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The Terrifying Effects of 3D Printing in American Horror Story

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For those who always fear that with any new technology comes a complete abandonment of the old, I give you the special effects team at American Horror Story. Whether you like the show or not, you have to admit it has some pretty awesome special effects requiring some not-so-standard creations like a second head complete with musculature. These might not be the standard problems presented in special effects school (although they very well might be…my degree is in art history), but when it comes time to tackle the projects required by this series, the folks at Fractured FX realize that it’s important to be able to work with all of the tools of the trade, old school or cutting edge.

DSC_0115The head of Fractured FX, Justin Raleigh, has been creating amazing and terrifying special effects for over 20 years for projects from 300: Rise of an Empire to The Knick and gets what he’s aiming at by combining traditional hand craft with the latest toy in the movie prop closet: the 3D printer. His experience and use of multiple technologies fed his innovative work for American Horror Story: Freak Show–for which he and the Fractured FX team just won an Emmy.

He explained the way that he sees all of these techniques coming together on any given project:

“We do have a big combination of modern 3D design and printing married with a lot of traditional sculpting and artisans who work hand-in-hand with both sides of it. We can create things that are completely symmetrical, highly machined-looking parts that we would never be able to create by hand. And then in some aspects, when we want perfect skin texture, it doesn’t work and it’s better to have an artisan do that by hand in clay.”

DSC_0136There’s simply no need to see the approaches as existing in opposition. People tend to want to see things as diametrically opposed, but just as the great terror with the introduction of the Kindle was that it would lead to the end of books, we have found, when in a less hysterical frame of mind, that they simply complement each other. In fact, there are some things that the Kindle can do that a book can’t and vice versa.

Whether working to create a second face or give Lobster Boy realistic claw hands, both of these worlds come together to create the best product possible. 3D printing isn’t the star of the show, it’s another tool that expands the possibilities.Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 8.37.07 PM

“One of the problems we’ve had in the past is creating hyper-detailed sculptures of someone in a screaming expression or some kind of extreme expression,” Raleigh said. “It’s hard to live cast someone like that. But now we’re starting to develop technology that can scan the person’s expression. [We can] 3D print that exact data and then re-mold it and re-sculpt it. That’s kind of the best process. So for things we only used to do by hand, now we can get the best of both worlds.”

Some people feel a certain sense of moral superiority when they do everything the old fashioned way, even when new, and improved, options are available to them. Raleigh is not one to worry about what people think, he just wants to work with what’s best. To paraphrase him, could you do all this without 3D printing? Probably, but would you really want to?

Do you watch this show?  What are your thoughts on their use of 3D printing for costumes and props?  Discuss in the American Horror Story forum on 3DPB.com.

 

 

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