by Terry Persun, Technology Journalist
Recently, Edmonds.com created a new commercial that used 3D printed models to aid in the communication meant to illustrate the company’s commitment to consumers. White Room Artifacts, LLC was hired to create the cars used in the commercial. White Room is a model shop created by former model makers from Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic, some of whom worked on the original Star Wars movies. Besides creating physical models in the movie and television business for years, the company also produces large and small models for museums around the world.
For the Edmonds.com commercial, White Room Artifacts used a variety of materials and processes, including 3D printed models produced by Solid Concepts (Valencia, CA), to manufacture the necessary props. According to Don Bies, Owner of White Room Artifacts, “We get the greatest results for the money we spend by incorporating real-life models as opposed to the time, energy, and expertise it would take to provide computer animations to the shots.” Don understands the value of a good model shop from his experience working at Industrial Light & Magic on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Star Wars prequels, Pirates of the Caribbean films, and Galaxy Quest, to name only a few.
Don and his team use a combination of different CAD software programs such as SolidWorks and Rhino, to provide three-dimensional drawings for the 3D printing process. The 3D CAD files, once produced, are saved in an STL format, which is mathematically sliced into thin layers so that the stereolithography (SLA) rapid prototyping (or 3D printing) machines can produce the model one layer at a time.
The SLA process uses a liquid, UV-curable photopolymer resin that is subjected to a UV laser beam. The laser, using digital data downloaded into a motion system, traces a cross-section of the part over the surface of the photopolymer. The resin hardens and bonds to the just-completed layer below it. The process is repeated continually until the machine builds the complete 3D component. Excess resin is drained and the model placed in a UV oven for final curing. Tolerances for this process are very tight, at ±0.005 in. for the initial inch, and 0.0015 in. for each additional inch; layer thicknesses can range from 0.004 to 0.007-in. Resins can somewhat mimic production plastics such as ABS, polypropylene, and polycarbonate. The SLA process is often used to produce parts quickly, with no tooling required, which makes them ideal for the appearance models needed in this application.
“We needed the cars on the commercial to look familiar, but couldn’t have them be specific makes or models,” Don said. This meant that the models had to be combinations of actual cars. These hybrids were often a cross between two different vehicles, such as a Camaro and a Mustang. “For one of the automobiles, we were able to find a 3D CAD model online that we could download and manipulate. This allowed us to quickly create our mash-ups and get them ported over for production,” Don said. “The biggest problem was in getting the right size ratio. Since we were using a combination of radio control model car bodies, a sculpted body, and 3D model to create the five cars. We had to follow the scale set by the R/C cars, which came out to be the odd size of 1:7.25.”
One of the primary hybrids for the commercial was the SUV, which was a cross between a Toyota RAV4 and a VW Touareg. “This was the Hero Car of the video,” Don said, “and the client was very specific about its appearance.” Solid Concepts provided raw parts to White Room Artifacts because the commercial was on a tight deadline. The models were produced using the company’s proprietary ID-Light process, which uses a specially designed honeycomb interior to provide a less expensive, lighter weight final product, while maintaining structural integrity. The advanced SLA technology used in producing ID-Light parts helps to maintain components at about one-twelfth the weight and builds faster than solid SLA parts. ID-Light was originally designed for use in producing large, non-structural appearance models.
After receiving the raw components, White Room’s staff proceeded to finish each of the pieces by sanding and painting the components. After that, the components were fitted with moving parts, if any were needed. For the hybrid SUV, it was a requirement that the hood move so that it looked as though it was talking throughout the commercial. The hood, also produced using ID Light, was only one eighth of an inch thick, which really stretched the capabilities of the process. “But, it worked great,” Don said, “and the commercial came off without a hitch.”
Solid Concepts Inc.