How 3D Printing Shaped the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Six Iconic Marvel Props Built Using 3D Printing
Marvel Studios has used 3D printing to create a number of the iconic props and intricate costumes that we know and love. As far back as 2008, 3D printing has been an integral part of their production pipeline allowing their prop masters to rapidly create prototypes that test the fit and designs with actors and even manufacture the final prop itself for the big screen. Today, 3D printing is used by almost every single production company but Marvel was one of the first production companies to pioneer the technology for the big screen and manufacture designs that would be impossible with any other technology.
In an era where blockbuster films are defined by the scale of their spectacle, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) stands as a testament to the intricate craftsmanship that goes into each frame. One of the unsung heroes behind the scenes is 3D printing technology, an indispensable tool that has been quietly revolutionizing prop and costume design since the MCU's inception in 2008. From the regality of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, to the futurism of Iron Man's suit, 3D printing has opened new horizons in rapid prototyping, customization, and manufacturing. It's a technology that has enabled artists to bring impossible designs to life with a speed and fidelity that traditional methods can't match.
In this article we explore how 3D printing has become integral to creating some of the most iconic objects and costumes in modern cinema.
Building Mjolnir using Laser Sintering 3D Printing
Thor's hammer, Mjolnir is a highly detailed prop, with intricate patterns and textures that would be difficult to create using any other manufacturing method than 3D Printing. Getting the detail, proportions, ergonomics and even the weight of the hammer took a number of iterations. The prop had to be extremely strong, yet light enough to be moved around and swung by the actor on set with ease. To accomplish this, the designers built the hammer in CAD using a software called Z-Brush, which allowed them to sculpt the intricate details onto the hammer as well as shell out the interior of the hammer to reduce weight. Starting with a digital digital model of the hammer allowed the team to rapidly iterate and print out a new prototype in a matter of hours, allowing for greater flexibility and creativity in the design process.
Mjolnir was built using 3D printing for the Marvel movies using one of the strongest industrial 3D Printing manufacturing methods known as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). This type of 3D printing technology uses a laser to fuse together layers of powder material to create a solid object. This technology is particularly well-suited for creating movie props for several reasons. Firstly, SLS can produce highly detailed and complex designs with precision and accuracy which was important to replicate the hammer's Norse symbols allowing it to closely resemble the designs from the original comic book source material. Additionally, SLS is capable of producing parts with high strength, impact resistance and durability, which is important for props that may need to withstand repeated handling and use during filming without shattering. Finally, SLS offers the unique the ability to print multiple parts simultaneously, which can save time and reduce production costs allowing them to go directly to manufacturing using the same 3D printing method.
The Iron Man Suit (2008)
Improving Suit Ergonomics Using 3D Technology
Before 3D printing exploded onto the mainstream in 2012, it first entered the spotlight as an integral tool in the creation of the iron man suit for debut 2008 Marvel film. While 3D printing was not used to create the final suit itself, it was used as a tool to aid both the design and prototyping process. 3D printing was used to create prototypes and models of various parts of the suit, such as the helmet and chest piece. This allowed the team to iterate on the design quickly and make adjustments before committing to a final version. The team primarily used PolyJet and Stereolithography 3D printers to create high detail resin prints and concepts. These parts were then used as molds to create the final pieces using more traditional manufacturing techniques, such as vacuum forming and fiberglass molding.
By using 3D printing, the prop designers were able to create custom-fitted components that fit the specific dimensions of the actor wearing the suit. This helped ensure that the suit would be comfortable for the actor to wear, fit snugly, but also allow for a range of motion so that the actor could move naturally and freely. To achieve this, designers used 3D scanning technology to create a digital model of Robert Downy Junior's body. To achieve this, Robert Downy Jr was scanned using a full body photogrammetry based 3D scanner. This scanner was comprised of over 150 DSLR cameras and was able to instantly capture the actor's body in 3D, creating a digital model of his body .
The digital model of the actor's body was then imported into a 3D modeling software, where the Iron Man suit was designed around it. The suit was designed to fit the actor's body precisely, making it look as though it was a part of his body. This process was a significant improvement over traditional costume design, which typically involved creating the suit from scratch using fabric and other materials. Designers then used 3D printing to create custom-fitted components, such as the chest plate and arm guards, that would fit his body perfectly. This allowed the suit to be more ergonomic and comfortable for the actor to wear, as the components were designed specifically to fit their body shape and size.
Today, this method of design has become a staple in designing custom orthotics, braces, and even hearing aids for people. But in 2008 this was very novel want to design film props and costumes leading to the success of both the iconic costume and Marvel Cinematic Universe that we know today.
