How 3D Printing Will Impact Animation Off Screen

Constant improvements in technology mean that new and exciting ways of doing things are constantly being invented, with 3D printing being no exception. It’s exactly what you might expect it to be; namely printing but with the addition of the third dimension. The technology has been around for a while, but only very recently has its cost started to come down to a relatively affordable level for consumers.

What Does 3D Printing Have to Do With Animation Off Screen?

Ah, an excellent question. Well, it’s not so much to do with production (Laika used the technology extensively for ParaNorman) but for all the things that animation sells off-screen. Consider the picture below:


It looks kida familiar doesn’t it? That’s because it is! It’s a 3D printing plan for the rocket that Tintin took to the moon in Destination Moon!

Via:The Tintin Wiki
Via:The Tintin Wiki

The possibilities are astonishing. Imagine being able to print models right in your own home? Instead of hoping for a company to produce a character or prop model you desire, you could make it yourself, in minutes! Otaku’s will have a field day!

There’s just one problem…


NPR recently took a look at 3D printing, and Steve Henn’s report places a hefty emphasis on the recent issues surrounding the use of copyrighted characters with the technology. Yoda is a popular presence on Thingverse, a website that allows people to create and share their 3D printing plans. Similarly was Tintin’s rocket, until it was taken down via DMCA notice (the one above isn’t the original):

Recently, Moulinsart, which owns the rights to the cartoon Tintin, served Thingiverse with a Millennium Digital Copyright Act [sic] takedown notice. The company insisted that the site remove printing designs of Tintin’s cartoon moon rocket.

Weinberg says Moulinsart was well within its legal rights, but he thinks the move was a mistake. People printing out copies of Tintin’s rocket were the company’s mega-fans, he says. Instead of attacking them, Weinberg adds, the company would have been better off selling digital designs to print out Tintin himself.

If you think in terms of animation, almost anything could be created using 3D printers. Characters, props, sets are all ripe for the DIY mold and while no studio has freaked out just yet, there could be plenty of problems down the line.

Since copyright covers everything to do with an animated film or TV show, making plans of characters and printing them yourself does fall foul of existing law. That’s where the real problems will soon come to light.

What 3D Printing Means For Animation

Many animated shows rely on toys (among other merchandise) to remain profitable. Pre-school shows are especially exposed, but plenty of other ones also sell models based off the animation. Many shows rely on those sales to remain profitable and therefore on the air. Think of The Simpsons, or any anime show known to man. They all rely on sales of models to some extent. Here, have a Nibbler as an example:

This impossibly cute thing is made by Kidrobot
This impossibly cute thing is made by Kidrobot

Now what if instead of buying a model at a shop, you simply printed it at home? You would gain, but the studio would certainly lose; especially since those plans can (and will) be all over the internet for free.

So this could potentially affect every corner of animation; from features, to TV shows to web series to short films. It could be a boon but it could also be a bust if all the players don’t handle it correctly.

I haven’t even touched on all the printing that will be made from fanart, just think how popular that‘s going to be?

It’ll Ultimately Be For the Fans

Ultimately, 3D printing will be for the fans. Animators and studios can gain, but they will have to rely on things like superior production tools and giving fans something extra over what they can make at home.

Just look at that Tintin rocket, I would kill to be able to make one of those for myself, but I would gladly pay someone to make me a high quality one that’s over a metre tall instead.

Think in those terms, and get ready to ride the roller coaster for the next few years.

What would you print with a 3D printer? Let us know with a comment!

1 thought on “How 3D Printing Will Impact Animation Off Screen”

  1. Personally, this makes me cringe because it adds to the largely unsolved problems of media piracy and extends them into a more material realm. I’ll broaden the picture a little to what this might mean for the toy industry in general. It might lead to a change from a system where material objects are sold to one where materials and designs are sold directly to the consumer. If there’s 3D prints from fanart, then it would have to be digital 3D models unless there’s some way to easily translate 2D drawings into 3D models. I don’t think there is.

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