3D Printing the Next Era of Film and Theatre Production

Jun 30, 2017

Brittanywhitmore Hs2 Edit By Brittany Whitmore

I have a great passion for storytelling and spent much of my life involved in theatre and film productions. These days - I get to indulge my love of storytelling as a speaker and a professional communicator, helping others tell their stories, the stories of their businesses and the stories of great innovation. 

Many years ago in my acting days, I worked with a great coach who would become one of the most memorable influences in my life. I will never forget how he would describe the craft of acting as: “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” This really stuck with me and helped me to deliver very authentic scenes. But when one looks at this phrase in the greater context of a film or theatre production, imaginary circumstances become physical props and sets.

Film and theatre allow us to create an impact by moving people and making them think - but what about the untold stories, the impact of the materials involved? What about the waste produced by the production, transport and disposal props and sets? 

I have witnessed prop masters search for weeks, even months - only to find a piece of furniture or another item that is almost what they were looking for, or spend a great deal of expense producing a piece themselves. And after all of that effort, the amount of time that the piece is required for the run of the show or the filming period is likely to be a fraction of the time that was put into procuring it or building it.

In fact, I myself have worked on the production team of a television series, and spent several days trying to track down a specific item - only to not find it!

And what happens to all of these items when the shoot or the show ends? Do they end up in a landfill, or end up taking up space in a storage shed somewhere, with only the slightest possibility of ever being reused?

I was pleased to discover this small organization in Hamilton, Ontario that acts as a “thrift shop” for used set materials and claims to have diverted over 500 tons of scenic waste from the landfill.

Another great example of the progress being made in this area is “Tomorrowland,” which was filmed here in Vancouver, achieved a 91% waste diversion rate from landfills by following a comprehensive zero waste initiative. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" also made an effort to go green and saved an estimated $400,000. Clearly, there are economic benefits to be had for sustainable production and the industry is keen to get on board.

This is encouraging and exciting news, but what if it could be even easier and cheaper? I believe that in the future, 3D-printing will play an increasingly large role in film and theatre productions. In fact, it is already happening - 3D printing was integral in the production of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Many of the props were 3D printed and many of the fabulous costumes would have been impossible to produce without 3D printing. 

3D Printing enables prop masters to become designers, rather than perpetual shoppers. With 3D printing, we are only limited only by our imaginations. Items can be entirely unique - from furniture to costumes and beyond. Being unable to find the perfect item will no longer be a problem.

However, it is the next chapter of this that truly excites me and this is where Print The Future comes into play. By visiting a Print The Future store, a producer or prop master will be able to print custom props anywhere. This means no shipping or lengthy storage times, and completely custom, high-quality pieces. Further, if anything is damaged during filming, another item can simply be printed. This solves the problem of continuity on a film set - if something is damaged or altered, the crew must ensure that the altered piece does not appear at random points in time throughout the film inconsistently, as these production errors can detract greatly from the story.

The most exciting part for me is that Print The Future will be incorporating recycling into the 3D printed item lifecycle. With 3D printing, we can produce items with sustainable materials, and when an item has run its course or outlived its usefulness, it can be turned back into its components and be used to create something new.

3D printing will help producers, prop masters and others to unleash their imaginations as they produce the next great film and theatre productions. And I cannot wait to see just what kind of amazing stories this will enable us to tell.