How 3D printing is changing the way animations are made

What advice do you have for someone experimenting with 3D printing? We use Maya to model, rig and animate, ZBrush for modelling fine detail and Photoshop to paint our texture maps. 3D printing has already changed the way stop-motion animated films are produced. 3D printing is still relatively cost prohibitive; when the price comes down, smaller independent studios may be more likely to try it out. Over the years Laika has had a few different 3D printers. One of the limits with the 3D colour printing technology we are using is fine feature detail. Creating a CG model that is printable is actually a lot easier than 3D printing service bureaus will tell you. Laika utilises 3D printing throughout a film’s production. Over 53,000! This article first appeared in 3D World issue 183.  
Was 3D printing used on The Boxtrolls? Both media are now able to tell complex stories with incredibly subtle and naturalistic character performances. Whether that physical model is used for lighting reference, or in the approval process, having a tangible object is always important. How long has Laika been using 3D printing? What software and printers do you use? Laika first used 3D printing on 2006’s CoralineWe first started using 3D printing for replacement-animated faces in 2006 while doing early preproduction work on Coraline. We spoke to Brian McLean, director of rapid prototyping for leading animation house Laika, to find out more… Currently we have five 3D Systems z650s to print the colour faces, and two Stratasys/Objet polyjet printers. We have created more animated faces than ever before on The Boxtrolls. How do you think 3D printing is going to impact on animation in the future? Will 3D printing lead to a more level playing field in animation? As the VFX industry moves to having more objects exist only in the digital realm, I think the ability to take that digital model and 3D print it out as a real, physical model will become more essential. They often give you very strict rules to follow, but as long as you do not have any holes in your CG model, pretty much any model will print. At what stage in the production do you use the 3D printed models? It is quite amazing to hold a real part in your hand that you know you built using computer software.  
Are there limits to what you can achieve on a 3D printed model? The advantage to this process is that you get the wonderful performance and subtlety normally reserved for CG animation, in a stop-motion animated film.

Updated: 18.11.2014 — 20:20