Sep 15, 2015 | By Kira

It’s rare enough to see disabled characters represented in mainstream Hollywood films, and even rarer to see them in powerful, lead roles, wielding guns, leading armies, and generally kicking their able-bodied enemies’ butts. But that’s exactly what Imperator Furiosa does, and what inspired fellow-amputee Laura Vaughn to have a fully functional, prosthetic mech-arm 3D printed in her likeness.

Michelle Sleeper from Overworld Designs, an Atlanta, Georgia-based prop and costume designer, was introduced to Vaughn through a friend. Sleeper had been sharing her idea of a ‘holy grail’ project: to build an authentic Terminator Endo Arm as an actual prosthetic for an amputee. Vaughn, a transradial amputee who was born without most of her left arm, is an avid cosplayer (she has even been featured as a zombie on The Walking Dead) and immediately jumped on board. “She had done a few costumes in the past that incorporated her arm, but nothing really to the scale that we planned,” explained Sleeper in her detailed RPF post. The idea was to 3D print the Endo Arm, and then wire it up with sensors and servos to make the fingers open and close; a challenging task, but well-within Sleeper’s range.

But before that project could get off the ground, Mad Max: Fury Road came out, and as Sleeper says, it “changed everything.”

In an emotional Tumblr post that quickly went viral, Vaughn explains her immediate connection to the hardcore heroine Furiosa, and why she knew she had to cosplay her as quickly as possible: “I am turning 30 years old next week. I’ve been a fan of action film my entire life. And I have NEVER seen a physically disabled, kickass, female lead character in a Hollywood movie EVER – not once, until yesterday.”  

According to Vaughn, it goes beyond the mere fact that Furiosa is one-armed. What truly struck her was her attitude, her fearlessness, and the realism with which her ‘disability’ (if you can call it that) is portrayed. “”Watching Road Fury, I felt like I was watching my own struggle brought to life…Watch Furiosa do anything you can do, but better, and with half the number of fingers,” she wrote. “The effortless manner in which this film has presented a character’s disability is incredible…Her body is never a plot point. It is simply allowed to be.”

Inspired by both Vaughn and her on-screen heroine, Sleeper got to work. She scrapped the rough 3D scans she’d taken for the Endo Arm, and made a proper plaster cast of Vaughn’s arm. Next up, she turned to @MrGreeene to take high resolution 3D scans and helped create the 3D model for the build. By choosing to 3D print the arm, Sleeper was able to cut down on as much weight as possible and make sure that Vaughn could comfortably wear the prosthetic for long periods of time.

After 3D printing the parts, the complex task of assembly began. In her detailed post on Replica Prop Forums, Sleeper describes the various processes of sanding, coating, laser cutting, molding, adding wrenches and leather straps, and weathering, which resulted in the final product. Absolutely no detail was left unnoticed by the skilled maker, who even resorted to digging up B-roll and behind the scenes photos to get the most true-to-life colors as possible.

Her hours of dedication and hard work paid off: the prosthetic was ready just in time for Vaughn to wear it to Dragon Con. Not only did she full embody the essence of Furiosa, she proved that cosplay is not just about dressing up, but also about making a positive and empowering statement about representation politics. And, since she can’t cosplay 24/7, Vaughn has created her own blog, FictionAbility, to continue the discussion on positive representations of disability in fictional media. Her initial Tumblr post has been viewed over 41,000 times, and is a step towards making characters like Furiosa the rule rather than the exception.

3D printing has greatly helped with the development of prosthetics, both at the technical and aesthetic level. We’ve seen realistic prosthetic hands, prosthetic feet for under $10, and even an Iron Man prosthetic arm delivered by Tony Stark himself. The true beauty of these kinds of projects is that they are improving lives cheaply and effectively, while raising awareness and empowering those with physical disabilities. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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