The design job is not always problem solving for engineers, especially when you have a 3D printer. Sometimes, it’s just fun.
According to Tyler Reid, a CAD, CAM, and a 3D printing specialist at GoEngineer and team leader on this project, “Stop-motion video is cool, but film making is not easy! Although the video SHeLvEd is less than 5 minutes long, it took about 3200 stills and 700 hours of filming and editing to complete.”
Continued Reid, “Before I even made it to the technically difficult parts, I was confronted with the surprisingly tough artistic challenges:
- What is the storyline?
- Who are the characters and what do they look like?
- How many explosions should we add?
- Is the ending happy, sad, confusing, a cliffhanger or all of the above?”
Fortunately for Reid, he had a team of help, Motion Foundry Studios writer and director Nathan Smith along with a few additional engineers from GoEngineer. After a brainstorming session, the team knew the protagonist was a determined robot who had a fembot love interest, played with dangerously cool toys, and possessed zero understanding of basic physics. They eventually named the protagonist Gary.
With an arsenal of Stratasys 3D printers, they had near-complete freedom in Gary’s design – they could make him as simple or complex as needed, because building him wasn’t much more complicated than pressing “Print.”
They did have to make him stop-motion compatible though, which was not a trivial task. For his movements to look natural Gary needed 33 different joints, and each one had to withstand thousands of cycles of loosen/adjust/tighten/repeat. Some parts performed flawlessly from Revision 1 and others took 2, or 3, or 6 revisions.
One part that took several iterations to get right was Gary’s thigh. The knee joint was simple, but the hip was a ball joint that needed to hold all of the character’s weight at times. The team designed, printed, and tested four iterations before they had a working solution – but all that happened within the span of a week.
The printers allowed the engineers to flex their creative muscles by designing parts they never dare attempt if they were building them by hand or CNC such as Gary’s hairpiece.
Reid said he had the most fun designing Gary’s bazooka. The story included two versions of the gun – one that was intact and another that had been destroyed after Gary decided to fire a grappling hook from it. The exploded version was Reid’s first real opportunity to use the SOLIDWORKS Flex feature and it performed perfectly.
When it came time to print the parts, careful consideration of the print orientation was needed. With FDM printing, vertical walls look the best and parts are strongest parallel to the layers. For some parts Reid’s team had to balance aesthetics and strength – the parts had to look good for the camera and withstand the rigors of filming. With the palms for example, the original prints (oriented for best aesthetics) had to be reprinted (oriented for highest strength) after the snap-fit caused the plastic to crack.
Overall, the design and fabrication of Gary, his two female counterparts, and all of his accessories took about a month of part-time work. The majority of the parts were printed on the Fortus 250mc, but the team also used a uPrint SE Plus and Fortus 400mc for the larger parts. Speaking of size, the parts are actually bigger than they appear on film – Gary stands almost 16 in. tall and sports bolts as large as 1/4-28 x 2.5 in.
The team paid attention to the smallest details, even if they knew those details wouldn’t show on camera. The grappling hook measured about 2 in. long and its working gears had as little as 0.007 in. clearance. It was printed on the Objet 30Pro.
After all the characters and parts were 3D printed, writer and director Nathan Smith and his team set up for filming. He and his crew came in after-hours one night to take all the photos he’d end up using over the ensuing months.
Nate spent the next couple of months bringing life to the characters. And the final result is the video you already watched.