Mixed Dimensions announced a powerful API that could dramatically increase demand for full-color 3D printing.
The California company has been focusing on applications using full-color 3D printing. Their offerings include anatomical 3D prints, libraries of high-quality collectibles and a large selection of characters from certain online games.
I’ve seen the company introduce some innovative products over the years, but this announcement could be the biggest of them all. They’ve released a system development kit for Unity developers to extract 3D model information from in-progress games.
If you’re not familiar with Unity, it is a software platform / game engine on which one can quickly build 3D games or other online 3D environments. It contains functionality that can be knitted together and combined with artwork to create incredibly detailed 3D spaces in which all manner of actions can take place.
In other words, Unity is the foundation upon which many 3D games are built.
3D games are highly popular, and frequent players become quite familiar with their own character as well as others they encounter in the game. That sentiment can provoke some to desire a physical representation of the online character.
But even though it has long been technically possible to 3D print these characters in full color, it isn’t done frequently. That’s because the 3D model information is “in jail” within the game.
Occasionally in the past I’ve seen licensing deals where a character owner would agree to provide the 3D data to a full-color 3D printing service. However, this usually involved developers behind the scene manually extracting and posing the character’s 3D model and exporting it for printing.
It’s no surprise this didn’t happen often because the work involved in getting that done is significant. As a result we have not seen many popular character 3D prints available on demand.
But the Mixed Dimension GamePrint SDK announcement could change all that.
The software is packaged in the Unity Asset Store, meaning that all Unity developers now have access to the tools. Mixed Dimensions explains how it works:
“Developers now have access to a solution that will enable them to provide on-demand access to full color 3D printed figurines of in-game characters and objects to their players. This provides developers the ability to produce stunning figures that fans can customize themselves.”
The solution provides for accurate character capture, including automated model repair to ensure it is 3D printable, and physical 3D printing in full color using the latest Mimaki color 3D printers. The service will also ship the print to the requestor.
There’s also some security in the system: the 3D model is never distributed. It’s sent only to Mixed Dimensions for 3D printing, and so the intellectual property of the character is not exposed. That’s been a serious consideration in previous licensing deals that has certainly prevented some characters from being made available.
This announcement means that ANY Unity-based game could add a “Capture” button to immediately grab the 3D model in focus and produce a physical replica, including the current pose.
How many Unity games exist? There’s a lot, but it’s hard to tell because the system allows anyone to make a game at any time. Wikipedia has a list of notable Unity games that numbers in the hundreds, however, there are no doubt many thousands of others.
If many game developers decide to include the “Capture” button in their game, it could drive a great deal of 3D print business towards Mixed Dimensions. It’s also possible this feature could become “expected” and then be a de facto inclusion in most future games, should players find it useful. I could easily imagine some players making collections of all the characters they’ve played over the years.