Feb. 21, 2015 | By Kira

Last summer, we covered the story of a Dutch designer, Joris van Tubergen, who launched a campaign alongside World Animal Protection (WAP) to create awareness and stop the unethical treatment of elephants in the tourism industry. The goal was to 3D print a life-size elephant at Amsterdam Schipol Airport using five specially developed 3D printers, however the catch was that the printers would only work as long as people were actively signing the petition. Amazingly, the campaign received over 30,000 signatures, and the 3D printed elephant was completed within a mere two weeks.

Filmmaker Klaas Arie Westland documented the entire campaign, from concept to completion, and has just released an informative and enlightening documentary about the 3D design process, technical challenges, and personal motivations of those involved. The eleven-minute minidoc captures the role 3D printing played in making the project as impactful as it was.

“People often think: if you can ride a horse, why can’t you ride an elephant?” said Julie Middelkoop, programmes manager at WAP. “But the real suffering is concealed…a young elephant has to be broken…it will be beaten, starved and locked up until it gives in. Only then their training beings, so in the end tourists can ride them safely.” In many countries, such as Thailand, Laos and Nepal, capturing elephants and then forcing them to ‘perform’ for tourists is increasingly popular. Often, the elephants live in cramped living spaces and are beaten and abused.

Their goal in launching the campaign was twofold: on the one hand, to increase awareness amongst Dutch tourists who may be planning to visit countries were elephants are mistreated, and to encourage Dutch travel agencies to stop booking elephant rides. “What we would love to see is the [elephant camps] changing into wildlife shelters,” said Middelkoop, “until the point they demand for elephant rides and shows will completely disappear and people will only admire these animals in the wild.”

In order to make this dream come to life, the team knew they had to do something unique and larger-than-life. “The first thing that comes to mind when you want to make change is a petition,” explains copywriter Tim de Waard. “We thought it was important to do this in a unique way, a petition like you’ve never seen before.”

Joris van Tubergen’s ingenious idea of flipping his Ultimaker 3D printer upside down so that it could print columns as high as 2.5 meters (the normal build volume is 20x20x20) gave the project the ‘larger-than-life’ aspect it truly needed. His Z-Unlimited Ultimaker add-on is a simple yet revolutionary tool for 3D hobbyists and professionals alike, and will soon launched as a Kickstarter campaign.

The video also shows how the team decided to incorporate the names of each petition signer by engraving them directly onto the elephant, using a special font that resembles the actual animal’s skin, and how agency FHV BBDO, WAP and the creative personnel involved had to work together at all times to ensure the project’s success. “Don’t start a project like this if you don’t like a challenge,” says 3D designer Dolf Veenvliet in the video, probably only half-jokingly.

Thanks to extensive press coverage on the news, including TV, print and radio, the campaign received a surge of petitioners and was able to raise even more awareness than previously anticipated. By the end of the campaign, the petition had been signed over 31,000 times, and as the video states, almost all Dutch travel agencies have stopped booking elephant rides—making the “Step off the Elephant” campaign a true success.

Although the petition was only open to Dutch residents, the idea has the potential to spread worldwide, and hopefully the project will inspire tourists everywhere to stop booking elephant rides or even visits to camps where animals are treated unethically.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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