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Robot Chicken Creator uses 3D Printing for its newest Show

Melding the wonder of Stop motion animation with 3D printing technology opens up numerous possibilities for any artists with creative talent and imagination. The combination of the two leaves no limits to what can be achieved.

This is exactly what happened when award-winning Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, one of the most talented and renowned stop animation studios in the greater Los Angeles area, brought their production in-house by purchasing a 3D printer. The results of this combination are apparent in the new animated show, Super Mansion.

Thomas Keiser, who was already working as a ZBrush modeler and animator at the studio, felt it was time for the company to invest in bringing a high-end 3D printer in house and having the machine in-house changed everything.

In his new role as director of digital design, Keiser found himself overseeing a growing range of new productions, as well as improved production rates for current projects, such as the studio’s hugely popular show, Robot Chicken. “By 3D printing the majority of the parts we no longer have to mold and cast anything. We don’t even have to clean up complex parts, such as the hands or the heads, and we are also able to mass produce them, since the machine has a large build volume,” Keiser says.

With in-house access to a 3D printer, multiple artists are able to use it and the designs they are able to create are much richer, allowing for more focus on the puppet’s engineering and reiterate the design until its mechanical properties are ideal. Accelerating the turnaround has also enabled the studio to diversify production and become involved in prototyping toys and props for several TV commercials.

These include a recent TV spot that aired on Adult Swim for the new season of Rick and Morty, where several props used in the commercial were 3D printed. The spot “transcends” the boundaries between animated and physical: the cartoon characters are watching fictional characters who, in turn, are watching a commercial where the carton characters’ action figures are 3D printed as physical products, wondering if the toys truly exist or not.

“It used to be a real hassle for stop animation because every puppet was unique and replacing broken parts was took a long time. Now we can just upload the digital design and hit print,” Keiser confirms.

“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.”

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.

The best part is that their improved manufacturing speed did not, in any way, result in loss of jobs. If anything, it has been the exact opposite. “For the type of production we do, we like our puppets to be hand-painted in order to give them a more realistic feel,” Keiser says. “The result is that our artist team has grown significantly, as 3D printing has enabled our designer to create a lot more items for them to paint.”

The result is a perfect blend of technology and creativity. Adapting to the changes brought by 3D printing, Stoopid Buddy Stoodios has figured out a streamlined and efficient way to their entire animation procedure.

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