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Unless you have been living under a rock, you have seen 3D printing in pop culture. Whether it’s been on the big screen or small screen, 3D printing has been used in growing numbers of movies especially in the sci-fi and action realm as well as been referenced to in many television shows. Much of this 3D printing is done at a very high level and not typically what you could do with your desktop printer at home, but recreating some of these items is possible as we have discussed before. We have seen an increasing trend in the use of 3D printing in pop culture mega movies like Star Wars, Batman vs Superman, Lord of the Rings, and so on. Even making a big splash on the small screen in shows like CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, and the Big Bang Theory. Whether it’s the actual 3D printer itself being featured or talked about or even the clothing different celebrities are wearing, 3D printing is becoming a celebrity and pop icon of its own.
3D Printing in Pop Culture – How Hollywood has Caught onto the Technology
3D Printing in Pop Culture – Movies
So many movies rely on CGI (computer generated images) to produce amazing characters and scenery so it was only a natural move towards actually printing out computer generated 3D models to use as props or accessories. Using 3D printing in pop culture movies to create numerous props and costume pieces is wildly cost and time effective. Many movies incorporate 3D scanning of actors to get 3D printed costumes to fit well or in the case of Star Wars C3PO, to come on and off faster.
In the Harry Potter movie series they relied on scanning real world objects to make extra prop replicas where they would then go in on the computer software and print the results. Hopefully, the scanning equipment and software was better than what was available to use when we got scanned, otherwise it might be a more time consuming and therefore not cost effective solution. Also in Harry Potter, 3D printers were used to make concept mock-ups of different monsters and especially a giant spider.
Being able to create these mock-ups quickly allows for producers to be able to say “yes” quickly to an idea and keep a film on time and on budget. If they don’t like the mock-up, tweaks and changes can be made on the computer by the 3D designer or modeller and re-printed for approval. The nice thing about being able to use a 3D printer instead of traditional methods, is that the time taken to print the part can be reduced by scaling down the piece until it’s given the complete go ahead to make at full size.
Weta Workshop in New Zealand is responsible for using 3D printers to create props for movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. Items such as helmets, swords, and axes were all 3D printed for the movie. Many other 3D prop making companies have caught on to this niche industry, and they are all over the globe, QuickParts in the UK, Part Works in Atlanta, GA, and Alchemy Studios right up the road from us in Los Angeles, CA. Many of the parts that these companies produce are not immediately screen ready and do have to undergo a process to make them more realistic and less plastic looking, it is still faster and cheaper than going the traditional artistic route by handcrafting the part.
Movies such as Star Wars were criticized for having too many digital effects in the prequels so when they went to film The Force Awakens the directorial team made a conscious effort to use as many real world parts as he could. Even for a huge budget movie such as this, the only feasible way to accomplish this was to use 3D printing to create all the futuristic props and costumes for all the live actors and extras. 3D printed props and costumes are much easier and less expensive to reproduce several iterations of such as the Stormtrooper outfit, or even making it faster for actor Anthony Daniels to get in and out of his C3PO suit. “For The Force Awakens, when J.J. Abrams asked me if I would be in it, he said, ‘Do you just want to do the voice?’ And I said, ‘I want to be in the costume, but I want it to be faster.’ So what they did was 3D print it. It weighs about the same, I would say, because the plastic is quite heavy, but it allows you to prototype things. So it looks exactly the same, but there are differences to the way it fits together that make it much faster to put on and take off, which is most important. It gets hot in there,” explained Daniels.
Many different superhero movies have used 3D printing to create the superhero (or villain) costumes. In the case of Batman vs Superman, they used a 3D scanner to measure out actor Ben Affleck’s head, neck, and shoulders as a base for creating Batman’s cowl. For Actor Henry Cavill, he had his entire body scanned so that Superman’s Krypronian costume could be CAD designed and 3D printed to fit.
Not only is Hollywood creating 3D printing pop culture items like costumes and props, their studios are also using 3D printing to create sounds. That’s right, sounds. For example, in the Jurassic Park 3 movie shows how the assistant to Dr. Alan Grant used a 3D printer to replicate the larynx of the Velociraptor. He then proceeds to blow into it like a harmonica and create what we can assume is the sound one of those dinosaurs makes. While there is some speculation if that particular 3D printed voice box could actually make a raptors call by blowing into it or if the sound was added in later during editing, it’s still great that they showed a 3D printer in a major film. The more awareness and interesting in this technology, the better the industry will grow. There’s also this guy, Andrew Sink, who rigged his 3D printer to play the Jurassic Park theme song:
A whole slew of other movies used 3D printing such as the helmets in Gravity, the robot suit in Pacific Rim, and the yacht in The Wolf of Wall Street. Other movies that have 3D printing in them include The Hunger Game, X-Men: The Last Stand, Heart of the Sea, Pan, Edge of Tomorrow, The Martian, Captain America, Sherlock Holmes, and even Paddington Bear. I would not be surprised to hear that anyone of these movies made and used a 3D printed gun, especially some of the futuristic guns in Star Wars or any of the weapons in the major action films. Nor would I be surprised to hear that a 3D printed house, probably in miniature and scaled down, was printed to be blown up in some sort of way. If not, Hollywood needs to take a hint already!
