Pushing the Imagination with 3D Printing

When it comes to modern movies, there is no limit to the effects and the level of detail added to give the imagination form. But are all of these features created in After Effects or using computer programs? You may be surprised to know that a great deal of the content is created using 3D Printing.

Current and Upcoming movies

The upcoming Mission Impossible is apt to have an on-screen 3D Printer. A 3D Printer has been seen since before the third move, and so the upcoming movie is not likely to skirt away from using it again. Need something a bit more heroic? Ghost in a Shell used 3D printing for the skeleton under the main character’s skin, Robocop (2014) was filled with 3D printing on both the character as well as props, and Kubo was completely 3D Printed.

Marvel Leads the way in 3D Printing

You do not have to look far to see 3D printing in modern movies. The new Infinity Wars shows a Gauntlet that fans are currently replicating on a 3D Printer. Marvel, which is currently owned by Disney, has had a substantial role in integrating 3D Printing into modern movies. It is primarily a decision of convenience and budget rather than trying to make a statement. For example, in Iron Man 2, the masks and gloves which were incorporated in the various iterations of the iron suits worn by Robert Downy Jr. were created using 3D Printing. This allowed for multiple customizations and for the company to paint and alter the masks slightly to give the variations between the various character’s suits. At the same time, the model kept continuity (structure wise) between the prints.


A look at the 3D Printed iron man gloves. For the full story see the article on CNET.

Perhaps the more notable 3D Printing for modern movies would be seen in the Gradians of the Galaxy. Two main character’s primary identifying costume pieces were created using a 3D Printer. The first is the mask of StarLord, which really brings to the forefront what a CAD Modeler can do with the right Commercial 3D Printer and materials. The second is the complete costume of Korath the Punisher. The intricate details would have been quite expensive to produce, not to mention the iron would be extremely heavy for the character. However, because 3D Printing was used for the costume, the budget and the physical weight of the print was substantially lower.

Pushing 3D Printing on screen

Did you notice that there was a Desktop 3D Printer in Jurassic Park III? While this movie dates back to 2001, it does show that Hollywood has been keeping pace with 3D Printing techniques for a while. The great thing about this reference is that the community has embraced the printing of the Jurassic park content, including the raptor claws, T-rex skeleton, and even full dinosaur heads.

Pirates Band of Misfits

The practical use of 3D Printing for modern films was showcased in the movie Pirates Band of Misfits. As that particular style, being one which mimics the traditional stop pose animation using clay figures, requires thousands of parts and pieces, it made sense to use a 3D Printer to complete the task. Imagine if the company had to make the 8,000 mouths by hand. The time and the budget for such a task would be astronomical. Granted, they still had to paint the models, but the print only required a bit of tweaking on the 3D model and then production of the mouths were printed using a series of 3D Printing machines.


With the use of 3D Printing, the movie was able to create multiple mouths for multiple character without needing to hand sculpt each one for Pirates Band of Misfits


One of the more controversial topics surrounding the modern movies and 3D Printing is the use of the printers to make weapons for the movies. While fake weapons are nothing new, and modern cinema have pushed the boundaries of 3D Printing for use in Cosplay, there have been some questions on whether the publicizing of the ability to print realistic 3D weapons is an encouragement to anyone with bad intentions. What was seen as props in the past has become a reality as the abilities of 3D Printers has progressed. Additionally, the use of CAD based 3D Printing to create supporting content, such as the night goggles in Zero Dark Thirty, have some questioning if such technology could be produced and used in reality.

Movies and 3D printing

Regardless of the way in which the props and prints are being imprinted into the real-world, it is clear that the movie industry has seen that 3D Printing is a way in which to quickly fabricate imaginative concepts into reality. Whether this is in a superhero or supervillain’s costume, in the actual makeup of the character, or in the necessary props, 3D Printed content is blended seamlessly into the film. Only in instances where the producer clarifies that an object is a 3D Print, or in articles like this where we expound upon the content, does the viewer become aware that a component was fabricated on a 3D Printer. Why is this important?

For many, there is a misconception that 3D printing techniques produce only limited details and results. But as you have seen, the prints can be highly detailed, so much so that Hollywood has started to make it the norm when dealing with complex and costly assets necessary for the vision of the next blockbuster hit.

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