When you need to make small changes to one part, one of the best tools to use is 3D printing. Stop-motion film production is one of those applications that require hundreds of small changes to one part. GoEngineer helped Motion Foundry Studios with its 3D printing needs.
Michelangelo said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”
Writer and Director Nathan Smith at Motion Foundry Studios, a stop-motion animation company in Salt Lake City, Utah, knows a thing or two about hard work.
Stop-motion is an animation technique that physically manipulates an object, such as a characters mouth, in small increments between each individually photographed frame so the object appears to move on its own.
“You move a character a teeny tiny bit 24 times for each second of stop-motion animation,” says Smith. “To complete a feature length film, like we are doing with “Saurus City,” means moving the characters hundreds of thousands of times.”
The Devil’s in the details
When you are making a character talk or display different facial emotions, each expression has to be handmade. If the character is in the middle of a word and saying the “A” sound, you would create a mouthpiece for that specific sound.
When the character moves to the “S” sound, the animator takes out the mouthpiece for the “A” sound and puts in a new mouth that is shaped like the “S” sound. A mouthpiece that shows the transition from the sounds might also be required. And on and on it goes.
“We have sculptors work on characters for months to create, say, 60 different mouth expressions,” says Smith. “Our sculptors make sure everything is accurate so the movie goer sees a smooth transition between all the letter sounds and facial expressions.”
The artistry of color
Motion Foundry Studios has another group of artists that hand paint everything. “They paint skin tone, blush on the cheeks, or the many other little [but important] details,” says Producer Sabrina Martinez. “And you have to make sure that the blush stays the same when you exchange one mouth for the next mouth required for the next word or expression.”
Even when all the detail work is completed and painstakingly filmed, it might look completely different than expected. “When you actually watch it, you may see things that just aren’t as perfect as you want them to be,” says Martinez.
That means more modification and rework.
3D printing changes everything
For Motion Foundry Studios, 3D printing has completely revolutionized production. “Now we can do details that were not possible by hand,” says Smith. “Our main character right now has a scar that runs from the top of his forehead through his eye and clear down the side of his cheek.”
Smith continues: “We could not create such elaborate details before, but with 3D printing, when you print the face and the different expressions, that scar is exactly where it should be in every face. It is like a whole new playground.”
Saving time means saving money
It used to take two months to sculpt 60 mouths; now Motion Foundry Studios can now do that work in one week. “That saves us a ton of time and, of course, money,” says Smith. “Now our artists can focus on other details of the film.”
Motion Foundry Studios leverages GoEngineer’s local 3D printing service bureau. “GoEngineer is definitely a part of the team; they are very collaborative with us and we love it,” says Smith. Martinez concurs: “It is a whole different thing when your service providers are just as excited about your project as you are!”
“Stop-motion is still handcrafted in many respects and is a very collaborative endeavor, which are endearing traits to us,” says Smith. “The synthetic style and imperfection – I think we still want to maintain that component of the art form.”
Smith concludes: “However, 3D printing is going to make it possible for small companies like ours to produce work that competes on a much larger scale. It’s an incredible technology.”
Mitch Bossart is a professional writer for GoEngineer, a company that provides SOLIDWORKS, Stratasys 3D printing, and other best-in-class engineering and manufacturing solutions. Mitch is a technology enthusiast, and he loves writing about people and companies that are shaping our world. You will find Mitch at various coffee shops throughout the Minneapolis/St. Paul area–writing, socializing, or dreaming about the next great American screenplay.