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3D Printing and the Movie Industry

3D Printing and the Movie Industry

3D printing has had a dramatic effect the movie world. As the industry grapples with the change, it has set its sights on radically altering its output. Due to the rising popularity of fantasy and comic book films, hi-tech visuals and CGI are taking precedence to meet increasing competition from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. 3D printing also has its role to play.

The film industry embraced 3D printing technology as far back as 2012. An article by Daniel Terdiman in CNET stated:

“Though it's not a technique that's much discussed outside the industry, 3D printing is increasingly being adopted as a way to help make movies more efficiently and quickly than ever, according to Jason Lopes, a system engineer at Legacy Effects, an Oscar-nominated effects studio.”

Over the past few years 3D printed props have been used in big-budget films like Skyfall, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor: The Dark World. Although cost is a major factor in the popularity of 3D printing, there are several other reasons for its rise. The eco-friendly appeal of the technology is a big part, as well as high quality resolution and scalability. Prop makers are able to achieve quicker design turnaround times and enhanced customisation.

More Room For Creativity

3D printing has given the movie industry more room for creativity. Hollywood currently spends around $100 million per year on CGI, an umbrella term that includes 3D printing. However, as Charles Goulding points out, it may be that in years to come 3D printing will be the dominant component of the industry. Considering its cost-effectiveness and customisation, that date may be closer than many realise.

The expansion of creativity when it comes to 3D printing has been adopted by various production houses and prop departments. A good example is Weta Workshop in New Zealand, which has supplied props to various Hollywood and TV franchises such as The Hobbit series and Indiana Jones.

Where they once made every single prop by hand, they now make the bulk of their designs via the medium of 3D printing. From suits of armour to elaborate robot skeletons, the Weta Workshop has become a beacon for pushing the creative boundaries and showing us just what a 3D printer can achieve.

Their biggest achievement to date was a detailed endoskeleton of a robot for the movie Chappie in 2015. Working directly with Vancouver-based Image Engine they created an initial prototype and then 3D printed the full-scale robot. Chappie visual effects supervisor Chris Harvey said in an interview:

“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. We really wanted Chappie to be 100 percent physically accurate in how it works – and no cheating with ball joints. It had to be more mechanical.”

It will be exciting to see if and when 3D printing will come to dominate the industry.

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