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3D Printing revolutionizes Stop Motion Animation

Stop Motion and 3D printing could not be further apart from each other. While stop motion might be considered an old fashioned medium, 3D printing is at the forefront of the technological age. But leading animation studio Laika (Coraline, Paranorman, The Boxtrolls) has been using both these technologies in tandem to achieve magnificent results.

Laika utilizes 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 finished.

They started using 3D printing for replacement-animated faces in 2006 while doing early preproduction work on Coraline.

The rigged, animated and engineer CG models in Maya and then use 3D printing to print out thousands of slightly different facial expressions. The advantage to this process is that you get the wonderful performance and subtlety normally reserved for CG animation, in a stop-motion animated film.

3D printing has already changed the way stop-motion animated films are produced. As the VFX industry moves to having more objects exist only in the digital realm, 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.

3D printing has really levelled the playing field between stop-motion and CG animation. Both media are now able to tell complex stories with incredibly subtle and naturalistic character performances. 3D printing is still relatively cost prohibitive; when the price comes down, smaller independent studios may be more likely to try it out.

“Creating a CG model that is printable is actually a lot easier as long as you do not have any holes in your CG model, pretty much any model will print.” Brian McLean, director of rapid prototyping for Laika. “I'd say to anyone who is interested in 3D printing, just jump in and try it. It is quite amazing to hold a real part in your hand that you know you built using computer software.”

Laika created more animated faces than ever before on The Boxtrolls. Over 53,000!

With the ease of modification and multiple possibilities 3D printing has been enabling Laika with numerous advantages over the years. The low cost and easy modelling options can give independent animation studios the edge and allow them to bring their creations out of the digital realm.

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