This Animation Is Truly 3D Because It's Made on 3D-Printed Film

Victoria Turk

Victoria Turk

An artist's 3D-printed slides make an animation that looks truly three-dimensional.

Image: IMAL.org/Flickr

You don't need special specs to view this movie, which is 3D in more than one sense. Not only do the projected images appear less flat than conventional animation, the "film" itself is 3D-printed.

A series of 85 small 3D-printed figures—a man in various stages of digging a hole—passes through a slide projector at a consistent programmed speed to create a film less than a minute long. It's much like a hand-drawn flip book or an old-school animation, except using 3D models gives the images a depth of field that looks truly three-dimensional.

Image: IMAL.org/Flickr

3Dprint.com reports that artist Julien Maire is currently showing his work in an exhibition at IMAL Centre for Digital Cultures and Technology in Brussels, where he has been a resident at the FabLab.

It's a modern twist on a near-antiquated format: movies actually made of physical film. In a phone call, Maire told me that before working on these "stereolithographic projections" he'd experimented with using laser-cut slides for his work Demi-PasHis new film, Men at Work, was made with a FormLabs Form 1 3D printer. It uses stereolithography, a kind of additive manufacturing that builds models layer by layer by curing resin with a laser.

"I wanted to do a film with stereolithography since almost 15 years, but it was very expensive before, and very slow," Maire told me. To him, it was the perfect way to reproduce a 3D image in a 2D projection. "It means the impression of 3D is much more coming off because of the blurriness—the blur aspect of the image," he explained.

Image: IMAL.org/Flickr

This "blurriness" isn't any defect; it's gives an impression of the depth of field. The part of the printed model in full focus will be crisp, and the background less so. "A picture without blur is totally flat," said Maire.

This field of focus is a key principle in Maire's work, and he's also interested in the way that printing physical "film" brings an aspect of materiality back to cinema, which is now largely digital. His workflow represents a loop that is evident in some of his previous work: He first worked with animator Paul Jadoul at Studio l'Enclume to make a low-resolution 3D animation, then spent a month printing the 85 slides, and then projected them again as an animation. From picture, to 3D model, back to picture.

Image: IMAL.org/Flickr

Maire is already planning to make a longer film, which wouldn't necessarily need more slides. He explained that you could play the slides once through with the focus on one "layer," such as the foreground, and then again with the focus elsewhere.

Men at Work, meanwhile, can be played in an infinite loop, as it starts with the man appearing and ends with him giving up his work and disappearing into the background. Maire added that the choice of subject—a man digging a hole by hand—was a bit of a joke. 

After all, the kind of technologies he's using, like 3D printing, are a far cry from that kind of manual labour.