Do you know why 3D printing becomes so popular in the film industry?

= It is a very efficient and easy way of making physical objects. A way to create better-looking movies in less time and with advanced precision.

And why is that?

1. 3D printing greatly helps to shorten the creative process. It is a method of rapid prototyping, which means it is able to create prototypes in no time. In the film industry it helps bring designs for props or costume pieces from computer screen to a realistic 3D model in just a few hours.
2. A 3D printed object is made from the same 3D data used to create computer-generated images for all digital scenes, which leads to great quality and precision.

“I think the ability to take that digital model and 3D print it out as a real, physical model will become more essential. Whether that physical model is used for lighting reference, or in the approval process, having a tangible object is always important,” said Brian McLean, director of rapid prototyping for leading animation house Laika.

Interested? Let us show you a few examples of how 3D printing has already been used in animation, video and film. Just to make things clearer, we’ve sorted them into these categories:

1. 3D printed stop-motion animations
2. 3D printed props in film
3. 3D printing as a topic in film
4. Documentaries about 3D printing
5. Other



A combination of a new technology and one of the most traditional techniques of film-making: 3D printing and stop-motion. Is it only us, or do you like the idea as well? For those who don’t know, stop-motion animation is created by countless photography shots following each other in quick succession…

3D printing can be used for static objects in the scenery or movable objects such as bodies of the puppets. It can even be used to change the facial expressions! Compared to standard animations, the stop-motion animations are somehow more real, more tangible… Especially when actual materials such as textile, plastic, glass or metal are used combined with the 3D printed objects.


Laika: Coraline, The Paranorman, The Box Trolls

Animation studio Laika first started using 3D printing for replacement-animated faces in 2006 while doing early preproduction work on Coraline. Their following feature film, The Paranorman, and the most recent one, The Box Trolls, were then created mostly with the use of 3D printing. Just for the record, for Paranorman 31.000 individual face parts had to be 3D printed (from which more than 8.000 belonged to the main character) and for The Box Trolls, it was over 53.000!

Brian McLean from Laika: “Laika utilises 3D printing throughout a film’s production. From early concept designs and preproduction, to making thousands of replacement faces during the peak of shooting, and even into the marketing phase after filming has wrapped. We use Maya to model, rig and animate, ZBrush for modelling fine detail and Photoshop to paint our texture maps. Over the years Laika has had a few different 3D printers. Currently we have five 3D Systems z650s to print the colour faces, and two Stratasys/Objet polyjet printers.”

Aardman: The Pirates!

In the feature film The Pirates! 3D printing was, similarly to Laika studio, used to create hard mouth replacements for the film’s characters. Ian Whitlock, Key Animator at Aardman: “We built about 8,000 mouths. For the Pirate Captain model, we made 257 separate mouths. We’d still be shooting now if we had to sculpt all of these mouths.”

Bold Machines (The Innovation Workshop at Stratasys): Margo

The aim of Bold Machines, among other things, is to see how 3D printing can impact the film industry by movie-making backwards, i.e. by starting with merchandising before the actual production begins. Their first project is a feature film called Margo. The process started by presenting the main character as a downloadable 3D model on its Thingiverse page. Bold Machines then asked the fans for feedback by uploading images of Margo printed on different 3D printers. The same happened with other movie characters… Well , let’s see what comes out of this.


The usual aim of short films is to “tell a message” within a few minute story. It might serve to educate, to present somebody’s portfolio, to advertise a product, to raise a nice feeling… or it might be created just for fun.

Zihua Creative: Unbox yourself!

This 3D printed short film follows the life of Box Man and his frustrations with his boring daily activities and his ongoing search for his own identity. Through continuous exploration and transformation of his identity, based on experience and wisdom, he is able to find his own role in life and discover his face.

Shen Zejian, Zihua Create’s chief designer: “Due to the deadline, we are producing all the models with a relatively low accuracy, but the resulting prints and textures gives the whole video a new texture and style.”

GoEngineer: SHeLvEd

GoEngineer in association with Tandem Motion Picture Studios created a funny, creative and original stop-motion video. It is in fact a commercial on 3D printing, with the use of 3D printing.


