Whoopass is a bobble head manufacturer. You’d think they could make great use of 3D printing technology, but it didn’t work out for them.
We spoke with Whoopass owner Jaeson Rosenfeld, owner of Whoopass, who explained their long journey into - and then out of - 3D printing. Whoopass produces custom bobbleheads, designed to represent a client’s head and face on a figurine, usually in unusual poses or costumes. For years Whoopass had produced over 50,000 custom heads in non-digital form. They wished to develop a “digital asset” that could be used to speed up their production workflow through digital sculpting and re-use of 3D digital components.
The thing we learned about the bobblehead business is that it really cannot use 3D scanning technology to rapidly develop the necessary 3D models. Rosenfeld says:
Yes, in theory this would have been a much easier solution. The key issue though, is that a great majority of our customers buy a custom bobblehead as a surprise gift. The whole value of the gift is basically in seeing the person’s face when they open the box and realize it’s their own bobblehead!
So getting someone to go get their head scanned is really going to ruin that surprise, and also will be an inconvenience for them. Also, many of the 2d-to-3d face conversion software packages rely on having carefully posed photos in consistent lighting at various angles. Again, it’s going to be hard to pull off getting these photos and surprising someone.
They found use of digital images was also ineffective due to poor quality results. Thus the path they took was to digitally construct each individual head using ZBrush software and a talented digital sculptor. Even better, each sculpted head yielded more digital assets that could be re-used in future projects, speeding up the process.
They purchased an EnvisionTec Ultra resin-based 3D printer that is known for producing highly accurate solid models and began production. However, that’s when things went wrong. Rosenfeld says:
And then we started to learn what 3d printing was all about. Basically, we learned that our costs were going to be much higher than we had anticipated. First, there was a process of converting our 3d objects from Zbrush to a print ready object, and it ended up being time consuming. Basically, we needed a full time person to simply take the finished object and prepare it for printing. And we were only processing part of our volume through the 3d printers, so if we scaled up we would need more people to do this.
Next, there was the issue of cleaning up the parts after they came off the machine. You have to realize that 3d printing is nowhere an industrial process level. Basically, when the objects came of the machine, we had a whole process to remove support structures, clean off any marks left by peeling of the support structures, etc. Sometimes the parts broke when you pulled of the supports and they needed to be remade. This is all fine if you’re producing prototypes were its just 1 or 2 at a time and every penny doesn’t count. But in our case, we were still competing with hand-made production by people making 50 cents an hour in China.
Just the overall waste of material in printing support structures themselves was a big surprise to us, and turned out being very costly.
Even though they’d figured out a more-or-less efficient workflow, the costs were still too great, causing Whoopass to shut down its US-based 3D printing operations. Their competition, manual sculptors in Asia, kept the unit prices too low for 3D printing options to compete.
It’s possible they may resurrect the 3D printing option in the future, as the price and availability of inexpensive, high-quality resin 3D printers continues to drop. But as of this moment, Whoopass is still waiting.
Meanwhile, they have an EnvisionTec Ultra 3D printer for sale if you’re interested.
And more importantly, they have a possibly priceless collection of ZBrush tools and components sitting idle at the moment. According to Rosenfeld, their collection contains:
2,500 heads in our library, 500 bodies, 300 different clothing styles, 50 different shoe styles, etc.
We think someone out there might have a great idea to make use of these components. Anyone?