Stop motion is seen as a little old fashioned and perhaps quaint giving films and TV shows a more traditional feel than the 3D animation that has largely taken over as well as more of a feeling of realism. Laika studios though, who are an animation studio specializing in stop motion, are going high tech with their latest production ‘ParaNorman’ using a 3D printing service to make faces for the film’s characters.
A 3D printing service can create individual bespoke designs with no extra cost compared to printing the same design many times. Compared to traditional manufacturing techniques using a 3D printing service is far quicker and cheaper for small runs and for one offs the only other practical method would be to use hand sculpting, with hand sculpting still being quicker than setting up tooling machines.
With 3D printing a basic design for a characters face, the film has around 178 puppets, can be designed using CAD software, using techniques not unlike those used for 3D animated movies. The basic face can then have its expression changed in moments or an animation can be planned on a computer and then each stage in a face’s movement printed automatically.
Laika will use a 3D printing service to create some 30,000 or so faces that would otherwise have to be hand crafted. This method takes much less time and though the 3D printing isn’t instant it involves little or no human interaction once the print button has been pressed and a printer can work on dozens of faces over night therefore as they can be printed as a batch, rather than each face having to be sent to print separately, the printer just needs to be stocked with enough material.
In the case of Laika the printing is done using a Z printer: ideal for the job the Z printer uses laser sintering to solidify a powder into a tough plastic resin that is incredibly detailed and crucially full color meaning faces come out almost ready to use with hair and eyes usually added separately.
The other great thing with 3D printing services is the lack of waste: with a Z printer a tray of powder is used but when printing is finished the parts are simply pulled out from the remaining powder, cleaned off with high pressure air and then the powder can be topped up if needed and reused.
Laika in fact now have four of 3D Systems’ Z Printer 650s for their 3D Printing service that can print 150 faces in an 18 hour day, this may not sound a lot when the requirement for 30,000 faces for the entire movie is considered but stop motion is still time consuming and 150 faces a day is around what the studio use in production.
Laika’s previous blockbuster Coraline also used 3D printing to create some 12,000 faces so the use of the technology for great looking vibrant stop motion animation has been proven but the sheer number of characters in ParaNorman means this will be more of a test: though the trailer that has already been released looks great.