Rick Baker is perhaps the premier special effects makeup artist in the world. The seven-time Academy Award winner for special effects makeup was the force behind the look and feel of the astonishing characterizations featured in Star Wars, The Exorcist and An American Werewolf in London among his many other films.
Try then to imagine what might happen if an artist of Baker's vision and accomplishments got his hands on a 3D printer. Well, no real need to imagine it now, as Baker, an avid and longtime user of the powerful and popular digital sculpting tool, ZBrush, recently posted some of his character sculptures on ZBrushCentral. He not only posted renders of the models, he took the plunge and learned to print them out.
Baker's foray into 3D printing technology came about as a result of a bit of serendipity. While taking in a charity auction, Baker decided to bid on a MakerBot Replicator 2. As a dedicated follower of the latest technology, Baker thought it might be an interesting exercise to output out some of his intricate and evocative ZBrush models, and from there, it was game on.
With precious little experience using his MakerBot, he began the process of trial and error necessary to grasp the intricacies inherent in using a 3D printer.
"I don't really know about this stuff," Baker said. "I finally got these results with a lot of trial and error, about a month's worth. Most of the problems (came from the fact) I don't know what I am doing. At first I tried printing models with millions of polys. It took forever to slice the model – if at all. Once I started decimating the Ztools and using the 3D print exported plugin – I love you Pixologic – things worked a lot better."
Baker has in the past said that he wanted to become a doctor when he grew up, but it turns out that "doctor" was "Dr. Frankenstein." Baker says he was more interested in creating monsters than setting bones, and his obsession led to a youthful interest in monster magazines, model kits and 8mm film.
In a stroke of good fortune, Baker's first professional job as a teenager came at Clokey Studios working under the legendary animator, Art Clokey. It was there that he became an apprentice puppet designer making the characters for the stop-motion animated series Davey and Goliath.
Stints working with legendary make-up artist Dick Smith and assisting Smith on The Exorcist, followed by his Emmy-Award-winning work with yet another legend, Stan Winston, set him on the path to greatness.
Bringing to bear his wide range of experience, skills and eye for detail, Baker took on 3D printing. But there were hurdles to overcome before the output met his standards.
"The biggest clean up is getting the supports off and the build lines," Baker wrote on the ZBrush forum. "Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any solvent that you can brush over the surface to remove the build lines – except for solvents that are too dangerous to work with. Acetone does a little but then leaves dry flaky patches. I have been sanding and using dental tools to clean up the prints. Also really valuable is using a soldering iron with a variable temperature setting."
Among his other tricks of the trade, Baker says he's been known to pause the printer if errors occur and "weld" models back together with his soldering iron, and then resume printing.
"Once the print is finished I will then carefully weld the seam on the surface and try and bring it back to what it should look like," Baker says.
According to Baker, the hat on the flesh colored Popeye suffered that fate several times, and it took him eight hours to print. The solution? Weld it all back together. Baker says he used real thread and melted it into the printed hat for support.
"That took a while but I had to do so much welding and patching on that hat that I lost the modeled threads," Baker says on the forum. "I painted the Popeye with Alkyd paints – a fast drying oil paint – (with) many thin glazes, with a day in between glazes so that they dried. It does appear though, that I can scratch off the paint if not careful. The metal one was painted first with primer, then gold spray paint then glazes of acrylic."
However the technical details worked out, the results are most certainly worth the effort.