Printing Props: Do Not Fear the [3D] Printer

by Jay Duckworth
Jeff Hiller, Roger Bart, and Nelson Chimilio in Hercules at The Public Theater
Jeff Hiller, Roger Bart, and Nelson Chimilio in Hercules at The Public Theater
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I guess I’m three-quarters Nerd and one-quarter Geek. The main difference between the two is how you answer this question—‘May the force be…’ 1) equal to the mass or 2) with you. One means you are an out and out Geek; Two means you are a full-on Nerd. The great thing is when these two realms converge in a Venn Diagram—with you in the center. That’s where I fit in 3D printing. The first thing I ever printed was a laser scan of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem from Mesopotamia. I was fascinated to see the newest technology reproducing the first written story we have yet to find. 

Since then I have been learning how to design, first on Tinkercad, an easy-to-use 3D CAD design tool from Autodesk and now I’m starting with Autodesk’s Fusion 360. I have designed a few things, some for the Hercules musical, that’s based on the Disney animated film, that we just did as part of our Public Works program at The Public Theater. I also printed some prop items that I’ll know I’ll need in the future: the Nebra Sky Disk from the Bronze Age, a mariner’s quadrant that measured altitude, and a witches’ Wheel of the Year that displayed their holidays. So how did I get into printing props, well this would have never happened without David Grindle, executive director of USITT introducing me to Marc Franz, executive vice president of Raise 3D Technologies. Marc asked if I could use a 3D printer for theatrical props work. Oh man could I!

The right tool for the job
I jumped on to YouTube and looked at all the tutorials on 3D printers and printing. Every one of them said the Raise 3D printer was the one best suited for making props, mostly because of the small layer height (for better resolution) and the large print volume. Marc sent me a Raise 3D Pro2 Plus and told me to go to town. Marc and all the folks at Raise 3D have been incredibly supportive and we’ve been checking in with each other almost every week. They have been serving the entertainment industry for a while now, working with special effects departments, costume designers, and gaming companies. The Pro2 was even responsible for most of the gown fringes, necklaces, and unique crown pieces worn in the film Black Panther.

Examples and resources
I strongly suggest Anne E. McMills’ book, 3D Printing Basics for Entertainment Design. It is a must if you are in the arts and want/have a 3D printer. We have used 3D printers here at The Public for other projects as well. Scenic designer Kacie Hultgren Kim, one of the early adopters of 3D technology, made some small statues and specialized finials for Comedy of Errors as well as the seven dwarfs for Into the Woods. She has long used 3D printed models of her set designs and her Thingiverse page has all kinds of furniture for ½-inch and ¼-inch scale set models. Malachy Kronberg, associate audio supervisor at The Public Theater, 3D printed two Athenian owl seals for Socrates and some mic pack holders that needed to be mounted to police riot shields to pick up sounds in battle scenes in Coriolanus. As I noted earlier, I also just made two items for Hercules. One was multiple medallions for Hercules, some had to be mounted on his belt and then as a necklace wrapped around him as a baby. I also designed and made a Hades skull pin, which was a lot of fun to work on; it was easy to put together with Tinkercad. 

Why yes, I can print that
They say that when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Well I look at projects and think about how I can use the 3D printer to solve it; a breakable vase, a bust of an actor, custom embosser, large medieval door hinges, antique replacement parts, replica Maltese Falcon and all kinds of skulls! I have found that there are vast archives of items that can be downloaded for free or for a low price. With websites like Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory, as well as groups like Scan the World posting 3D and laser cutting files, you can literally create precise replicas of museum artifacts that have been scanned just for sharing. All this should make your imagination go wild with limitless possibilities!

An offer you can’t refuse
If you’ve been on the fence about 3D printers, I say jump in with both feet. Marc over at Raise3D said if you mention my name or this article, they will throw in two spools of printing filament and if you are an educator, your school is eligible for a discount on a printer. Seriously, call Marc and drop my name. Again, I have to thank USITT for bringing Raise 3D into the theater world and for having the confidence in this old man to learn some new tricks. Well, this nerd has to go geek out with more 3D printing!  
Printing Props Hercules medallion in mid-printing 3D-printed Hades skull pin for Hercules Witches Wheel of the Year printing