Stop Motion Animation Gets 3D Printed

In 1985, Disney used computer graphics in the animated movie The Black Cauldron.

In 1986, Pixar created “the first fully computer-generated, computer-animated (or CGI) film.”

And it all went downhill from there.

Just kidding. Many of our favorite animated movies contain elements of computer generation or animation – even the ones we like to think were all hand-drawn.

But the problem with CGI animated films is we started seeing a decline in many of the stop motion animated films we loved as children (like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer).

There have definitely been some exceptions (like The Nightmare Before Christmas). But stop motion animation is expensive and time-consuming to create. Many (many) models have to be built in order to create the single frames later combined into the film. All handmade. All with infinitesimal, tiny changes.

Enter Laika

In 2009, animation studio Laika was hired to work on a new stop motion film named Coraline. And the company decided to use 3D printing to create the models.

3D printing hasn’t quite fixed the problem of the costs of pulling together so many models. But Brian McLean of Laika sees that changing. “3D printing is still relatively cost prohibitive; when the price comes down, smaller independent studios may be more likely to try it out,” he said in an interview with Creative Bloq.

Here’s how it works for Laika. They create the 3D models in Maya, a computer animation and modeling software. Then they load those 3D models into the printers and get the printing started.

The Advantages to 3D Printing

They’re still building those many versions just like studios using handmade models. But there are some advantages to the 3D printed models.

  • Laika’s team makes full use of 3D printing’s rapid prototyping capabilities during the concepting phases of production.
  • Printing the models does save some time – in both creating all of the slightly-different 3D images and taking the models from computer renderings to physical objects (and imagine how much more time they’d save if they used our LAYR software).
  • 3D printing brings to stop motion more of the detail seen in CGI animation.

Now for the Disadvantages

3D printing isn’t perfect yet. (If it was, everybody would be doing it, right?)

  • As mentioned above, costs are still prohibitive for small and indie studios.
  • The detail offered by 3D printing is often better than handmade models – but it could do better. One thing mentioned by McLean in the Creative Bloq interview is that, when 3D printing in color, the model’s edges get “softened.” (He suggests designers exaggerate edges in their models to limit how much is lost in printing.)

More Films Coming

These disadvantages haven’t stopped Laika from continuing to use 3D printing during film production. CoralineParaNormanThe Box Trolls, Kubo and the Two Strings – these movies were all created using 3D printing. Laika has just been refining their process this whole time.

Not Just for Hollywood

There are other animators who have stepped into the world of 3D printing:

The Many and Varied Uses of 3D Printing

When a creative agency decides to make a short film about bears and stairs just for fun, you know a piece of technology has gone mainstream.

More industries are turning to 3D printing as a solution for their unique problems. We can’t wait to see what comes next.

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