Framing the Future: How Additive Manufacturing is impacting Film & Entertainment

By Protolabs


The development of digital technology has revolutionised life as we know it. Recent decades can be recognised by their leaps in technology, the 60s and 70s with space exploration and modern computing, the 80s and 90s with gaming and the internet, the 00s and 10s with mobile phones and social media, and today with the acceleration of artificial intelligence.

Throughout those decades, the film and entertainment industry has kept pace with digital technologies, factoring them into production to transform what we see on our screens. The profound impact of digital technology on filmmaking is undeniable; when you consider the advent of digital cameras, editing software, and special effects tools, filmmakers have gained access to a wide range of tools and techniques that were previously unavailable or prohibitively expensive.

The emergence of additive manufacturing as a technology is no exception to that trend, and it has delivered many benefits to filmmakers across the globe. In this blog, we’ll dive a little deeper into how additive manufacturing is being put into action on the big screen:


Production of Props and Costumes

3D printing allows filmmakers to create intricate and detailed props and costumes quickly and efficiently. This technology enables designers to produce complex designs that are difficult or impossible to create using traditional manufacturing methods. Additionally, 3D printing can make multiple copies of the same object with minimal variation, ensuring consistency across scenes and shots.

Marvel Studios is renowned for its character costumes and props, from the famous Iron Man suit, to masks featured in Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther, many of these are produced via 3D printing.

black panther promotional packaging

When international food and beverages company PepsiCo wanted to produce a promotional mask to tie into the release of the Black Panther movie, Protolabs suggested Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) as the most suitable additive manufacturing option to economically produce the relatively small batch of 250 units, with a high level of detail and durability to ensure that the quality remained intact as a collector’s item for years to come.

LUMA-ID power fist
LUMA-ID pushed gaming boundaries and created a life-sized replica of the Power Fist from Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III. Protolabs supported with the production of the four fingers and thumb.

Prototyping and Pre-visualisation

Additive manufacturing allows filmmakers to create physical prototypes of their ideas quickly and inexpensively. This capability is handy during pre-production, where filmmakers can iterate on designs and test concepts before committing to the final product.


Special Effects

3D printing can create special effects in movies and TV shows. For example, filmmakers can use 3D printing to make lifelike models of creatures or objects that can be used for stop-motion animation or as stand-ins for actors during filming.

Animation company LAIKA studios utilised 3D printing for their first feature film, Coraline. The stop motion film that would traditionally use puppet or clay figures, instead used 3D printing to produce 6,333 faces to create over 205,000 possible facial expressions.

LAIKA studios continued to utilise additive manufacturing for it's films, and in 2016 was recognised with the Scientific and Engineering Academy Award for the studios pioneering use of rapid prototyping. 



With additive manufacturing, filmmakers can customise and modify designs quickly and easily. For example, if a costume needs to be adjusted to fit an actor more comfortably, designers can quickly make the necessary changes and print a new version.


Cost Reduction

3D printing can help reduce costs associated with traditional manufacturing methods. This technology allows filmmakers to produce objects on demand, eliminating the need for large production runs and reducing inventory costs. Additionally, 3D printing can be used to create lightweight and durable objects, reducing the cost of transportation and storage.


Yxlon Rhinoceros Skull
Protolabs helped YXLON create a 3D printed replica of a Rhinoceros skull from a high-resolution complete image

Real Technologies, Compelling Plots

The links between additive manufacturing and film aren’t limited to production, and they have often been referenced in film as part of a futuristic story line. During a scene in Jurassic Park 3, Billy shows Dr Grant the resonating chamber of a velociraptor dinosaur which has been created via 3D printing.  

Similarly, in Oceans 8, Rose and Amita use glasses containing 3D scanning technology to reverse engineer and create a valuable piece of jewellery through additive manufacturing. Read our latest blog here to find out how digital manufacturing has revolutionised the fashion and wearables industry.

Additive manufacturing isn’t just limited to film storylines, with TV appearances too. In season 10 of Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Yang 3D prints a portal vein and Dr. Grey attempts to print a 3D printed heart.


The future of additive manufacturing in the film & entertainment is bright, and as the industry is constantly adapting to the likes of digital technology, it’s no surprise that major studios are already utilising these manufacturing technologies to elaborate their plot lines and manufacture props and scenes.

Protolabs have helped an array of customers in Film and Entertainment and many other industries to leverage digital manufacturing. With additive manufacturing, injection moulding and CNC machining services, take a look at how our digital manufacturing capabilities are supporting projects from a variety of sectors, including some you might not expect!