Captain America's Shield
High Detail, Large Format SLA 3D Printing
Captain America's shield has been a staple prop in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the release of Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011. The shield has been recreated multiple times over the years, and in many instances, 3D printing was used in the manufacturing process. 3D printing was chosen for this process because it allowed for quick and efficient production of a detailed model that could be used to create a mold. Additionally, 3D printing allowed for intricate designs and details to be included in the model that would have be difficult or impossible to create using traditional manufacturing techniques.
In the case of Captain America's shield, 3D printing was never used for the final design but it was was used to both prototype and ultimately create a master model that was then used to create a mold. The final shield was then cast from this mold using traditional molding techniques. You can learn more about how 3D printing is used in mold making in this article here.
Stereolithography (SLA) was used to create the initial master model. SLA uses a laser to cure liquid resin into a solid object layer by layer. This method can produce high-resolution and detailed parts, making it ideal for creating a detailed model of the shield. To create the master model of the shield, the design was first created in a computer-aided design (CAD) program. The CAD file was then sent to a 3D printer, which produced the shield using Stereolithography 3D printing technology. Stereolithography was used as it offers extremely high detail, resolution and produced an ultrasmooth finish that releases easily from molds. The materials is also highly workable and easily paintable with little hand finishing required making it great for rapidly iterating through multiple shield prototypes.
By starting with a 3D printed master model, the designers were able to create highly intricate designs and iterate rapidly in a digital environment and then send the design straight to the 3D printer. This allowed for greater flexibility in the design and production process, as changes to the shield design can be made more easily with 3D printing. When the production settled on their final iteration of the shield, it was used to create molds to cast multiple identical shields with precise dimensions and details, was important for achieving a consistent look throughout the production.
The Black Panther
How 3D Printing Shaped The Black Panther Costume
Black Panther's suit is a unique and intricate costume that was first introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the 2016 film, Captain America' Civil War. The suit was created using a variety of techniques, including 3D printing. To create the suit using 3D printing, the team first created a detailed digital model of the suit using computer-aided design (CAD) software. They then used 3D printing technology to produce a master model of the suit that could be used to cast repeated copies. To create the initial master, the team used Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing technologies, a highly detailed material that offers ultra smooth finish. to create various parts of the suit.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing was used to create the larger, less-detailed parts of the suit, such as the helmet and shoulder pads. The SLS process uses a high-powered laser to selectively fuse small particles of powdered material, such as plastic or metal, into a solid object layer by layer. The process is ideal for the creation of complex, highly detailed, and functional costume and prop pieces that will be used on set. SLA 3D printing, on the other hand, was used to create the more intricate and detailed parts of the suit, such as the textured pattern on the suit's surface. SLA 3D printing involves using a laser to cure a liquid resin layer by layer, creating a highly detailed and precise model. The material is less functional, and slower to manufacture, but holds excellent detail and is paint ready right out of the printer.
After the initial concept was complete, the team used created a mold using the 3D printed master models to create a number of backup copies of the suit and prop pieces used on set. They used traditional molding techniques to cast the suit from the mold, using materials such as urethane and fiberglass.
3D printing was chosen for the creation of Black Panther's suit because it allowed the team to create intricate and detailed parts of the suit that would have been difficult or impossible to create using traditional manufacturing techniques. Additionally, 3D printing allowed the team to iterate on the design quickly and make adjustments before committing to a final version. Only once the final design was decided did they create a final mold of the suit to create successive copies.
How Peter Quill's Signature Look Was Achieved With 3D Printing
Star Lord's helmet is an iconic prop from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. To create the helmet, the production team used 3D printing allowing them to quickly and efficiently produce a highly-detailed and accurate prop in under 3 days. The production team chose 3D printing to create Star Lord's helmet because it allowed them to create a highly-detailed and accurate prop quickly whilst ensuring a perfect custom fit to Chris Pratt's head to reduce weight and eliminate bulk.
3D printing also allowed for the creation of complex shapes and designs that would have been difficult or impossible to produce using traditional manufacturing techniques. This was especially important given the unique and intricate design of Star Lord's helmet, which required multiple iterations to get just right.
The final helmet was built using Stereolithography (SLA) using a high detailed resin called Accura Xtreme White. The material offered sufficient durability to be used as a end-use prop on set, whilst also being highly detailed and paint ready requiring no sanding. Marvel created over 40 copies of the iconic helmet to be used in different scenes with small variations in between each. Using 3D printing allowed each iteration to be quickly manufactured, painted and be used on set as quick as the next day.