Wētā Workshop is celebrating the incredible research and development work that is being undertaken by our team in our 3D department. In this case it was to design and 3D print breathtakingly realistic and humungous human eyes that were at a whole other level to the way we have been making them traditionally.
25-year-old Tor Robinson has taken her Master of Design Innovation to the next level, using a Callaghan Innovation grant and her project work at Wētā Workshop to develop and voxel print translucent and transfixing eyes, which are larger than life.
Tor says voxel printing is the latest innovation in 3D printing.
People have done voxel printing before, but usually for quite abstract work. This is a world-first for voxel prints that are super realistic, fully art-directable and done in volumetric way.
The eyes Tor works on can be seen in the human giants and creatures that Wētā Workshop makes for public displays and projects. Tor’s eyes are high tech versions similar to those seen in Te Papa’s Gallipoli: The Scale of our War exhibition.
“It's always exciting for people to see how computer graphics tools can be used to manufacture something that you can hold and interact with. It's really cool how 3D printing can be that bridge between the digital and physical world.”
For those in the know, Tor uses a 3D software programme called Houdini, generally used for computer graphics and special effects, to build her eye’s at minute detail. The eyes are then printed out on a Stratasys J750 printer, which gives the programmer exact control over every single droplet, or 'voxel', that’s produced by a 3D printer.
The Stratasys J750 Tor uses can dot six different coloured materials together (cyan, magenta, yellow, black, white and clear) to create all the different natural colours that make up an eye.
“The J750 materials have such amazing translucent qualities, so the eyes really do have a compelling amount of depth to them, unlike something that is painted.”
When they are installed in the hyper-realistic figures that we make here at the workshop they really give such life to the figures, it's so satisfying to be able to work in conjunction with all these other talented artists to make a human figure that is so believable, and has so much character.
Tor joined the team at Wētā Workshop in 2017 after she made a presentation to some crew about her Master of Design Innovation at Victoria University, which focused on the potential of multi-material printing for the film industry.
It took six months of straight research and development for Tor to develop this 3D printing technology, with help and guidance from then 3D Department supervisors William Furneaux and James Doyle. Tor also worked with the head of Wētā Workshop’s Prosthetics Department, Jason Docherty, as well as Co-founder and Creative Director, Richard Taylor to better understand the artistic expectations required for this type of work.
The work Tor and the team in our 3D Department have undertaken means that Wētā Workshop can build figures (up to eight times life-sized), with eyes that are so realistic they quite literally take your breath away! It has been a fascinating journey to get to this point and, looking forward, I cannot wait to see the next step in this technology and how it will change the way we make sculpture, film props and prosthetics.
Tor is now working with the crew to design and 3D print other organic forms with incredible realism, which would be really difficult and time-consuming to make by hand. She’s set her sights on a range of different 3D printers that use hard, soft, durable or pliable materials to print human skin or scales for creative projects.
“I’ve worked on eyes alone for so long now, it's just really special to see them installed inside the figures and see them come to life. I would never be able to make sculptures like these on my own. It feels amazing to have a contribution to works of art like this. I feel like some are so realistic, they could blink or take a breath when your back is turned.”
Keep your eyes peeled for the next giant human or creature created by Wētā Workshop to see Tor’s eyes in action.