For more than a decade, additive technology has been a creative mainstay at LAIKA, evolving with LAIKA’s increasingly ambitious artistic vision and rapid advancements in 3D printing and software. In its latest animated comedy adventure Missing Link, fresh winner of the Golden Globe award for Best Animated Feature Film, the stop-motion studio extensively leveraged 3D printing technology, as we reported back in April.
The studio began the process of 3D printing of faces to painstakingly fashion expressions for the stop-motion characters in 2009’s Coraline. That project was completed with about 20,000 unique faces. For 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings, the number of expressions jumped to 64,000. Missing Link featured a whopping 106,000.
“The decision to push the technology is very much driven by creative, said Brian McLean, Director of Rapid Prototype at LAIKA, in a Stratasys case study. After the success of Coraline, LAIKA acknowledged both the power of 3D printing and also its present limitations – namely, having to hand paint each individual face. “I still remember being in meetings with the director of Coraline and negotiating the number of freckles that Coraline had on each side of her face because we knew a painter had to hand paint each one of those freckles.”
During early planning for their fourth film, Kubo and the Two Strings, creators were faced with the realization that the three-character designs under consideration were not possible with the 3D printing technology the studio was currently using. “So I called Stratasys,” McLean said, “and while it took a bit of convincing because it was still early stages,” the team partnered on Beta testing of the 3D printing company’s first color 3D printer, the Objet Connex3. “That was a really powerful alliance that suddenly allowed us to break into this color plastic printing world. We had a hunch this Connex3 was just the beginning of their road map. And we were right.”
One of the things LAIKA was most excited about with Kubo and the Two Strings, “is that we embarked on something truly unique. For the first time, we were taking hardware from a company and co-developing software. And customizing the software for our needs. Working with Jon Hiller, an independent software developer, and Stratasys we were able to unlock the Connex3 hidden Voxel Print capabilities,” said McLean. “By doing so we were able to create sophisticated and unparalleled color plastic 3D printed faces for Monkey, Beetle and Moon Beast.”
The next step in LAIKA’s 3D printing partnership with Stratasys came when LAIKA was invited to be a Beta customer on the Stratasys J750, the first full-color, multi-material 3D printer. Due to LAIKA’s long history with Stratasys, they created a unique partnership with Fraunhofer, the creators of Cuttlefish software, allowing LAIKA early access to Voxel Print on the Stratasys J750. The groundbreaking 3D printer has 360,000 different color combinations; with Voxel Print, that capability grows exponentially and is combined with the ability to compose new textures and gradients, enabling 3D printing with extraordinary precision. “This is what we’re using on ‘Film Five,’” said McLean. Film Five is the… Missing Link. And the rest is now Golden Globe history.