A new twist for animated movies–3D printed characters

ParaNorman faces

(Photo credit: Chris Mueller, Wired)

Stop-motion film has come a long way since the 41-minute Russian featuree film, The Night Before Christmas made in 1913. In modern times, we’ve seen this technique of making a physically manipulated object appear to move on its own in such films as the famous Wallace and Gromit.

Generally, traditional stop-motion animation uses clay figures or other types of figurines as the “puppets,” which are photographed for one frame, then moved and manipulated a bit, and then photographed again for the next frame. The series of these frames, of course, becomes the movie.

For a sophisticated film, it’s not just the moving of the figures, but the manipulation of their expressions, that is most time-consuming. With clay, it’s a bit easier, but think about hard surface figures, where you have to create hundreds of facial features for a human figurine’s head. That’s a lot of manual work.

3D Printing to the rescue

But as with so many other industries, everything has changed now that 3D printing is here. An upcoming stop-motion movie from Laika Entertainment, called ParaNorman, has the distinction of being the first stop-motion movie to use a 3D printer (a 3D Systems ZPrinter 650 color printer) to create its puppet’s faces. That’s tens of thousands of parts.

Paranorman 3D printed pieces

(Photo credit: Chris Mueller, Wired)

Here’s how Wired magazine describes the process:

Thanks to interchangeable 3-D-printed facial components, Norman is capable of 1.5 million expressions. For the 27 characters with 3-D-printed faces, the rapid-prototyping department output 31,000 parts, which they stored and cataloged in a face library. One 27-second shot required 250 different faces for a single character. Each face is marked by tiny fissures where the components fit together, so a “seam team” removes the fine lines in postproduction.

Another industry disrupted by 3D printing.

Now, sit back and enjoy the trailer for ParaNorman.

Source: Wired

  • http://www.aceanim.com Andy from Aceanim

    Coraline (2009) also used 3D Printing


    • http://www.fabulafilm.com Sam Carratura

      From that article: “Selick wanted to tackle an even bigger accomplishment: creating a true stop motion film with the smooth facial transitions of CG animation in a hands-on medium.”

      That’s what I’m talking about in my post below. Years ago, I thought stop motion animation would die with the advent of 3D animation. But now 3D printed characters melds the beauty of 3D images with a hands-on medium.

  • Sam Carratura

    I remember reading originally Spielberg was not impressed with the movements of the 3D animated dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK. So, he called in top stop motion artists to train his 3D artists in realistic movement. They worked together combining their expertise in creating the realistic dinosaurs in the final movie.

    Back then, it appeared that stop motion animation was a dying art, especially as their models seemed more crude than renderings of modern 3D animation. So, this is another fantastic fusion of two arts, and a boon for the continuation of stop motion filmmaking. I have been a huge fan of stop motion animated movies ever since I saw the original KING KONG.