Exclusive Interview: Materialise on 3D Printing, Black Panther, Agile Fashion Design

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Black Panther hit the big screen earlier this year, immediately breaking records and grabbing attention for its storyline, diverse cast, remarkable visual effects — and dazzling overall aesthetic. That aesthetic shined through in the movie’s costume design, marrying the traditional and the futuristic into a unique Wakandan vibe made possible in part through 3D printing.

Architect and 3D designer Julia Koerner brought her experience with 3D printing to bear, working with costume designer Ruth E. Carter on the costumes for the
character Queen Ramonda as part of the Marvel production. A number of 3D printing technologies and materials came into play for the movie; Koerner created a unique 3D vision for the 3D printed costumes for Queen Ramonda, portrayed by Angela Bassett, who needed to present a regal image of technological superiority. Invaluable to the ultimate effort in showcasing the queen mother’s image was Materialise, which 3D printed for the client Julia Koerner / JK Design GmbH, who generated the 3D design files for Carter.

I appreciated the recent opportunity to speak with Valérie Vriamont, Business Developer at Materialise, to learn more about the 3D printing aspect from the Belgian company’s perspective.

Materialise has great expertise in the end-to-end process of 3D printing and has been involved in a variety of projects for a variety of industries and applications; collaboration is a critical element for the company as they incorporate the specific expertise of partners in each endeavor.

“Basically what we try to do always with our customers is rely on their industry expertise, and we want to be, from our side, a reliable partner,” Vriamont told me.

“We are not the experts, for example, in the creation of 3D garments; bringing their know-how in their industry with our know-how allows us to create a bridge for this project. Julia is a partner we’ve been working with for a long time, and has experience with 3D garments. This is the way that we collaborate together.”

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER
Ramonda (Angela Bassett)
Photo: Matt Kennedy
©Marvel Studios 2018

“Materialise, and its factory for 3D printing, offers a wide variety of materials and technologies which were essential to the success of this project. Through several print iterations PA12 was selected as the suitable material. One might find this surprising as this is a rather stiff material compared to the more flexible TPU which was tested in a first phase of the development,” she told me.

“At the end it was the combination of the material properties of PA12 and the, by Julia Koerner, designed structure that enabled the creation the final shoulder piece and hat that were flexible enough to be worn while strong enough to create this imposing costume. Integrating 3D printing in the costume design for Black Panther was also in line with the theme of the movie in which Wakanda is a civilization which is both technologically advanced while still deeply linked to its African culture. “

Queen Ramonda’s showstopping 3D printed fashion includes a shoulder piece and a head piece.

As the queen mother of Wakanda, Ramonda represents the manifestation of a proud traditional culture with an incredibly advanced technological base. Working with 3D printing to create these imposing pieces allowed an exploration into the best ways to capture and crown the leadership spirit of the fictional Wakanda with a uniquely beautiful design aesthetic.

“Koerner wanted to create a very real product with a strong look,” Vriamont said.

This project highlights several strengths of both Materialise itself and additive manufacturing more broadly. For Vriamont, the key takeaways are Materialise’s core strengths in how to make a file into a part and how to make a part become a product. When it comes to wearable designs such as costume pieces or other fashion, Materialise has been building up expertise in “how to finish something and make a high-end product the consumer wants to wear.”

T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

“We see that it is something appealing not only to Koerner, but to the entire fashion/wearable industry. Designers want to be able to differentiate themselves while offering a product, not a part that they want to wear,” Vriamont continued, pointing to making and finishing eyewear as an example.

We have seen Materialise work with Safilo to create fully wearable glasses. At the company’s Leuven headquarters, I had the opportunity to try on a pair of frames made in collaboration with Hoet, as well, to (literally) see first-hand finished products.

Materialise has a long-term collaboration with Koerner and other designers to continue working on projects. As CEO Fried Vancraen has underscored, meaningful applications for 3D printing will only continue to grow.

“There are always new [projects] in the pipeline,” Vriamont said. “In fashion in general, we are working on several. As an example, in eyewear we are already quite far ahead. We have several applications where we are analyzing how there can be a fit between industry requirements and what we can do in 3D printing.”

Ph: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

The fashion industry is highly interested in the capabilities afforded by 3D printing, as Vriamont and her team at Materialise can attest. She noted in the course of our conversation having attended a recent fashion conference and the theme there of a “need to bring something new that looks high-end.” Fashion is a fast-moving industry, with seasonal collections and constant new introductions — a solid fit for the agility allowed for in production via additive manufacturing.

“Besides this for the designer, for the consumer you will feel this trend — the end consumer is more trend-aware than ever before. They wear a T-shirt for six months, and after six months want a new T-shirt. Digital lets us help bring designs to the market without the long product development,” Vriamont said.

Several brands, fashion and eyewear, will “every two to three months change their product catalog based on what sells and what does not sell. 3D printing technology will bring new trends to the fashion industry, and this is something we see growing toward the future.”

Materialise will continue to push forward in fashion design, both everyday wearable and costume, as the iterative and low-volume production benefits of 3D printing allow for an agile approach to both design and creation.

Black Panther brings even more silver screen attention to the capabilities of 3D printing as the film industry continues to embrace the technology, and we look forward to seeing where else additive manufacturing will appear in Hollywood and Wakanda.

Discuss costume design and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below. 

[All images copyright Marvel, provided by Materialise / Black Panther Costume Design by Ruth Carter]


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