3D Printing Movie Magic

With the proliferation of computer-generated imagery (CGI), it’s easy to assume that practical effects- the art of make-up, models, and costumes to achieve creature effects- would completely die. This seems doubly true since the success of CGI-heavy films like Avatar and Life of Pi made the Na’Vi and the tiger Richard Parker such vivid, lifelike creations.

Indeed, a recent documentary, Beast Wishes, covered this territory. The film is about a Burbank, California couple, Bob and Kathy Burns, who turned their basement into a horror and sci-fi movie museum, with a collection that includes material from films both sublime (the original Creature from the Black Lagoon costume, the queen alien from Aliens) to silly (the original flying-saucer from Plan 9 from Outer Space).

It’s a heart-warming film, but it has a certain tinge of sadness that most of these craft masterworks are part of a different era. As Beast Wishes director Frank Dietz noted, “Practical effects are disappearing as an art form since we have CGI.”

But perhaps not all is zeroes and ones in Hollywood. California companies Creative Character Engineering (behind Let Me In) and Coulier Creatures (World War Z, the Harry Potter series) are keeping classic practical effects alive as an art, even if it’s often coupled with CGI.

“People really like the tangibility of a practical effect,” CCE owner Andrew Clement said in an interview with LiveScience. “What we do is we steal materials from every discipline there is on the planet. … Medical, dental prosthetics, robotics, high-end mold-making, auto racing, robots, people who do remote control work, just anybody.”

Perhaps most notable is their use of 3D printing, which both companies have made extensive use of to more easily sculpt monsters. Clement says that 3D printing will likely become more prominent in cinema’s future as well.

With that in mind, the two companies have worked in horror and fantasy, among other genres, to help directors realize their visions more easily. It’s heartening to see that they can do so without giving up that indelible tactile effect.

Perhaps this renaissance of practicality is for the best. Just check out WatchMojo’s list below for some of the more cringe-worthy attempts at CGI in the 21st Century.


Not Just CGI: The Incredible Tech of Horror-Movie Monsters,” Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience.
Filmmaker Frank Dietz returns to SUNY Oswego with ‘Beast Wishes,’” Max O’Connell, Syracuse.com/The Post-Standard.
Image via Reuters.

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