Jun 11, 2014

The new RoboCop movie was out in theaters in February. 3D printing has played a leading role in the production of the iconic RoboCop suit created by Legacy Effects for the main character in the movie.

The new Robocop reboots the story from Paul Verhoeven's 1987 sci-fi action movie of the same name about a hard-working police officer targeted and nearly killed by a drug lord whose decimated body is used in an experiment to create the perfect cybernetic police officer.

For the remake, director José Padilha turned to Martin Whist, production designer of the film for a new design. It turns out a lot of attention is paid to the functionality of the suit. The team made two updated suits based on the original one.

Once the designs were finalized, the 3D models of the two suits were sent to company Legacy Effects to build. Legacy Effects is famous for making suits for Iron Man, Avatar, Real Steel, and Pacific Rim, among others. Using Stratasys' high resolution Objet Connex multi-material 3D printing technology, Legacy Effects produced every aspect of the RoboCop suit - from helmet, to boots - as master mold patterns. These pieces were then molded and cast into other materials to create variants of the suit depending on the requirements of each scene.

In addition, some versions of the suit used in the movie were composed of as much as 90 percent actual 3D printed parts. For example, the striking visor, which forms part of the helmet on the black version of the RoboCop suit, features a gleaming red strip; the entire visor used in the movie is 3D printed with Stratasys transparent (VeroClear) material.

3D printing for reproducing fine detail

According to Jason Lopes, Lead Design Engineer, Legacy Effects, RoboCop's chest-armour piece perhaps best exemplifies how the use of 3D printing technology overcomes certain challenges that can affect production methods.

"First, in terms of the size of RoboCop's chest piece specifically, only Stratasys' 3D printing technology would allow us to print something at the actual size; the part virtually fills the entire build-tray," Lopes explains.

"Second, the same part comprises a blend of smooth areas, as well as other areas that feature an extremely high level of detail, such as the police badge and other logos, which we needed to retain for the molding process." The printer features ultra-fine 16 micron-layer resolution and is capable of printing all materials together in one single print run, that means the engineers could just create objects in high level of intricate detail, together with the hard surface modeling of the shells all together in one print.

In addition to creating the Robocop suit, Legacy Effects was also involved in 3D printing both master molds and prototype parts for the 'Exo-suit' featured in the movie. These prototype pieces included fully-functional spring-operated fingers that were printed in a single build using multi-materials.

Smoother workflow and greater flexibility

Using 3D printing technology the team at Legacy Effects is able to work much faster and more efficiently than it could in the days when it produced parts by hand.

"3D printing allows us to work in symmetry, which enables us to build an entire left side of a suit, then mirror it and output the right side as well, all from one file with the click of a button. You can't do that by hand." recalls Lopes.

Despite the studio's tight budgets, high expectation from customers requires shorter production times. For Lopes, 3D printing's ability to speed up processes, as well as the capability to make late changes has revolutionized the way Legacy Effects operates.

"This is where 3D printing comes to the fore by meeting such pressures head on," says Lopes. "If we see something's not working, or we're asked to make a design change, we can make another iteration, go to an open 3D printer and be printing two simultaneous tests within an hour. We go to lunch, come back and it's done. It doesn't get better than that!"

Watch the video below Jason Lopes from Legacy Effects describing his experience creating the suits and helmets for the RoboCop movie using 3D Printing.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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