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Published on May 9, 2017

3D Printing in the Movie Industry


3D printing in the Movie Industry

  • 3D printing plays a big role in the movie industry
  • 3D printing saves money and time for filmmakers

3D printing has been known to play a part in many industries, for instance in education,  science and in the medical field. There are other fields in which you might not expect 3D printing to play a part in, such as the entertainment industry. Over the years, 3D printing has grown within the industry, to the point where many film companies are using it.

Creating optical illusions is an important aspect in the film industry. Filmmakers use many things to create those illusions, for example through unique camera angles and rigs, post production and editing and the use of CGI. 3D printed objects can help with problems filmmakers encounter when using CGI, the objects can also be used as props.

The public demands more and more in terms of amazing shots. In the past, instead of 3D printed objects, models were made by hand. Reaching viewers’ expectations is way too expensive while using handmade props.

3D Printing in combination with CGI
Filmmakers can use 3D printing to reduce problems they encounter when using CGI. Actors for instance can use a 3D printed object to interact with, instead of interacting with something that isn’t there. This makes acting much easier and more believable to watch. There’s also an issue with the creation of light and shadows with CGI. The correct lighting can for example influence the degree of reality of a scene. Through using 3D visualisation and objects, shadows and lighting can be determined correctly.


Combining 3D printed objects and digital sculpting gives filmmakers the ability to make highly detailed creatures, examples of this can be seen in the video below.

3D Printing instead of handmade models
An important benefit of using 3D printed models instead of handmade models are the low costs. The props still have to be painted to replicate the original design intent of the artist. This means that even though money and time is saved, artists still have to put an amount of work into the props. In that way, 3D printing is no replacement for prop artists, it’s only a way to improve their work.

There are few movies which completely rely on the technique of 3D printing. Movies that primarily use 3D printing are often stop motion movies. With the animation technique of stop motion, objects can appear to be moving on their own. Coraline, The boxtrolls, The Pirates! and Paranorman are all great examples of such movies. Most movies try to combine multiple techniques and multiple ways to use 3D printed objects, for instance Robocop , Ghost in the Shell and Total Recall. The expectation that can be formed with this information is that 3D printing will only grow further and further in the movie industry.

In this video, Legacy Effects explain how they incorporate 3D printed objects in their projects.


Pictures retrieved from libigl, Caroline McFarlane and Chase me.