Speaking of commercials, stop-motion and 3D printing is definitely an extraordinary combination to advertise almost any product. It can be funny, creative, original and it is finally something different! It turns on a light of hope fighting bravely against the flood of boring commercials we all became allergic to.

Chipotle: Back to the start

Fast food chain Chipotle, which only does business with farmers dedicated to humane practices, definitely found a way into people’s hearts and minds. Its 3D printed stop-motion short film, Back to the Start, won Cannes Grand Prix in the Branded Content and Film categories. The film, by film-maker Johnny Kelly, depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable future. Both the film and the soundtrack were commissioned by Chipotle to emphasize the importance of developing a sustainable food system.


Supporting great ideas is the main point Kickstarters. It is about getting financing from volunteers to set off an interesting project based on any interesting idea people come up with. 3D printing has found its way here too. Why? It is a technology which simply inspires creative people to create, and Kickstarters are able to help a great deal with the funding part of the process.

Dan Brown: House of monsters

The stop-motion web series House of Monsters are now in production thanks to a successfuly funded kickstarter.



3D printing has found an irreplaceable position in props and costume making. It either helps to speed up the creative process of developing the props, or it is used “on stage” directly. Let’s have a look…

3D printed superhero costumes can be seen in Guardians of the Galaxy, Pacific Rim, Avatar, Terminator, Iron Man 2, RoboCop, Wolverine,… 3D printed car replica appeared in James Bond’s Skyfall and 3D printed weapons were used in Men in black 3, Thor, or Elementary series… This is just the beginning.



3D printing has undoubtedly reached our consciousness and is becoming an evident part of our life. Have you noticed the 3D printers and 3D printed objects started to appear in movies and series? It is an interesting topic and film-makers know it.

Walt Disney: Big Hero 6

In the last Disney’s feature animation (which btw. won Best Animated Film at this years Oscars), Big Hero 6, the main character Hiro Hamada creates a suit for his giant inflatable robot Baymax using a touchscreen tablet, a Maya-like software and a 3D printer.

The Big Bang Theory

One of the episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” featured a 3D printer. In this episode Howard Wolowitz and Raj Koothrappali decide to make their action own figures by purchasing a 3D printer.

Grey’s Anatomy

The doctors in Grey’s Anatomy were featured using 3D printing in one episode from season 10 where Dr. Yang 3D prints a “portal vein,” and Dr. Grey attempts to 3D print a heart. In fact, at the end of that episode, Dr. Yang discovers that 3D printing is already widely used by medical professionals in Switzerland.



As we mentioned before, 3D printing has reached our consciousness… We have to admit there is not a lot documetaries with this topic so far, but there is one from September 2014, which is definitely worth a look.

Netflix: Print the Legend

A documentary about the so called 3D Printing Revolution, which captures the people racing to bring the hot new 3D printing technology to your home, documenting the “Macintosh Moment” of this revolution and exploring what it takes to live the American Dream.



We talked about the use and the reach of 3D printing in the film industry from different perspectives but there are still some which we haven’t mentioned and we admit we may not know about. However, apart from the direct use and the use in development there are some other techniques which make use of 3D printing as a supplementary technology.

One example is creating props for movies by molding and casting the 3D printed objects… Another example is using the 3d printed objects directly and indirectly at the same time… How? Simply by using 3D printing as a base for shadow art. The following example explains:

Julien Marie: Man at Work

Belgium-based French artist Julien Maire has used a Form +1 3D printer to create 85 three-dimensional still frames of a digging person for his unique 3D printed animation series. In clear resin, Marie 3D printed each frame and attached it to a moving belt placed in front of a light projector. The frames then moved in front of the light, casting a moving film on the opposing blank wall.

Congrats, you successfuly reached the end of our article! To sum up the thoughts, let us quote Lewis Simms, Marketing Manager at Harvest Technologies, a Stratasys Company::

“3D printing is now changing the film industry in a manner that hasn’t been done since the introduction of computer-generated imagery. Studios and special effects experts are now able to utilize 3D printing to produce everything from concept models to scaled and full-size props, set-pieces, and costumes. These computer-generated designs are literally brought to life, bringing fantasy just that much closer to reality.”

We’ll be happy if you leave a reply to let us know what you think.


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