3D Printer Lets Robert Downey Jr. Fit Iron Man Like a Gauntlet

Last Updated May 7, 2010 4:00 PM EDT

Think of Hollywood and computers, and your mind turns to special effects. But now you have to add costumes. Legacy Effects, the production company for the Iron Man 2 movie, used an Objet Geometries 3D printer to manufacture the gloves that Robert Downey Jr. wore. The technology has come a long way for modeling and prototyping, not just in special effects, but manufacturing.

I spoke with senior systems engineer Jason Lopes, who said that Legacy Effects prototyped large parts of the latest Iron Man suit and used 3D printing to create various intricate pieces as well as the gauntlets.
With the workflow we have, we save so much time over traditional sculpting or even [CAD] drawing on the computer. We can model out and see things faster.
You can see some of the results in the movie trailer:

Below are some pictures, courtesy of Legacy, of the gauntlets:

Legacy designs costume pieces in a CAD program and then scan the actors' bodies. On the computer, designers impress a scanned actor's shape into the inside of a part. The company did the actual production parts of the gloves that Downey wore because it needed the 10 micron tolerance control to design the units to move. Here's a video of the process:

Everyone's experience with the gauntlets, particularly the actor's, had been far from pleasant in the first movie. The old models fit badly, had poor articulation that limited his movement, and also kept falling apart. "Someone had to constantly be there fixing them," Lopes says. "He was complaining constantly on the first movie and on the second move it was thumbs up."

Legacy tried using the 3D technology when working on an advertising campaign for the Xbox 360 video game Halo, and then it bought its own unit for $114,000. Lopes estimates that the printer paid for itself within six months. But there are drawbacks. The in-house unit handles items only up to 10x10x8 inches. The company can also outsource to another company that has a printer that works up to 22x17x8 inches. Anything larger gets prototyped in foam. Like any printer, the real cost is in the consumables, and the modeling resin is anything but cheap.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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