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RAPID 2014: Jason Lopes on 'Making the Cool Stuff'

Hollywood Effects Expert Talks 3D Printing


Michael C. Anderson
Senior Editor

Jason Lopes, lead systems engineer for Legacy Effects, a Special Effects studio for the motion picture industry, spoke about his work to hundreds of rapt listeners at SME’s co-located RAPID and The Big M manufacturing events at Detroit’s Cobo Center on Wednesday. While the shaggy-haired, shorts-wearing FX artist and his suit-wearing listeners might seem to have little in common, Lopes quickly found common ground with them: While they—okay, we—all enjoyed a peek into the fantasy worlds and Hollywood-Insider realities of Robocop, Avatar, and Iron Man—just three of the film properties that Legacy Effects has been involved with—Lopes spoke about the software and machinery of 3D Printing with the glee of the true engineer and seemed to enjoy sharing the room with fellow technology geeks.

“Legacy—we’re known as the guys who make the cool stuff,” he said. “We’re happy to take the credit for the artisanship in our work, but really, it’s these [3D printing] machines.”Jasen Lopes at RAPID 2014

“When you first talk to people about 3D printing, how big do their eyes get? People I talk to want to know, ‘3D printing—is that Star Trek? Is that a replicator?’ They’re amazed. It’s just amazing.”

Legacy Effects has been involved in designing costumes and providing effects for just about any science-fiction or fantasy film you can name from the past few years—from Life of Pi, Twilight: Breaking Dawn and Hunger Games to Pacific Rim and this summer’s blockbusters, including Godzilla, Captain America: Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past. What gives the company their edge is their early embrace of 3D printing technology to create costumes and artifacts instead of complete reliance on CGI or traditional modeling, Lopes explained. After testing the waters with a single small 3D printer—which paid for itself within six months—the company now has seven different machines, all fully utilized.

“I can’t believe that I have entire rooms just for these machines now,” Lopes enthused.

Lopes described the process of how the studio uses additive to go from concept to finished costume, using the example of the recent reboot of the Detroit-based character, RoboCop. As manufacturers do, the process starts with concept art in the form of CAD files. This is used to create an 18-inch 3D-printed model, which can be looked at under various lighting conditions and examined by the studio and the director, and “even at eighteen inches, they can see enough to say ‘this suit's going to be badass.’” Legacy Effects - Avatar Sculpture

Once a basic design is approved, the actor is body scanned and head-scanned so that the real human dimensions can be overlaid onto the design, to see where the design may need to be tailored to the individual. Only then is an actual full-sized costume printed out, piece by piece.

“That’s what’s great about this technology. It’s not just guesswork anymore. We’re not just making a suit by hand, then fitting or trying to fit an actor into it. We do it all by computer now. We can identify problems on day one, before the actual costume has been started.”

Lopes’s talk was supplemented with copious photography and video footage from numerous big-budget projects, and it provided an intriguing introductory course in Hollywood wizardry. But along with stories of dealing with overeager photographers, anxious to snap pictures while he’s trying to work; along with tales of working with some of cinema’s marquee names—along with the ‘Hollywood” aspects of his job, Lopes also sounds like a manufacturer, with a manufacturer’s concerns:

“I’m a workflow guy,” he said. “We use our Stratasys software to help understand the workflow; we preplan and try to smart-schedule work. It’s very dynamic, very different from taking a part file, sending it to the machine and waiting around for the part. No—we aren’t going to do that.”

Sound familiar, manufacturers? Jason Lopes may have the coolest job in the world, but inside (I’d like to think), he’s really one of us. ME  

Jason Lopes

Published Date : 6/12/2014

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