Del Toro’s Pinocchio Makes a Stop-Motion Breakthrough with 3D Printed Metal Puppets


Did you ever realize that the incredible stop-motion animation featured in Guillermo del Toro’s 2022 masterpiece, Pinocchio, was made possible by the use of metallic 3D printing? The plot unfolds in 2008, when a unique concept for an animated narrative was conceived in del Toro’s mind. He sought the expertise of Mackinnon & Saunders, a company revered for their puppet designs in acclaimed titles such as The Corpse Bride, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the evergreen Bob the Builder.

Going against the norm, del Toro wanted to ditch the process of using multiple casted puppet iterations and preferred the use of a single puppet with moveable joints, making it simpler and more practical for film production. However, with the limited technological resources available at that time, this vision stayed a dream.

Fast forward 12 years to 2020, a significant shift occurred. No, not the changes we all know, but the evolution of additive manufacturing technology that brought Guillermo’s unique vision to life. To make this possible, Mackinnon & Saunders collaborated with Laser Prototypes Europe (LPE), a firm based in Northern Ireland with a rich history of offering 3D printing services for the film fraternity.

“The fact that the puppets were being mechanized and essentially turned into miniature robots meant that the use of metals was required over plastics from the get-go,” said Patrick Walls, the engineering director at LPE. “This resulted in us opting for stainless steel to guarantee that no deflection or bending force would occur while the puppet moved.”

The collaboration between the teams resulted in the creation of a hollow-bodied puppet embedded with internal mechanisms to enable its limb movements. A five-member crew was required to remove supports, smoothen rough edges, and assemble the props. Issues of marring the final print quality due to annoying supports are quite common while using 3D printers. Such a scenario is even more problematic when the product is set to be viewed by Hollywood audiences.

As Walls explained, “We were required to establish a protocol on how to manually finish the products. This was to ensure that each team member was removing support structures and sanding in a way that would prevent the rise of lines or marks. Though the process was very slow, methodical, and meticulous, we finally managed to reach completion.”

The Mlab metal printer from GE Additive proved to be a critical element of the project. It made use of a 100 watt laser to generate highly detailed, uniform, interlocking metallic components for the puppets. Even though GDT and team Mckinnon & Saunders recognized the capabilities of the Mlab, they were apprehensive that the printer might not replicate the woodgrain effect needed for the puppet’s exterior shell. These doubts were soon laid to rest.

McKinnon & Saunders and del Toro weren’t the only ones pleased with the outcome—so was the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Pinocchio won the Oscar for best animated film in 2023. While AM has been used for stop-motion films before, most notably by LAIKA, this was the first time that 3D printing enabled the creation of such a complex prop. Laser Prototypes Europe expressed pride in the collaboration with GE Additive, recognizing it as a step towards the future of cinema. It’s not just movie magic; it’s a glimpse into the intriguing possibilities of innovative technology in filmmaking.

Original source


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