There has even been a few 3D printed movies, Coraline (2009), and The BoxTrolls which won the Scientific and Engineering Award Oscar in 2016 at the Academy Awards. In the first 3D printed stop-motion film, Coraline, the main character had a total of 6,333 faces printed to allow for 207,000 possible facial expressions throughout the 3D printed film. This film was groundbreaking in that aspect and it’s surprising that it took until 2016 for a film made in this way to win the Academy Award. Traditionally, stop-motion films are limited in the amount of facial expressions they have due to the limited amount of clay models. Creating over 200,000 clay faces would be so time consuming and costly, a film like Coraline would likely never have been made. The animation studio, Laika, created other 3D printed films such as ParaNorman.
3D Printing in Pop Culture – TV Shows
Big Bang Theory is probably the first 3D print pop culture reference on television I can think of. They had an episode back in 2013 where Raj and Howard 3D scan themselves and print out little action figure sized versions of themselves. Like how we have joked about before, the wife (Bernadette) is initially impressed but when she hears about how much a 3D printer costs she gets upset. Again, it’s all about the WHAT you are going to make that makes a printer worth it, and we are kind of tired of all the tchotchkes out there. It was funny in the episode how they talked about improving their little 3D printed selfie figurines by using CAD to design in some ABS. It’s a great little clip about nearly everything in the 3D print world: 3D printer, 3D scanner, 3D design, the only thing it doesn’t show is a 3D print pen.
Other huge shows like Greys Anatomy and CSI are natural canditates for adding in episodes and scenes that revolve around 3D printing. It’s a great buzz word and I’m surprised more shows and movies haven’t out rightly used or shown 3D printing. 3D bioprinting is such a fascinating industry and probably the area of 3D printing that most people can relate to the easiest. In the Grey’s Anatomy episode “Two Against One,” the two main doctors, Christina Yang and Meredith Grey attempt to 3D print a portal vein and a heart that are completely customized for the patient. It’s a cutesy example of how 3D printing is currently being used in the medical field today, but it does of course use Hollywood magic to speed up the design and printing process.
CSI capitalized on the big fear of being able to 3D print a gun, a topic we have covered before, in their season 13, episode 9 called “Strip Maui.” Even though the episode is from 2013, I feel the need to give you a *** SPOILER ALERT *** for what the episode is about. A man was found dead by gunshot wound to the head, from the beginning the lead investigator, Hodges, believes it was from a plastic gun like a BB gun of some sort. Little does he know it was from a 3D printed gun, but of course after some research he comes to the conclusion that a unique, untraceable, and disposable weapon like a plastic gun was 3D printed. While it’s a hot button issue about gun rights and safety, it’s great exposure to for the 3D print world and could spark a better movement about how to implement some sort of way to monitor who printed what with embedding devices like quantum dots.
Even History Channel is getting into using 3D printing in tv shows game with their show Roankoke Search for Lost Colony. They used 3D print design and 3D printers to recreate an intricately carved tombstone, much like we talked about in our 3D print cosplay and Game of Thrones post – the detail that 3D printers are able to reproduce in a timely, efficient, and completely wow manner is astonishing. Initially they did use a 3D scanner to create the base of the model, and according to PartWorks, the company who produced the piece, they scanned the entire thing, tweaked the design image on the computer, and printed in a week. That’s incredible.
Shapeways just recently released that they 3D printed the Game of Thrones Dorne Dagger. Huge use of 3D print pop culture as this is probably one of the bigger shows on our list in this post. We created our own 3D print fan art by recreating the Melisandre necklace as a quick weekend project (see below), but this Dorne Dagger is a real piece of 3D printed artwork. It’s another example of how you would never know something was 3D printed unless they wrote about it or made some sort of press release. They really took the time to design and get the computer CAD model right before they printed it, which undoubtedly saved time and money even though it did go through an extensive post finishing process of painting and making it look “old.”
