People want things to be real. Give them every excuse to believe you.

SLA 3D printing for props, models and other things in the entertainment sector

People want things to be real. Give them every excuse to believe you.

In the cut-throat world of film creation, the 3D printing army is gathering apace and rising up to meet the demands of modern-day film, prop and model-making. Everyone now knows that 3D printing is cost-efficient; it’s quick; materials are robust; and it useful for augmenting special effects, manufacturing props, speeding up stop motion, and creating magnificent, intricately detailed armour and costumes.

From dragons and dinosaurs to Star Wars, from helmets to helminths to labyrinths, from filigree to mini-trees, there is no need to tell prop and model makers of the distinct advantages 3D printing. On the other hand, to the uninitiated, the array of printer types and the even wider array of resins available, can be a bit of a quagmire. In this brief article, we’ll explore the benefits of SLA (stereolithography) printing for film, television, commercials, theatre and other events.

Stereolithography or SLA 3D printing

SLA is immensely popular amongst props and model-makers. This is largely for its ability to produce highly accurate, infinitely detailed, highly polished, water-tight parts. One of the greatest benefits of SLA is its versatility. The 3D print materials innovators have come up with a range of resins with mechanical, thermal and optical properties that match standard-, industrial- and engineering-grade plastics.

With a print bed of 800 x 800 x 600mm, the NEO 800 is one of the largest industrial SLA printers available in the UK. This outstanding machine has a scanning resolution of 1 micron, ensuring side wall quality (with a <0.5mm potential) is superb; intricate detailing is easy; and the smoothest of finishes is possible.

The materials

We run two exceptional resins on our three NEO 800 SLA machines.

Somos® EvoLVe 128 is a shiny white, durable resin that produces highly accurate, highly detailed parts. Designed for easy finishing (it boasts an exceptional A-side surface finish), EvoLVe has a look and feel that is almost indistinguishable from traditional thermoplastics. It bonds well to other plastics, silicone skins and metal.

Somos® WaterShed XC 11122 is a crystal clear, highly water resistant, very hard engineering resin with ABS-type properties. Again, it has been designed to deliver on intricate detailing, very thin walls of less than 5mm, and an exceptionally smooth finish. And again, it bonds well.

As an aside, if you are not too fussy about the finish, because you want to coat the final product or it will be painted up, and you have much smaller parts (less than 500 x 500 x 580mm) you do have the option of the Somos® Taurus. However, as robust and durable as it is, it’s not so good at the fine details. As this material is not run on our NEO 800s, it may also take longer to print. You can find out more about our other SLA technologies here.

What does this mean for prop and model makers?

Remember that costume worn by Ramonda in Marvel’s Black Panther? Iron Man’s new suit? Or, the critically acclaimed 2015 stop-motion picture, Kubo and the Two Strings? The costumery of the former, the armour plates of Iron Man, and the thousands of facial expressions of the latter all came to being through 3D printing. EvoLVe 128 would be perfect for similar creations. And, with the NEO 800’s large capacity and fine detailing capability, costume parts can be printed in fewer pieces. If you are after stop motion assistance, with some canny design orientation, we could probably fit 40 to 50 different faces on one bed.

 In the same vein as the stop-motion, EvoLVe’s versatility and high definition ability makes it an excellent material for character research and development. The large print bed, and the relatively quick process, enable designers and model makers to experiment with multiple iterations of their monsters, should they wish.

WaterShed XC 11122 is preferred by model makers with large, very rigid parts and items to be printed. Animatronics, prosthetics, make-up and creature FX specialists, Millenium FX, for example, favour WaterShed for many of the shells of their award-winning puppets. The shells of the head and feet of the baby hippo, modelled in the clip below by special effects and Star Wars actor, Robert Nairne, were created in WaterShed before being covered with a silicone skin and painted up.

 In the same vein, and because of its robustness, and the mechanical properties that give it superior strength in snap fit designs, WaterShed is an excellent material for creating prop models. We’ve lost count of the number of guns props we’ve printed in WaterShed, from canon to sniper rifles. Rough up its surface with a quick sandblast, and you have the perfect medium upon which to paint, from bones to dinosaur eggs.

 Both WaterShed and EvoLVe could save scenery makers time and money, too. The large bed printer is proving attractive to animators wishing to make static dioramas and atmospheric back drops; parts can be pulled apart and slotted together to make new scenes with relatively few pieces.

Millennium FX opted for WaterShed XC 11122 to build the head and feet of this baby hippo puppet.

Post printing finishing

There are cons to every printing type. Whilst the NEO 800 printer, and the two resins mentioned above, promise to reduce printing time and deliver an exceptional, highly polished A-surface quality, B-surface quality is not so great. This is because SLA printing requires support structures to be included. And the bigger your model, the more the number of support structures required. Fortunately, SLA resins are some of the easiest to clean up and you’ll find the cost for this is generally built into your price per cubic centimetre.

 As well as support removal, post processing can also include sanding the ‘pips’ (or support nibs), giving the model a mineral oil finish if you are looking for clarity, and spray painting if you require.

In conclusion

There is no doubt that 3D printing has pushed prop and model-making for the entertainment sector on apace. We believe one of the biggest influences in R&D, costume making, prop making and animation has been the refinement of one of the oldest forms of 3D printing, stereolithography. It prints large, it prints quickly, and the finish is exceptional.

 We’ve been working with props and model-makers since 2003. We’re an approved Disney supplier and have worked with some of the biggest names in the business. Click here if you’d like to know more about our 3D printing capabilities for the entertainment industry.