In Stijn Devillé’s Gesprek met de Regen, which translates to “Conversation with the Rain,” a couple grieves the loss of their daughter during the monsoon season in Singapore. The play’s setting required a lot of rain, which is a challenge in a theatre, but the theatre company Het Nieuwstedelijk worked closely with KU Leuven and Materialise to not only create rain, but to do it in an extremely artistic way.

KU Leuven student Arne Broeders designed the rain machine for his Master’s thesis in Industrial Engineering: Electronics and ICT. 8.5 meters long and spanning the entire length of the stage, the machine not only creates indoor rainfall but also creates images, patterns and words in the water – somewhat similarly to a Spanish art installation created a couple of years ago. Broeders developed the software program that would allow the images to appear, along with designing and building the machine itself.

The machine needed to be constructed in a way that would allow it to be lightweight and easy to move between venues. Techniques like CNC milling would have created a machine that was much too heavy to be hung up in a theatre, as well as too expensive. So Broeders turned to 3D printing, which allowed him to integrate the internal channels right into the rain machine’s design. Materialise advised the designer on the best method of 3D printing for the project, which turned out to be Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), thanks to its ability to 3D print complex designs at low cost.

Materialise’s Design and Engineering team also helped Broeders alter the design to create a more open structure, reducing material costs and allowing for more thorough removal of unused powder. The file was then prepared with Materialise Magics software.

“After a few test prints on the campus, we realized we had to move towards larger entities which were completely sealed, which wasn’t possible with FDM,” said Broeders. “That’s how we ended up with Materialise, the only company around Leuven capable of printing plastic on an industrial scale. They advised us about using the Laser Sintering technique and the results were amazing; the entire structure was watertight and our valves were easily able to operate the nozzles.”

Actors Tom Van Bauwel and Sara Vertongen

The final product was employed to impressive effect, releasing rain down onto the stage and revealing brightly lit words and images rendered in water. In a way, the rain machine is itself a printer, releasing water in pre-programmed shapes to form fleeting but memorable works of art. It likely would not have been feasible to create such a machine without 3D printing, which allowed it to be lightweight, inexpensive, and built in the complex geometry that was required. Broeders’ design won the Leuven MindGate Crossover Contest and will be touring with the play across Europe, showing audiences another example of how 3D printing intersects with art. In addition to seeing a moving story, audiences will be treated to the best of technology.

Gesprek met de Regen premiered in Genk, Belgium on May 30th and will be touring all over Europe.

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[Source: Materialise/Images: Katrijn Van Giel]

 

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