Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pixar Brings Digitized Characters to Life with 3D Printing

In a blog last year I mentioned how Pixar created a Zeotrope of Toy Story characters printed on a Z Corp. Spectrum Z510 3D printer. Although this was not the first Z Corp. color printer, it was the first 3D printer with truly amazing color quality.

A recent Time Compression blog reminded me about one of the exclusively unique capabilities of 3D printing, and more specifically, color 3D printing. In my blog last year I wrote that Toy Story characters were “trapped” inside the digital world. The only way to release them into the real world is to 3D print them. To be clear this is not the only way. After all, you can buy a character doll at most toy stores. What I mean is that color 3D printing is the only way to reproduce exactly what the creator intended, right down to the last crease of an eyebrow or the exact cow skin pattern on Jessie’s chaps because 3D printing uses the data directly from the digital character.

Photo Credits  Woody, Jessie and Spanish Buzz, all 3D printed from original data on Pixar's ZPrinter.
Photo Credits Lotso 3D printed from original data on Pixar's ZPrinter.
A similar example is video games, such as World of Warcraft, where not only are the characters locked in cyberspace, they are also unique to each player. It is hard to imagine any other way to bring a character to life than through 3D printing. Check out to see some of these amazing ZPrints.

For a typical design process where the intended result is a physical object, 3D printing is often used to create prototypes. In the examples above, the final product is not intended to be a physical object, but is intended to remain digitized. 3D printing is a way to bring them to life. I wonder how many other examples exist where 3D data is the intended final product yet can be brought to life by 3D printing.

Video of the Zeotrope in action.