Adventures in 3D Printing

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...Bringing film characters into games and back out again... At Funtactix, all of our in-game player characters and movie characters (NPCs) are fully modeled in glorious 3D. This art pipeline decision is what enables us to bring characters to life across a range of platforms, at any resolution and at any angle. It also lets us pull off things like:

  • Take 3D character assets from a film in production (Example: Rango) and integrate them directly into our game
  • Animate characters with full 3D range-of-motion using keyframe animation or motion capture.
  • 3D PRINTING!

HGPrints3D printers have become far more reliable, capable, and cheaper in the last few years - and a number of 3D printing services have sprouted up that let you upload your 3D model (assuming it meets a long list of requirements). Shapeways, i.materialize, sculpteo - all let you print your model in a range of materials including plastic, stainless steel, and ceramic. Voila! A month later your beautiful digital model becomes a tangible physical model and arrives in a giant box, cradled in a comfortable nest of bubble wrap.

We went with Shapeways, one of the first services to offer 3D printing in a full range of colors on the same object:

bunny

The material is called 'Color Sandstone'.

Here are some examples:

katnissmodel

The output is remarkable - holding a character in your hands that you've seen in-game so many times is just plain awesome. The result looks and feels like a combination of a sandstone statue and a [rigid] action figure.

A few tips/requirements when 3D printing a game character:

  • Be careful with size: 3D printing is expensive, and the price is based on a combination of weight, volume, surface area, and magic (or so it seems)
  • Make sure it can stand on its own: Just because the character stands up in-game, it doesn't mean the model will be balanced in "real life". When in doubt, 3D print a base attached to your character.
  • Be careful with thickness: 3D printing materials (especially 3D color sandstone) can be brittle. It can print surprisingly thin details, but if any weight is put on those sections, the model can easily break:

katniss_side

  • Make sure the model is well-formed. Game engines like ours are very forgiving of imperfections in the 3D model (intersecting faces, non-watertight meshes, etc.) - 3D printers are not so forgiving.
  • Be deliberate with level of detail (LOD). Big triangles in your mesh actually look like triangles when you print them, creating a cool cubist appearance. If you want a character that looks more like an action figure, make sure to use the highest resolution model you have, and tessellate/subdivide your model for more detail if you want it.

Besides just being nerdy and fun, we’ve taken these on tour to consumer events and ended up giving them away to our players through contests.

Stay tuned! We're sure we'll try this exercise again with future Funtactix game characters.