Robots for the Movie ‘Chappie’ Were 3D Designed and Printed by Weta WorkShop & Image Engine

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c1There is little doubt that one day robots will be an incredibly important part of our lives. In fact some of the best minds of our generation even have expressed worry that robots could eventually jump ahead of humans on the proverbial food-chain, ultimately leading to the end of mankind. Although I don’t exactly buy this Terminator-style scenario, I do find the possibility of intelligent AI and robotics incredibly fascinating.

This is why I have been waiting eagerly for a recently released movie called Chappie to either come to a theater close to me, or get released to a streaming service like Netflix. The movie, which has gone relatively unnoticed, despite featuring stars such as Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver, and bringing in decent reviews, takes place in the ‘near-future’ where the South African police force is almost entirely robotic. When citizens begin to fight back against the repressive nature of the machines, one of the robots (Chappie) is stolen and reprogrammed by a software whiz named Deon (played by Dev Patel) to think and feel for itself. When destructive forces realize what has been done, they set out on a collision course to stop Chappie at all costs.

The film features plenty of robotic fight scenes, which are incredibly detailed. How did they manage to create such detailed robots, and film the destruction of these c3machines? 3D printing! That’s right, despite little being said about the vast amounts of 3D printing that went into the film, it played an incredibly important role in the entire movie.

Weta Workshop, a prop company based in Miramar, New Zealand and famous for its work on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, worked directly with Vancouver, Canada-based Image Engine to not only prototype these extremely large props but to actually 3D print the actual robots used within the film. Unlike many movies produced today, which rely solely on sophisticated computer generated imagery, Weta Workshop and Image Engine wanted Chappie and Moose (another robot from the film) to be 100% physically accurate.

“We didn’t want to do any of the typical cheats you might do in CG robots, where if you don’t see it it’s OK if things are crashing through,” says Chappie visual effects supervisor Chris Harvey. “We really wanted Chappie to be 100 per cent physically accurate in how it works – and no cheating with ball joints. It had to be more mechanical.”

19 variations on Chappie and the police scouts were printed by Weta Workshop, based on Image Engine’s 3D designs. Concepting and printing took over 2 months; the 12-foot Moose robot required 10,000 different parts alone.  A lot of work went into Image Engine’s digital models, which were used as a basis for the 3D printed models.

“”Chappie was one asset in Maya that had all of these different damage states.  We had multiple arms or chest pieces or heads – any of the pieces that would get damaged throughout the movie – he existed as one large asset with multiple setups. When it got to animation, depending on what state it would be it would show what was necessary. It was the same with lighting. They wouldn’t need to worry about hiding or showing the right pieces – it was a proprietary setup in Shotgun and Maya talking to each other,”Image Engine Asset Supervisor Barry Poon told FX Guide.

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For the Chappie character specifically, 3D modeling and printing was an incredible asset to the team. It enabled them to create one pristine version of the character, and then slightly modify each piece on a computer to represent 17 different versions of Chappie in different states of decay, prior to printing them out. This was an incredibly elaborate use of 3D printing for a film which will likely go underappreciated within theaters. It officially was release in early March in most markets, to varying reviews. “It’s the kind of movie which requires a certain intrigue into future technology,” claimed one reviewer.

The 3D printing work that went into its production only makes me want to go see it more.  How about you? Let us know if you’ve seen this film, and what your thoughts were. Discuss in the Chappie 3D Printing Forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the Trailer for the movie as well as a ‘behind the scenes’ clip from its filming below:

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