On University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega Campus, a mere block from the bookstore, lies the school’s MakerBot 3D Innovation Center. Since its inception in late 2016, the lab has been used for a multitude of departments including visual arts, biology, physics and, more recently, film.
Students from different career paths have utilized 3D printing in their work as the lab’s 32 3D printers are open to all departments and majors throughout the university. In early 2018, UNG’s film department began pushing the potential of 3D printing.
Dr. Jon Mehlferber and Dr. Jeff Marker sent out a combined email to UNG film and digital media majors expressing the opportunity of utilizing the lab for prop creation. Mehlferber intrigued students by outlining within the email how effective MakerBot labs can be in creating stunning and realistic props.
He achieved this by sending them an article describing the process by which USA’s Network new sci-fi drama “Colony” 3D-printed an alien exoskeleton for its season finale, utilizing a MakerBot lab. This massive costume was completed in less than two weeks using printers like the one in UNG’s Makerbot Innovation Center.
The writer of the article, Stan Spring, defended the use of 3D printing in the costumes creation. “For suits, 3D printing can remove the costly, time-consuming steps of casting and molding done in the past,” said Spring. “Creating 3D models on a computer also ensures a design is precisely symmetrical and will move properly.”
Professor Clark Vines was among the first to have a prop printed via the UNG Markerbot Innovation Center. Vines was in need of a futuristic transport vehicle for his work on a stop motion film entitled “Answer,” adapted from a micro sci-fi story by Fredric Brown.
“The design of the transport was based on 1950 sci-fi pulp magazine vehicles,” Vines said. “However, constructing one proved problematic. Papier-mâché versions were not smooth enough. Metal was difficult to produce. Wood proved too heavy. That is where Dr. Jon Mehlferber on the Dahlonega campus stepped in. After reading an article on his work with the Makerbot 3D printer, I contacted him. After providing him with an initial Adobe Photoshop rendering of the prop I wanted, he agreed to work with two students of his on creating the piece for me.”
The rendering was then converted into the 3D printing program Blender by UNG visual art students.
Once completed on Blender, the MakerBot printers can begin the 3D-printing process.
The futuristic vehicle was created in six parts by Mehlferber and his team. The pieces were then glued together to produce the final product.
“Modifications were made and I ended up with an awesome prop that increases the visibility of my short by a thousand percent,” Vines said. “[Jon] Mehlferber was awesome, honest, straightforward and exceedingly professional. Overall, it was a good experience.”
The versatile yet precise nature of 3D printing is what makes it a dream product for film creators like Vines. UNG students can now take their ideas for props and creations into reality. If you plan on using the MakerBot Innovation Center for prop creation in your student film, it is best to visit the lab in Dahlonega as soon as possible.
Large and elaborate projects may require as much as a semester’s notice to provide realistic and sufficient time for printing. Smaller projects could require as little as a few weeks’ notice prior to completion, but it is still best to discuss your ideas with the lab as quickly as possible.
Once you have an idea of what you want, you can meet with visual art majors for meaningful collaboration. This mixing of ideas and talents is paramount to the film industry and allows future filmmakers and artists to get hands-on experience with collaboration and compromise.
During this process, a digital rendering of the desired prop is created within the lab which is then input into the MakerBot 3D printers. Low-cost, recyclable plastics are used for the printing process and materials will most often be provided for student films. Personal projects however, will require purchasing the materials.
The lab can benefit film students in other ways, Mehlferber said. One of these ways is via the use of scene prepping.
“A film student can of course create props for their films,” Mehlferber said. “But they can also create a full set. They can use miniatures and test out upcoming scenes and shots without having to have actors present.”
In the professional field, miniaturized sets are often utilized to give filmmakers a better idea of the of the setting and spacing in their scenes.
Students have already taken advantage of the MarkerBot Innovation Center for their films. This includes UNG alumni Luke Pilgrim and Brad Kennedy, the founders of Sozo Bear Films. They used the lab to create a sign for their short film “Sunnyside Drive,” as well as a company logo for “The Apology Service,” another short film.
To use the MakerBot Innovation Center in an upcoming film project, email contact Dr. Jon Mehlferber.