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3D printing plus light offers boundless possibilities including film-making

Mon 17 Aug 2015

3D printing with light - Aron Bothman

The late film director Tony Scott, also a painter, said that he viewed the process of directing his films as painting with light. Now, it seems, such an approach to film-making is possible in a far more literal sense. There have been numerous advances in the burgeoning field of 3D printing, and one of the more interesting areas is that of the interplay between 3D printing and light.

One aspect of this is that a 3D printer can be modified such that light itself can effectively be ‘printed’, as the Beijing artist Ekaggrat Singh Kalsi shows.

Inspired by Kalsi’s work, Aron Bothman, a student at CalArts, decided to apply the idea to film-making for his the2sis project, The Red Witch.

Each CGI image from Maya is sent one frame at a time to the printer, thus creating the illusion of movement, in much the same way as stop-motion. An 11-second example of the 3D-printing-with-light technique can be seen here.

He and his father built the printer from a kit, but replacing the hot end with an LED. As 3D Print reports, “This allows Bothman to capture the light on film by using a long exposure while the printer runs the model, tracing out the shapes as a 3D light painting.”

Aron Bothman said, “As a stop-motion filmmaker, 3D printing allows me to tackle more ambitious projects on a short production schedule than I might have been able to otherwise.”

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Light Painting Animated with a 3D Printer – http://aronwithonea.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/light-painting-animated-with-3d-printer.html

The finished 6-minute sci-fi short film about a geologist on Mars, The Red Witch, combining stop-motion, CGI, and hand-drawn animation, can be viewed here.

There have also been other interesting developments in the area of combining printing and light. Let’s take a quick look at just a handful of examples, in no particular order.

Firstly, in his research involving printing onto polymers or plastic using light, Associate Professor Nicholas Fang at MIT broke the diffraction barrier. Fang said, “We were the first group that proved that we can print sub-wavelength features a hundred times smaller than a human hair.” Implications of this breakthrough include the ability to increase the amount of data that can be written onto a DVD by 100 times, investigate DNA, and potentially even break a CPU’s operating limit of 10^12 Hertz by replacing electrons with optical cables.

Secondly, a company called Rohinni in the States has an LED lighting product called Lightpaper, which they claim is the thinnest in the world. As 3DPrint reports, “While Rohinni does have mild competition in the area [of LED lighting], they do have one completely unique factor: Their product is razor thin. And flexible. And 3D printable.”, adding, “According to Rohinni, the emergence of printable light is on par with 3D printing in terms of new possibilities and application potential.”

Thirdly, the Sci-Arc Gehry Prize in 2012 was won by Kyle & Liz von Hasseln for their project Phantom Geometry, which literally uses light to 3D print solid material. In addition, at any time during the process it can be stopped in order to make adjustments before continuing.

And finally, such creativity in the field of 3D printing is not limited to using light. For instance, there’s a dynamic water sculpture at Osaka Station City in Japan, which effectively does a similar thing as Kalsi and Bothman, but 3D printing using water instead of light.

With such incredible achievements in 3D printing, what’s next? It’s an area with a lot of exciting potential.

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