Stratasys’ 3D Printing Plays Leading Role in Making Iconic ‘RoboCop’ Suit

robotcop still3D-printer maker Stratasys Limited recently gave Hollywood a helping hand, with its multi-material Objet Connex 3D printing technology playing a leading role in the production of the iconic RoboCop suit created by Legacy Effects for the main character in 2014’s science-fiction action film, RoboCop.

Hollywood special-effects company Legacy Effects was tasked with creating the 3D designs for the RoboCop suit. Legacy Effects also used Stratasys’ 3D printing technology to help  bring to life a number of characters for the movie.

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RoboCop suit produced by Stratasys’ 3D printing.

Using Stratasys’ high resolution Objet Connex multi-material 3D printing technology, Legacy Effects produced every aspect of the RoboCop suit – from helmet, to boots – as master-mold patterns. These pieces were then molded and cast into other materials to create variants of the suit depending on the requirements of each scene.

Some versions of the suit also used in the movie were composed of as much as 90 percent actual Stratasys 3D printed parts. For example, the RoboCop’s visor, which forms part of the helmet on the black version of the RoboCop suit, features a gleaming red strip; the entire visor used in the movie is 3D printed with Stratasys transparent (VeroClear) material.

According to Jason Lopes, lead design engineer for Legacy Effects, RoboCop’s chest-armour piece perhaps best exemplifies how the use of 3D printing technology overcomes certain challenges that can affect production methods.

“First, in terms of the size of RoboCop’s chest piece specifically, only Stratasys’ 3D printing technology would allow us to print something at the actual size; the part virtually fills the entire build-tray,” Lopes explains.

“Second, the same part comprises a blend of smooth areas, as well as other areas that feature an extremely high level of detail, such as the police badge and other logos, which we needed to retain for the molding process. There isn’t a technology currently available beyond that provided by Stratasys that affords us this level of intricate detail, together with the hard surface modeling of the shells all together in one print.”

In addition to creating the Robocop suit, Legacy Effects was also involved in 3D printing both master molds and prototype parts for the “Exo-suit: featured in the movie. These prototype pieces included fully functional spring-operated fingers that were printed in a single build using multi-materials on the company’s Stratasys Objet Connex 3D Printers.

Faster Production Using 3D Printing, Easier Late Changes

Using Stratasys’ 3D printing technology, the team at Legacy Effects was able to work much faster and more efficiently than it could in the days when it produced parts by hand.

“Doing everything by hand meant that we couldn’t run tests as it would have taken forever,” recalls Lopes. “Also, 3D printing allows us to work in symmetry, which enables us to build an entire left side of a suit, then mirror it and output the right side as well, all from one file with the click of a button. You can’t do that by hand.”

Stratasys notes that despite the recent economic downturn still having an impact on studio budgets, high expectation from customers requires shorter production times, regardless of the all-to-commonplace eleventh-hour changes. For Lopes, 3D printing’s ability to speed up processes, as well as the capability to make late changes has revolutionized the way Legacy Effects operates.

“This is where 3D printing comes to the fore by meeting such pressures head on,” says Lopes. “If we see something’s not working, or we’re asked to make a design change, we can make another iteration, go to an open 3D printer and be printing two simultaneous tests within an hour. We go to lunch, come back and it’s done. It doesn’t get better than that!”

“Legacy Effects’ use of multi-material 3D printing as its solution of choice is indicative of how the technology is becoming increasingly integral to filmmaking,” says Bruce Bradshaw, director of marketing for Stratasys North America. “The ability to rapidly 3D print all materials together in one single print run meets the film industry prerequisite to save time and money. But the real show-stealer is Stratasys’ ultra-fine, 16 micron-layer 3D printing. In the special effects world, fine detail and true-to-life models and parts are the industry standard and our Connex multi-material 3D printing technology continues to be a top performer among designers and engineers.”

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