I was lucky to land my first career job as a 3D artist working on the Martix sequels. As you can imagine, being a Matrix film the production company made sure to cut no corners and spend a ton of money on the latest and most expensive equipment around.
One of the coolest tech items on set was a 3D printer. The printer was the size of a VW beetle, it was HUGE!
Used primarily to print out custom parts for the famous 'bullet time' camera rigs, the printer was invaluable to the crew. I had never seen or heard of the technology before and I remember thinking it would be a game changer.
Little did I know was that this machine was probably VERY expensive and unattainable to most movie productions. Over time I had completely forgotten about the printer and this little thing called CGI took center stage in most Hollywood Blockbusters.
Fast forward a decade and 3D Printing is making a comeback in film productions.
The ability of the printer to create tactile reproductions is proving useful and even innovative to many recent film productions. In this summer's hit film, Pacific Rim, 3D Printing was used by Legacy Effects to create the Pilot Suits the main characters wear.
During the Hong Kong battle in Pacific Rim, 32Ten Studios built many of their miniature pieces digitally and then 3D Printed them out. Be sure to check out the whole video here, show the amount of 3d modeling work that went into that (almost) all digital fight scene from ILM.
Another great example of 3D printing in film is the stop-motion animated film, ParaNorman that was produced by Portland based animation studio LAIKA. Known for their stop motion work, LAIKA takes what is generally regarded as a traditional animation technique and integrates 3D printing into the pipeline. The result is an incredible and innovative technique to produce parts for expressive facial animation. Check out the amazing video:
Is this the return of Practical Effects?
As 3D printing technology improves, I'm sure we'll start seeing more use of the technology to revolutionize storytelling and create movie magic.