How 3D Printing is Changing The Visual Effects Business & Hollywood

By Ryan Koss

Before computers took over special and practical effects, Hollywood had a long tradition of creating sets, costumes, creatures, detailed models and props – all by hand. In classics like Jaws and Star Wars, special effects artists, craftsmen and painters helped filmmakers realize their vision.

Making-Miniatures
An ILM modeler prepares X-Wings and Imperial space ships for their closeup in 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Realistic miniature models, for example, required the skill of a true artisan. Models took weeks or even months to produce and once used, were destroyed. If they were needed for another shot, often times they had to be painstakingly reproduced.

Computer-generated imagery (or CGI) made that process much faster and cheaper, plus CGI gave filmmakers much more freedom. Compared to producing elaborate models, sets or creature effects, filmmakers saw an incredible value in using computer-generated visual effects.

Prop Culture
Today Hollywood is again embracing technology for film production. As 3D modeling and visual effects artists push the boundaries to create realistic effects, many production studios have adopted new methods of creating costumes, props and even those old models: with 3D printers.


Jason Lopes of Legacy Entertainment explains how 3D printers were used for Avatar, Robocop and other films.

Companies such as Makerbot, Formlabs and Stuffmaker have been providing consumers with 3D printers for home use since 2009. Filmmakers are also adopting 3D printing and industrial design technology, moving away from computer-generated special effects in order to design and print them instead.

And it’s not just filmmakers who are embracing the technology. “It’s so convenient and easy, it just makes sense,” says Scott Summit, founder of Bespoke Innovations, a San Francisco, California-based company that uses 3D printers to make customized prosthetics for the physically challenged.

Nowadays, creating costumes, creatures, props and even spaceships is easier than ever. Convenience and ease of use were definitely on the agenda for director Jon Favreau, director of the critically acclaimed Iron Man 2. Favreau needed to quickly prototype and create Iron Man’s armored suit; he did so with a 3D printer.

Iron-Man
Legacy Effects used 3D printers to create the armor worn by Tony Stark in Iron Man 2.

A New Era for Cinema
This change signifies a big shift in the way films are made. With the increased use of 3D printers in films like Iron Man 2 and the upcoming epic Warcraft, tech designers are creating a new way in which props are designed and created – and giving audiences more lifelike experiences.

Warcraft
For the upcoming film Warcraft, Peter Jackson’s WETA special effects 3D printed every prop. Here the amazing results are on display at Comic Con.

With a faster turnaround time and, in many cases, lower cost than computer-generated special effects, 3D printing is beginning to take over the world of Hollywood and beyond.

We believe in the future: Currently, Digital Media Academy is the only technology summer camp to offer both online courses and summer camps for 3D Printing.