The wooden boy was, believe or not, actually made mostly of metal. His body, arms and legs were in fact 3D Printed right here at LPE in hi-resolution stainless steel – the first ever use of metal 3D Printing in stop-motion animation.
Del Toro had approached LPE’s puppet-making client Mackinnon and Saunders back in 2008 with a vision for a more lifelike and “human” kind of stop-motion character than had been seen before. Unfortunately, given a lack of technology advancement at the time, this kind of puppet wasn’t creatable.
Traditionally, stop-motion animation required thousands of iterations of a puppet to be made – one for each shot. Del Toro instead wanted a puppet which could be manipulated to move in a human-like way, and would therefore be usable throughout multiple scenes and shots. The soft materials typically used, like paper mache, wouldn’t be a feasible option either for Pinocchio, given the thick torso and head his very skinny legs would have to support. These materials also produced puppets with relatively basic aesthetic features, whereas Del Toro wanted a much more highly-detailed puppet.
Following a decade of further development in 3D Printing technology, Mackinnon and Saunders approached LPE about printing the Pinocchio puppet in metal.
We got to work on some prototyping, and together verified the metal 3D Printing process as a means by which a highly-detailed, long-lasting, self-supporting and moveable Pinocchio could be created.
Pinocchio’s body and limbs were 3D Printed in multiple components, with interlocking features that allowed the puppet to be manipulated between shots. With the in-house technology we employed for this project, we were able to print in a material that matched the strength of regular stainless steel, while also producing the kind of intricate features and fine details that would be impossible to achieve with any traditional manufacturing or puppet-making method. This meant we could produce a puppet of handheld size which was strong, durable, mechanically complex on the inside, and meticulously detailed on the outside. Pinocchio’s hi-resolution surface was printed with a “wood-effect”, which meant he simply had to be painted a light brown for it to look like he was indeed made of wood.
We’re proud to have been involved in this ground-breaking adaptation of a classic. The filmmakers took a story which already existed and reimagined it, making it more advanced and more exciting than it had ever been before. This is what 3D Printing enables, and it’s what LPE continually strive to do with design, manufacturing, and engineering.