This weekends Oscar’s will see Paranorman, an stop-motion animated feature film, try and win the award for Best Animated Feature. To animate the characters within the film Laika, the animators behind the movie, created faces using color 3D Systems printers.
One of the difficulties in stop-motion animation is creating realistic facial expressions and lip movement when the characters speak. This is done by replacing the face with another that has a slightly different expression, taking photos of each one, and stringing them together to give the illusion of movement. Up to a thousand faces are required for each character, and each one has to be hand painted. An extremely time consuming and laborious process.
3D printers offer animators a time-saving shortcut by being able to quickly produce the thousands of variations in faces required for smooth animation. For Laika’s movies around 200,000 possible face variations were designed on a computer using Maya 3D modeling software, but only several thousand are used.
Coraline was the first animation movie using 3D printing that Laika produced (released in 2009) and at that time they used monochrome 3D printing technology. A large number of faces were printed but they still had to be painted by hand, which took a long time and caused problems with continuity in the animation.
Fast forward to 2010 and Laika were able to utilize the latest multi-color 3D printing which negated the need for hand painting of the faces. Initially there were issues with color profiles, meaning that the colors produced in the printed faces were inconsistent across the printers, and to the colors on the computers’ 3D models.
Once 3D Systems technicians were flown out to help the animators solve the color issues 40,000 faces were printed using four 3D Systems’ Z Printer 650 3D printers to use in animating the characters in the movie.
Advancing 3D printing technology has helped improve the quality of stop-motion animation and offers endless possibilities for filmakers. From initially being a technology for scientists and industrialists 3D printing now lets artists express themselves.