A Look Into Some Movies That Have Used 3D Printed Props


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Since the 1990’s 3D technology has gone hand in hand with the film spurned by the with the growth of special effects. CGI has become commonplace in movies and is used to create designs of characters, creatures, objects, explosions, planets, entire universes even. But movies are not just CGI. Props are an important part of filmmaking which help sets and even characters come to life. There is no doubt that the use of 3D printers in the film industry is becoming more promising: producers, filmmakers, propmakers and costume designers are lately utilizing 3D printers to save time and money while creating astonishing effects for us to enjoy.

Mixing real objects, accessories, and costumes with CGI is essential to get optimum results, but it means that studios and investors need more and more money, and making films has become very expensive. 3D printing can in these cases be used both to augment special effects, create inexpensive props, be used for stop motion and generally can be used to save costs.

During the last couple of years 3D printed props, models and costumes made their appearance in movies. One of these movies even won an Oscar last weekend for Best Costume Design while another won an Oscar for best special effects. Here are some of the most interesting uses of 3D printin in the movies:

First Man (2018)

Image provided by BigRep

First Man is a biographical drama film directed by Damien Chazelle and written by Josh Singer. The film is based on the book “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong” by James R. Hansen. The film follows the years leading up to the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon in 1969, and to bring this to life, 3D printers were used.

First Man’s production designer Nathan Crowley came across a BigRep 3D printer printing a chair while strolling through the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the shoot for The Greatest Showman in the fall of 2016. He did not get to use a 3D printer for said movie, but he was sure he wanted to for his next movie.

Image provided by BigRep

For First Man, Crowley rented two BigRep One 3D printers to create an accurate scale replica of the Apollo 11 capsule and Saturn V rocket, along with other crucial props, in less than six months. Although the crew already had some experience with 3D printing, BigRep One was nothing compared to what they have used before, thus BigRep’s senior 3D printing specialist Michael David helped the crew with the installation and training. You can read more about it here.


Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther is a superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it tells the story about T’Challa who is crowned king of Wakanda following his father’s death, but his sovereignty is challenged by an adversary who plans to abandon the country’s isolationist policies and begin a global revolution. Black Panther has recently won an Oscar for Best Costume Design for Ruth Carter’s amazing work.

Photo: Kwaku Alston

The movie takes place in a technologically advanced environment with several futuristic gadgets, therefore, it was important that costumes reflected that aesthetic. Carter, in charge of the movie’s costume design, created a series of sketches, illustrations, and digital patterns. To bring them to life, Julia Koerner, an inter-disciplinary designer specialized in 3D printed wearables helped Carter. Koerner collaborated with Materialise, a Belgian 3D printing company, on creating a collection of cutting-edge accessories fit for Queen Ramonda played by actress Angela Bassett.


Jurassic World (2015)

From the classic Jurassic Park film series, Jurassic World is a science fiction adventure film directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Derek Connolly. The movie takes place 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park, in the fictional Central American island of Isla Nublar, where a theme park of cloned dinosaurs has operated for nearly a decade.

Jurassic World got closer to reality thanks to 3D printing. The team used 3D scanning and 3D printing to create replicas of prehistoric artifacts by 3D scanning original bones and fossils and to help them create 3D printable models.

Source: 3D World Magazine Issue #182

Thanks to 3D printers, the team had the chance to print dinosaur skeletons. By doing some modification on their 3D files, they were able to create males, females, and adolescents. Additive manufacturing gave them a lot of freedom to adjust the design of dinosaurs to make them look as realistic as possible.


Chase Me (2015)

Chase Me is a 3D printed film created by the French digital artist Gilles-Alexandre Deschaud. The short film was entirely made from 3D printed parts. The story begins with a girl playing the ukulele as she walks through a magical forest. As she walks, her shadow evolves into a monster that chases her through the woods. Every frame of the film was first designed by the artist in CG and later processed into 3D prints.

This short animated film took a total of two years to make, ten months of nonstop 3D printing, four months of CG animation, and 2,500 3D printed pieces. The set and characters were printed in 100 micron resolution, and bigger pieces, like the tree in the forest, were printed in 22 individual parts and later assembled.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a space opera film produced, co-written and directed by J. J. Abrams. The Force Awakens is set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, the film follows Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron’s search for Luke Skywalker and their fight alongside the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa and veterans of the Rebel Alliance, against Kylo Ren and the First Order, a successor to the Galactic Empire.

A lot of props and costumes have been 3D printed for this Star Wars movie and all of them were created under the supervision of practical special effects and costume design Michael Kaplan. The famous Stormtroopers helmet, large portions of the shiny chrome Stormtrooper armor, Kylo Ren’s red lightsaber, and some parts of C3PO have been manufactured using 3D printers. The main advantage of using 3D printers was that this manufacturing technique allowed the movie to get props quite quickly and with great accuracy.


ParaNorman (2012)

ParaNorman is a stop-motion animated comedy horror film produced by Laika and Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler. It is the first stop-motion film to use a 3D color printer to create character faces, and only the second to be shot in 3D. The film tells the story about Norman, a young boy who can communicate with ghosts, is given the task of ending a 300 year-old witch’s curse on his Massachusetts town.

The team that worked on this movie wanted to create various facial emotions for the same character. To do this, they used 3D printers to create all  the faces with different facial emotions. Norman was then capable of 1.5 million expressions. For the 27 characters with 3D printed faces, the rapid-prototyping department output 31,000 parts, which they were stored and cataloged in a face library. One 27-second shot required 250 different faces for a single character, so each face was marked by tiny fissures where the components fit together. Later on, a “seam team” removes the fine lines in postproduction.


[Sources: ChaseMeFilm, Variety, PopularMechanics]

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