3D Printing in Pop Culture – Celebrities
Having a mini-me version of yourself is pretty big in our 3D print world, and it’s quickly bubbling over into 3D print in pop culture. CoKreeate, who we sat down at talked with at the 2015 SoCal MakerCon, is an entire business on capturing 3D scans of a person and getting them printed out as a figurine. They have scanned and 3D printed Larry King, Mini-Me from Austin Powers, Kate Bailess from One Tree Hill, Art David the UFC creator, Bas Rutten a UFC Champion, Cas Anvar from Transformers and Room, and actor Warren Jones, with an ever increasing list.
Also not too cool for a 3D print selfie is Cristiano Ronaldo who had a full size version of himself 3D printed similar to what you would see at Madame Tussads Wax Museum. It’s a fun example of 3D printing being used in product marketing, as it was produced to market a device called the Six-Pad that would help one obtain a six pack like Ronaldos. Reza Farahan from Bravo’s reality show Shahs of Sunset had himself and his husband, Adam Neely made into 3D printed selfie Lego figures. It’s a totally great idea, especially for kids still building with Legos, and an awesome use of using 3D printing to make virtually anything customized. I’m surprised that the Lego company hasn’t capitalized on this yet, a company called Funky Faces created the easy to use tech. It looks like Reza had these made to look like little groomsmen possibly as a wedding cake topper, but the ideas and uses for this are endless.
2013 was a big year for 3D print fashion meeting celebrities. Burlesque queen Dita Von Teese wore a completely 3D printed gown that was designed to fit her exactly. It was an event at the Ace Hotel in New York and was designed in collaboration with Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti . Other notable fashion and still in the “racy” kind of realm, was the Snow Angel, Lindsay Ellingson, from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show who had her angel wings 3D printed. Once again as we have seen with the 3D printed costumes in action hero movies, a 3D scan was taken of Ellingson to make sure the wings would fit exactly for her. The design is a pretty geometric design to recreate the look of a snowflake, hence the name Snow Angel. In both the 3D printed dress and the 3D printed wings, Swarovski crystals were added to give the items even more of a unique and glittery touch, which I think is great because it’s hard to have add a feminine touch to something so techy.
3D Printing in Pop Culture – Fan Art
Fan art for any of these movies using 3D printing, and even those not using 3D printing can be created using one’s own 3D printer and CAD design skills. If you don’t have either of those things, you can always pick up a 3D print pen, usually for about $100, and draw your own action figure, jewelry piece, or logo. As long as what you are printing is not intended for resale, than it is okay to reproduce these copy righted items. Although there is a group, Public Knowledge, that is covering a case with the Supreme Court, “which will settle the law of clothing and copyright, which currently is anything but clear. This case touches on fundamental questions of protection, design, and fashion — issues that impact a large and growing portion of consumers and hobbyists who enjoy costuming. There is no reason that dressing as a superhero by day should require a secret identity by night. These individuals should have a right to practice their craft and celebrate the things they love without fear of litigation.” We are following this case closely and perusing to get a member of their team on an upcoming episode of the podcast.
Final Thoughts on 3D Printing in Pop Culture – How Hollywood has Caught onto the Technology
Let us know where else you’ve seen 3D printing in pop culture in the media or your favorite 3D print incorporated movies. Like we had mentioned earlier, it’s sometimes hard to know if you are seeing a 3D printed item because they can be made to look so realistic that you wouldn’t know unless the 3D print studio or firm who made it talked about it. It’s also hard to watch every tv show and movie out there when you’re busy working and designed 3D print products, so let us know in the comments where else 3D printing has appeared on your big or small screen, or even anything you’ve created with a 3D print pen as fan art.
- Scanning Tips from Hollywood 3D Printing
- 3D printing used to create Harry Potter monster mock ups
- 3D printing used in Star Wars
- 3D printing used in Batman vs Superman
- 3D printer plays Jurassic Park Theme Song
- 3D printing used in Gravity
- 3D printing used in Pacific Rim
- 3D printing used in Wolf of Wall Street
- First 3D printed stop action film, Coraline
- 3D printing on The Big Bang Theory
- 3D printing on Grey’s Anatomy
- Can You 3D Print a Gun?
- 3D Print Spying
- 3D printing on History Channel – Roanoke: Search for Lost Colony
- Shapeways 3D printed Game of Thrones Dorne Dagger
- Cokreeate WTFFF?! Podcast episode
- Cristiano Ronaldo 3D printed
- Funky Faces 3D Print Lego Heads
- 3D printed Victoria’s Secret Angel Wings
- 3D printed gown for Dita Von Teese
- Public Knowledge: Cosplay goes to the Supreme Court
- 3D Print Cosplay and an Update on Pinshape
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