3D printing in movies

As a film-lover I am a big fan of special effects. Films like Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Terminator 2, James Bond and the Matrix with there ground breaking special effects were responsible for my love for CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery). Don’t get me wrong, I really like small movies from independent production studios with a good story. But the ability to create non existing worlds and make them feel believable is really something. Creating those special effects can be along process, with the use of 3D printing it gets a lot easier.


Tony Stark face printed with a 3D printer

3D printing in the movies

Filmmakers are loving 3D printing. They piked up this new technology as one of the first. Creating special effects like props can be a hard and long process. Sometimes they choose to make an entire film with the use of CGI but to make some parts more realistic for close ups or interaction with human actors, they also need real props. These props of for example an Ork head from the lord of the rings, needs to be drawn, make a clay copy of it, sculpted it, make a mold with silicone, or latex etc. With 3D printing you need the design it with 3D software and print it. You can understand why filmmakers are using the 3D printing technique. It makes the process less complicated  and more adjustable.

The Hobbit

The latest Peter Jackson film the Hobbit is full of 3D printed props. Weta Workshop is the company responsible for it. Almost all the modeling for the creatures and props were done be 3D printers. As seen in the video below.

Iron Man

As you can see in the pic, Tony Stark owns a 3D Printer himself! (Dimension Elite Printer) Not only does he make his prototypes with a 3D printer in the film, parts of the iron man suit are actually made with a 3D printer in real-life as well.


The man in the video below Jason Lopes from Legacy Effects explains that the designing process is so much quicker thanks to 3D printing. “Anything is possible. Within 4 hours I could have 4 different concepts physically in my hands”


For the makers of stop-motion movie Paranorman 3D printing was a game changer. With stop-motion you need a lot of the same faces, with a slightly different expressions, to make a scene. This process is endless and because of 3D printing ‘ParaNorman’ has just risen the bar that much further.


3D printed Paranorman faces

Although I really like CGI the real props and sets are essential to create a scene that looks and feels real. Like we’ve seen in the Stars Wars prequels. There were shot entirely in front of a green screen, what made the film feel like a big cartoon. For a film with a lot of special effects to feel real, the need of real props and sets are essential. The list of blockbusters that worked with 3D printers is big: Jurassic Park, Avatar, The Muppets, Terminator Salvation, Real Steel, Paranorman, The Avengers and all the Iron Man movies.

I’m looking forward to the new Star Wars movies. Let’s hope they have learned from their mistakes and lets hope they will embrace 3D printing. For the love of film.

- Jon

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