3D Printing Props Has An Oscar-Worthy Future

By on October 28th, 2019 in Usage

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 [Source: Oscars.org ] [Source: Oscars.org ]

Charles Goulding and Greer Veon of R&D Tax Savers look into 3D printing movie and TV props.

As viewers gear up for Oscar season and the upcoming releases ahead, the moviemaking industry faces pressure to reveal never-before-seen props that are more accurate and customizable than seen in previous films. Since visual effects serve as a stimulant for a blockbuster’s buzz, those in the industry should look to the opportunities that can arise with using 3D printing for props, as well as previous award-winning designs that came before.

Award-Winning 3D Props

 [Source: Marvel Studios] [Source: Marvel Studios]

Black Panther, one of Marvel’s biggest releases, took home the 2019 Academy Award for Best Costume Design for its elaborate costumes, which were made possible in part due to 3D printing. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter accepted the award for the futuristic designs that wove in African design illustrations from traditional sources to create the fictional, technologically-advanced world of Wakanda.

Carter collaborated with Los Angeles-based Austrian architect Julia Körner to create an intricate 3D printed collar, crown, and jewels 3D printed by Materialise and worn by Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett). The detailed ivory collar was perfectly fitted around the actress’ head and shoulders. A matching crown flared out from the base towards an open circular rim, and a second crown was also created for the character in black. The costume props were seen as flexible and lightweight, as Körner stated, “I saw backstage footage where Angela Bassett was dancing and I was surprised by how durable the pieces were.”

 [Source: Inside The Magic] [Source: Inside The Magic]

Though Star Wars: The Force Awakens won academy awards in multiple categories in the 2016 Oscars, its nomination for Best Visual Affects implies viewers’ interest in the specific depictions within J.J. Abram’s galactic empire.

Under the supervision of practical special effects and costume designer Michael Kaplan, manufactured 3D printed props ranged from the infamous Stormtroopers’ and Captain Phasma’s helmet and armor to Kylo Ren’s lightsaber as well as parts of C3PO. The film found that the biggest advantage of using 3D printing was an ability to gain props faster and with the detailed accuracy needed to match with the prior films.

Stranger Things Have Happened

 [Source: Formlabs] [Source: Formlabs]

Conversations within the film industry include debates on whether or not more of Netflix’s original productions will be seen as nominees in the upcoming Academy Awards. The streaming service’s prior history seems to say yes, with the acclaim found in the popular drama series Stranger Things. The show was named as ‘most-watched season’ for its recent third season and has been nominated and awarded various accolades, including the Golden Globes. In order to create the iconic Upside Down, directors Matt and Ross Duffer turned to 3D printing.

The Duffer brothers wanted the Demogorgon, a central plotline in the series, to carry the authentic ’80s sci-fi nostalgia. Today’s film industry has turned away from practical effects using physical maquettes as a result of tighter deadlines and budgets, but effects artists found a way to merge previous techniques with new technology.

Aaron Sims Creative revealed in a 2017 interview that the Stranger Things monster was sketched on additive manufacturing design software and printed with a Formlabs 3D printer. The studio 3D printed smaller versions of the monster to see if everything was built properly, then printed larger prototypes to paint and present to the Duffer brothers. This work became an essential part in the creation of the show, and has stayed as a central plotline that will appear in the upcoming fourth and final season.

Those who work in the film industry may find that investing in 3D designs for movie props will qualify for an R&D tax credit.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

U.S. designers with 3D printing capability who design and manufacture new props for these markets should be eligible for R&D tax credits.

Enacted in 1981, the now permanent Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit that typically ranges from 4%-7% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • Must be technological in nature

  • Must be a component of the taxpayer’s business

  • Must represent R&D in the experimental sense and generally includes all such costs related to the development or improvement of a product or process

  • Must eliminate uncertainty through a process of experimentation that considers one or more alternatives

Eligible costs include US employee wages, cost of supplies consumed in the R&D process, cost of pre-production testing, US contract research expenses, and certain costs associated with developing a patent.

On December 18, 2015, US President Obama signed the PATH Act, making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Since 2016, the R&D credit has been used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for companies with revenue below US$50MM and, startup businesses can obtain up to US$250,000 per year in payroll tax cash rebates for up to five years.


As those who work in the industry look to approach props in their future features, 3D printing will likely continue making more appearances in critically-acclaimed films as a way to merge technology and storytelling together.

By Charles Goulding

Charles Goulding is the Founder and President of R&D Tax Savers, a New York-based firm dedicated to providing clients with quality R&D tax credits available to them. 3D printing carries business implications for companies working in the industry, for which R&D tax credits may be applicable.