With Ultra High Definition cinematography hitting our screens, the demand for
quality props and models is as high as ever. While traditional manufacturing
methods are still being used, digital technologies such as 3D scanning, 3D
modeling and 3D printing have allowed current methods to achieve complexities
faster than ever before.
The new way of prop-making
Digital technology sets a new standard for time, flexibility and cost. Prop-makers
who see the advantage of those technologies have found them to be very useful:
“Details that would take you forever to do, we can now do literally in minutes on
the computer, with greater precision and resolution than we can do by hand.
Adding 3D printing, we went from taking days to produce a single object to being
able to do the same in hours, without waste, and with the added capability of
making many more of that same object, to exactly the same high grade
specifications” (Neville Page, 2015)
Art directors, Costume designers, SFX departments and Makeup artists have
developed some revolutionary uses of 3D printing. A major advantage in the
development stage allows changes in the design to be made instantly, and
reproduce them within hours. Discussing ideas in a physical form is a great way to
present props and models which engages everyone involved.
Digital files can also save space and solve logistical issues. Storage and welfare of
props, crates and fibreglass moulds are no longer an issue. Digital files can be sent
anywhere in the world within seconds cutting out expensive logistical costs and
allowing production to start immediately.
Another advantage of a digital file allows items to be printed as large or small as
required, and any number of times.
It is therefore not surprisingly that several major productions have made use of
these technologies, producing props such as helmets, weapons and a number of
‘back-ground’ scenery drops. Since some of the original props of previous movies
were too valuable and therefore no longer usable, the digital approach was used
Starting off, a 3D model is created on the computer or 3D scanned from a physical
object. Creating a digital file allows the props to be optimized to the design
production require before finalizing the data for 3D printing.
By starting the printing process, a 0.15 mm thin layer of PMMA powder is spread
out onto a build platform which is then selectively bonded by a bonding agent,
applied via the print head. By repeating these steps, the three-dimensional object is build up layer by layer. After printing, the unbound powder is removed to uncover the raw prop. In order to ready a print for the big screen, prop makers use their skills and bring the prop to life.
The following video, below, illustrates the entire process of creating a prop:
While 3D printing is relatively new to the Film and Television industry, these
technologies have been tried and tested in a variety of ways and already prove
successful. That said, we are just at the beginning of the future of model making.
With 3D printing, the possibilities are endless.
For further information on how movie props are 3D printed, see the links below:
- ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Authentic Props to go on Sale
- How 3D Printing Helped Star Wars: The Force Awakens Zoom into Theaters
- YouTube Channel of Disney on how Star Wars Collectables are produced
Neville, Page: (Matisons, M.) 3D printing helps Hollywood special effects artists, Alchemy Studios, make better scary monsters and dead bodies (2015), in: 3dprint.com/103751/3d-printing-helps-hollywood-special-effects-artists-alchemy-studios-make-better-scary-monsters-and-dead-bodies/ (Retrieved on 12.12.16)
OopNorth. (2012, August 25). Richard E. Grant visits Pinewood Studios [Video file]. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch