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Lights, Camera, Action: AM on the Big Screen

As RAPID + TCT heads to Hollywood, we're spotlighting the role of industrial 3D printing in the entertainment industry. 

The role of digital scanning in the world of additive manufacturing (AM) is well known and clearly established. But companies on the cutting edge of these rapidly evolving technologies are also performing remarkable feats in the world of entertainment. From marketing to memorable moments of movie magic, AM-related tech is an increasingly essential element of entertainment excellence.

Hollywood Heft

In the entertainment space, high-end digital scanning—which takes physical objects and makes them digital, and 3D printing, which takes digital assets and makes them physical—are essentially two sides of the same coin.

HelmetsPhotogrammetry tools have become incredibly sophisticated. A single scanning array might include hundreds of digital cameras taking hundreds of simultaneous images from all sides of an object. That data is then turned into a 3D 1:1 model of the person or thing being captured—which can subsequently be used to create a whole range of products, digital and physical.

From the smallest objects to the grandest edifices, almost anything can be scanned with remarkable precision. And there is a long-and-growing list of reasons to do just that. The CGI and visual effects (VFX) found in so many movies today often rely almost entirely on the detailed digital assets generated from high-end digital scanning technology. Tech companies in this space can and do scan sets, props, vehicles, buildings, costumes, and actors at the extremely detailed level required to create the vast majority of VFX. 

Artists can sculpt or build a custom prop that can be scanned into a digital asset, making it possible to scale-up model-sized versions of objects that need to be large in the film. Similarly, professionals in this space can scan a small model and then use that scan to design the object in greater detail in the computer—which can then be 3D printed. On the flip side, a gigantic real-world object like a Ferris wheel can be scanned to create smaller versions that can be used in a range of effects.

Media and entertainment companies like Disney and movie studios appreciate the way that this sphere of technology can faithfully capture the iconic colors and contours of media properties and proprietary characters to be turned into both digital assets and physical products. Anything from collectible figurines to bronze statues can be rendered using this tech. On the marketing and merchandising side, scans of actors and actresses can be used to make action figures and other keepsakes and collateral materials, which are then manufactured through high-speed injection molding and other processes.

In a business like entertainment and a place like Hollywood, where characters and iconic IP are so central to the product (and in many cases quite literally are the product), the unparalleled utility, flexibility, and fidelity to real-world colors, textures, and contours provided by AM-related technologies like digital scanning and 3D printing is uniquely well-suited to add value.

A Future of Innovation

Given the trends and the rapid pace of technical evolution in this space, scanning and 3D printing tools and technologies are only going to become more prominent in the years ahead.

In the entertainment world, the video game industry, which is, remarkably, already substantially larger than the movie business, is one of the frontiers of innovation. The advent of wearables like the Apple Vision Pro will likely rely heavily on 3D printing and scanning for quickly and affordably creating customized wearables that conform precisely to the user’s body. 

These wearables likely herald the future of movie watching and video gaming. The speed with which these advances can become commonplace can be seen in other applications. We’ve already gotten a glimpse of their potential with the industry-altering impact of 3D printing and scanning in things like orthodontics and orthotics.

Today, groundbreaking new technology is making it possible to scan and 3D print faster and better than ever before. This allows us to operate at scale and apply this tech to new materials and with new processes and platforms that can process and deliver almost anything (and almost anywhere) with previously unthinkable speed and production volume. 

Along with materials innovation, the growing power of AI holds the promise of even faster and more efficient processing. Already, AI has accelerated what was 6 hours of post-scan processing and fine-tuning of a performer’s likeness to just 22 minutes—a huge leap forward.

Industry Synergies

As important as scanning and printing for VFX is, the applications for this technology don’t stop there. From artwork to antique cars, to topographical environment scanning performed with specialized drone technology, data acquisition systems and technology is moving forward at breakneck speed. Whether it’s military applications or helping patients by creating prosthetics and other customized medical devices, digital scanning and 3D printing is already making a game-changing and even life-changing impact.

Baby YodaWhich is why the intersection of seemingly disparate specialties at RAPID + TCT is so important—and why companies like ours that have previously attended events like Comicon are going to be a common sight at this and other industry gatherings going forward. This year’s new Hollywood Showcase is a testament to that natural synergy. The showcase, which is presented by RAPID + TCT, Gentle Giant Studios, and Direct Dimensions, provides attendees with a look at how the Hollywood innovation referenced above is being used today to create movie magic. 

Attendees will have a chance to experience how 3D scanning is used for both visual and practical effects and even take selfies with AM-produced film assets seen in familiar franchises like Star Wars, Frozen, Avatar, and Toy Story. To share what we can do and learn from peers and professionals in this and related spaces is the best part of events like RAPID + TCT. This extraordinary exchange of information will benefit all industries and unlock exciting new possibilities for the future.