Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Local 3-D printing pioneers make it easy for all to join in | The Japan Times

Local 3-D printing pioneers make it easy for all to join in | The Japan Times

3-D printing is one of my favorite new technologies.  Of course, it's one that has a lot of useful applications, from making tools to organs for transplantation.  The use I'm most interested in, however, is rendering celebrities into 1/6th toy form.  High-end toy companies such as Hot Toys and Enterbay regularly turn out expensive action figures from the Iron Man and Avengers movies and of cultural icons like Bruce Lee.  Most, if not all, of their initial sculptures are done the old-fashioned way, hands on by brilliant artists who are skilled at capturing not only likeness but expression.  I own Hot Toys' Christopher Reeve Superman figure, for example, and not only does it look like the man, but it also captures a degree of his performance in the role.

So well it actually resides in the uncanny valley.

Occasionally, however, they miss the mark by varying distances.  The Hot Toys Indiana Jones really divided 1/6th collectors.  For one thing, the price for these figures has climbed from below one hundred dollars (US) to well over two hundred and even three hundred at times, so expectations have similarly risen.  When Indy didn't come out looking exactly like a mini-cloned Harrison Ford, people got angry.  Very angry.  I was undecided myself about buying it myself until I saw one in person and felt it captured his looks as well as any figure I'd seen up to that point-- some have his features in more exacting style but are hampered by goofy expressions or indifferent paint jobs.  And the Hot Toys figure, when lit to match certain scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark, ends up scoring a bit higher on the Harrison Ford-O-Meter.  Still, you don't have to look very hard to find some reasonably accurate complaints about this figure, even if some of them are expressed a bit... emotionally.

But with 3-D printing, a company can fiddle with their initial sculpt and print out prototypes until they get it right.  I've seen some online and they look pretty convincing.  Some of the print-outs seem to lose some detail and come out a bit soft, but some of those expert customizers out there who love to fiddle with these things can provide the extra oomph to turn their little toy humans into lifelike, museum-quality miniatures.

One thing I'd love to do is use a 3-D printer to make 1/6th scale poseable models of the characters in a graphic novel I've been working on for about 12 years now.  I want them in scale relative to each other, and having these models would enable me to plan scenes and work out perspective.  It's all very boring and complicated to the world at large, but to me it's a source of constant fascination.

Like 3-D printing itself.

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