased in an intimidating, high-tech exoskeleton that, as it turns out, was almost entirely 3D printed.

For the finale, Colony’s producers turned to Legacy Effects, a special effects studio that has worked on a few obscure indie films like Pacific Rim, Iron Man, The Revenant, and Avatar. Legacy has an arsenal of 3D printers at its disposal, including some that utilize the groundbreaking new CLIP technology, but for Colony’s alien, Lead System Engineer Jason Lopes decided to go with a (relatively) humble MakerBot Replicator Z18. The Z18 is a giant among MakerBots, with a build volume of 30.5 x 30.5 x 45.7 cm, and it’s the most professionally-oriented printer offered by a company most well-known for supplying hobbyists with desktop machines.

alienThe large build area was key for Lopes; the first thing he did for the Colony project was to print out the entire lower leg of the alien exoskeleton in one print job. Another plus of the Z18 for Lopes was its remote monitoring capabilities; he was able to keep tabs on each print job even while away, so that he could alert a colleague to clear the build plate and start a new print job as soon as the last one finished, keeping things moving at a steady clip. Though some of the parts took more than 60 hours to print, Lopes was able to 3D print the entire suit in less than two weeks.

“I didn’t have one failed build on that entire suit and the end result was exactly what we needed,” he said.

The complex, many-piece exoskeleton was printed entirely in PLA, which made it sturdy enough to hold up in transport and on the set without any damage. Once it was fully printed, Legacy Effects’ artists moved in to paint and polish the suit and add in the visor, electronics and any finishing touches. The end result was as frightening as intended.

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“The alien suit that Legacy Effects created for last week’s season finale of Colony looks incredible and we’re proud that it was 3D printed on a MakerBot Z18,” said Jonathan Jaglom, CEO of MakerBot. “3D printing has become more accessible for artists and designers over the last couple of years and the technology has matured both in terms of reliability and functionality. That’s why we’re seeing more and more professionals embrace 3D printing to help them realize their ideas in a way that is fast and affordable. In fact, it would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to design, prototype and eventually build the Colony alien suit using traditional manufacturing methods. It’s exciting to see how 3D printing is transforming the creative process at special effects studios like Legacy Effects.”

Legacy Effects currently has two Replicator Z18s and one Replicator 2 among its collection of 3D printers. Lopes is obviously a huge fan of 3D printing; in addition to using the technology for as many of his special effects as possible, he also introduces it to fellow designers. Legacy also regularly provides filmmaking clients with inexpensive 3D printed mini-maquettes, which help producers and directors to get a feel for how a final piece will look on a large scale; in many cases, that large-scale piece will be 3D printed as well.

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“We’re on the cutting edge of what’s happening,” said Legacy Effects co-founder Alan Scott. “You get to showcase the technology to people and it inspires them to use it in ways we wouldn’t have thought of.”

You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the alien exoskeleton below. Are you surprised to see this in a show you watch? Discuss in the 3D Printed Colony Exoskeleton forum over in 3DPB.com.

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